Mayor Grilled About Tall Buildings, School Integration at Town Hall Meeting

A resident asked the mayor a question about building safety at the Town Hall meeting.

By Alex Israel

Mayor Bill de Blasio made several promises during a town hall meeting moderated by Council Member Helen Rosenthal and attended by more than 200 local residents at PS/IS 191 on 61st Street on Wednesday night.

The two-hour meeting featured an open forum, where nearly 30 members of the community were selected to ask questions to de Blasio and attending representatives from the various city agencies under his jurisdiction.

de Blasio kicked off by sharing recent successes in the neighborhood, which include an increase in subsidized apartments, expansions to Pre-K and after-school programs, a reduction in the local rat population, the opening of the Office of the Tenant Advocate, and a $2 million allocation for the restoration of the 102nd Street Stairs in Riverside Park.

During the Q&A, a wider range of issues were discussed—including education, small business support, tenant rights, sexual harassment, speed camera legislation, street vendor permits, yellow cab protections, accessible accommodations, parking and transportation, and rats. In several cases, it was not clear what the next steps will be to solve the problem.

A representative from Save Central Park NYC, an organization concerned with the impacts of “megatowers” in the area, inquired about the Mayor’s timeline for addressing the issue of closing zoning loop-holes accomplished by voids, specifically referencing a proposed 775-foot building going up at 50 W. 66th Street. de Blasio directed the question to City Planning Director Edith Hsu-Cheng.

“We have been very hard at work looking at every building to better understand the issue,” on a case-by-case basis, she said. According to Hsu-Cheng, the city is “on track to issue a solution by the end of 2018, as scheduled.”

A similar concern was presented around the status of 200 Amsterdam Avenue, a proposed 668-foot residential tower at 69th Street, currently in the midst of hearings with the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals.

Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler said that the forty-year-old policy allowing the approval of this “too tall” building will be changed moving forward, but that he believes the building is effectively grandfathered into the former interpretation.

A public school parent criticized de Blasio’s focus on diversifying classrooms at specialized high schools and asked him to consider pointing his efforts toward “equalizing access,” to other sought-after schools where admission is granted after a “screening” process.

“Clearly the screened schools are an area where some real change is needed,” de Blasio said. “We’re certainly going to turn our attention to the screened schools.”

Residents across multiple, separate buildings spoke up to voice concerns about treatment from their landlords. In each case, de Blasio directed them to connect with Commissioner Chandler to address the issues urgently.

“If any illegal activity is uncovered,” de Blasio said, “let’s throw the book at them, and let’s do it fast.”

One man, a resident of West 79th between Amsterdam and Columbus for over forty years, showed up to ask for de Blasio’s support in opposing the Museum of Natural History’s expansion. But the Mayor reiterated his continued stance in approval of the Museum’s plan, commending their commitment to STEM education.

It is a “very meritorious plan,” said de Blasio, who said he believed the expansion would benefit not just the Upper West Side, but the whole city. “I have not heard anything that makes me want to stop that plan,” he said.

de Blasio noted that some of the community’s concerns need to be addressed through legislation at the state level. The implementation of a vacancy tax on landlords to help convince them to retain small businesses, a plan for city resident parking, major changes to public transit services, and improvements to the vendor licensing process all require “help from Albany.” de Blasio intends to reevaluate all proposed legislative efforts later in the year, in hopes that the election in November yields a more amenable State Senate.

The back and forth flowed relatively smoothly between residents, agencies, and the Mayor, as de Blasio directed his commissioners to follow up with the questioners individually at the end of the meeting. About halfway through the Q&A, Borough President Gale Brewer took the mic to express her excitement in the facilitation of such productive and engaging conversation.

“Some people go to the movies, some people go to the theater—I go to Town Hall meetings,” she said to laughter from the crowd.

NEWS | 21 comments | permalink
    1. Gale— No ‘ha ha’ about the destruction of neighborhoods, small stores, and the skyline… and try to see the sky from Central Park at Heckscher Fields… Manhattan is being ruined under de Blasio and Brewer… sad.

    2. Sherman says:

      DeBlasio threw red meat to a crowd hungry for more entitlements.

      However, I am glad that someone had the courage to confront him about his plans to destroy the handful of successful public schools left in the city.

    3. robert says:

      DOB Commissioner Chandler “he believes the building is effectively grandfathered into the former interpretation.”

      This was re 200 Amsterdam Ave. You can’t change the law after the permits are issued. The building is lawful and will be built to its full height. Can we now stop wasting the time and money of everyone and get on with life? This has been a cause celb for various elected’s and elected’s wanabies. As for the “changes going forward on big buildings” don’t count on it. Yes the Commiss and Mayor gave lip service to it but, the large real estate folks AND Unions are the largest contributors to the Mayor, Stringer etc. Take a look at the CFB filings, concentrate on where the donners list as employment and tally it up

    4. haloslipping says:

      Due respect to WSR and your reporter for covering the recent Town Hall. But the question about high schools asked the mayor to address the policy that District 2 students get priority admission to District 2 high schools, such as Baruch and Eleanor Roosevelt. Yet the high school application process is supposed to be open to middle schoolers’ applications city-wide.
      Hey DOE, do away with this unfair practice at the same time District 3 middle school admissions policy is being changed!

    5. Arlene says:

      I was present at the town hall & I don’t think the mayor was “ grilled” at all. The residents were calm & respectful and no one really pushed hard enough to the very dismissive & vague answers Mayor DeBlasio gave regarding the proliferation of way too tall, inappropriate and unwanted buildings. Working on it & looking into it doesn’t demonstrate to me any interest on his part to do anything regarding the devastation of upper west side neighborhoods. 1 year ago at a small session with Helen Rosenthal this was raised regarding 200 Amsterdam. We were informed she’s working hard to eliminate loopholes that developers are using.., 1 year ago our concerns were for 1 building, since then with no action at all, there are 3-5 more being built or planned. Horrible with the purchase of ABC owned properties for over a billion dollars we are guaranteed 2 or more way too tall and oversized condos that will forever destroy the lives of all is us who chose the lovely (W.67th) tree lined street to be our homes. Why is this allowed – a developer comes in& does whatever they want, even if the street is in landmark district.

      • Woody says:

        A developer is allowed to build within the limits defined by the zoning laws. Maybe you should have done some research on what would be permitted before buying your home on West 67th St.

        • Arlene says:

          Woody – you have no idea how long I or anyone else has lived on this street – some of us have been there for over 50 years so your comment is inappropriate!

          • Woody says:

            Nothing in your retort has anything to do with your either researching the zoning laws or not. Have you ever examined them?

            I believe that some people have lived there for 50 years. Does that include you or are you just stating a fact but don’t actually belong to that group?

      • Generally Speaking, Don't Generalize says:

        Re #1: “proliferation of way too tall, inappropriate and unwanted buildings.”
        Generalization#1: Unwanted by SOME; Wanted by OTHERS…

        Re #2: “the devastation of upper west side neighborhoods.”
        Generalization#2: Devastation? Really? WHICH neighborhoods? Nothing about devastated nabes on WSR.

        Re #3: “condos that will forever destroy the lives of all”
        Generalization#3: DESTROY LIVES FOREVER? Even AFTER the construction is over and the green construction-fence is gone???

        When 200 West End was under construction in 2008 there WAS some noise; 10 years later it’s not only a peaceable neighbor but its retail space offers a convenient 24-hour CVS and other conveniences.

      • Smithe says:

        Please keep things in context. Devastation of UWS neighborhoods? Puh-lease! Try living in Hawaii these days and then you can talk about devastation.

    6. dannyboy says:

      Rosenthal correctly categorized going to Town Halls along with going to the movies and theater.

    7. Marvin Mansky says:

      I am curious about comments made about speed cameras near schools and Mayor de Blasio’s position on that

      • Eagle Eye says:

        The Mayor is supportive of the speed cameras. Unfortunately, their fate is being held hostage by the State Senate and specifically Senator Goldin of Brooklyn whose personal car has accumulated many tickets in these zones. If you want to help with this legislation contact Transportation Alternatives.

    8. Rob G. says:

      Sorry Mr. Mayor, but adding more “subsidized apartments” to the UWS is nothing to cheer about. We already have more shelters and supportive facilities than we can handle. Take a walk north of 86th Street if you want to experience what strolling through an open-air asylum is like.

      If you really want to help why don’t you start by cleaning up the huge mess that Gale Brewer and the social services empire have made out of the neighborhood in the first place?

      • Sarah says:

        “Take a walk north of 86th Street if you want to experience what strolling through an open-air asylum is like.”

        Oh, please. There is nothing sadder than the UWSer who isn’t rich enough to live somewhere away from all the people he thinks are beneath him.

        • Rob G. says:

          OK Sarah, so your solution is simply to ignore the issues and just move away if you have the money? What a great way to be a productive member of our community!

          There has been a major increase of folks with mental and addiction issues in the area. Many appear unhinged, aggressively panhandling and acting out on our streets. They didn’t just wander here or sprout up organically. They have been placed here in droves by the social service agencies over the last decade.

          And this is okay with you? All you can do is judge someone for complaining about it?

          I’m not going to apologize for my comments, but you should for showing such a lack of concern for your neighbors.

    9. Reed says:

      increase in subsided housing in the West 61 Street neighborhood? I doubt it. Is the Mayor referencing the West 108 Street mega supportive housing project in Manhattan Valley? Perhaps the meeting was actually held above West 96 Street where subsidized housing is generally placed.

    10. Dr. Cary Goodman says:

      The Mayor has “not heard anything” that makes him, “want to stop” the museum’s expansion, because he hasn’t listened.

      His Honor skipped the official public hearing on the plan. He met secretly with museum officials. And he refuses to meet with park advocates who oppose the surrender of public parkland.

    11. Terri says:

      Zoning laws established in 1961 never anticipated the proliferation of mega towers that we see creeping up the west side today. Today’s building frenzy and lack of public review are evidence of why “as-of-right” is so wrong. Join our fight to save Central Park from towering shadows at

    12. Che says:

      What is truth? These days, a presidential Twitter?
      Indeed, re the Gilder Center, the logic and legal detail in Attorney Michael Hiller’s videos that lead into his lawsuit thereupon, not to mention the sugar-coated distortions of the DEIS, mean nothing to our developer-driven, pay-to-play Mayor. Yet he has heard nothing to change his mind about it. How has he not done?