By Renée Roden
The coronavirus was a big topic at a community board meeting held online on Tuesday, but it wasn’t the only one. Parks, transportation and that old UWS standby — rats — also dominated the conversation.
The form of the meeting — an online Zoom conference — was one obvious impact of the virus. Panelists could be seen on the screen and could speak, attendees could raise their hands or ask to be called upon, but could not speak without host permission.
After discovering that Zoom had removed the “raise hand” function for attendee-level audience members, Board Chair Mark Diller encouraged members of the public to request the floor in the Zoom Q&A chat window.
Diller steered through Zoom’s technical challenges and kept the meeting moving at a fast clip. Three resolutions were brought forward to the board.
The first, a resolution for cosmetic changes to the 29th-floor level façade of 12 West 72nd Street, did not receive the quorum of votes to pass.
Second, a resolution approving changes to two famous Central Park landmarks did pass. The changes focused on improving ADA accessibility and restoring historic features to the walking paths.
Under plans discussed at the meeting, the Conservatory Garden’s French Garden section will become ADA accessible, with ramps added to the stairs leading down to the fountain. The resolution would also improve the ADA accessibility of Central Park’s historic Dairy visitor’s center, by re-grading the sloped sidewalk approaching the Dairy entrance and adding a railing.
Now paved with standard hex block pavers, the Dairy’s loggia would be repaved with the original design of herringbone brick and bluestone.
In addition to these improvements, the resolution proposed repairs to the Conservatory Garden’s iron wisteria pergola and walking paths.
The final resolution supported the city’s efforts to move vulnerable citizens into vacant hotel rooms — such as the Belleclaire — and required that seniors sheltering in place in hotels have nurses present, private bathrooms, and three meals a day. This resolution passed.
Board members took votes through Zoom’s “raise hand” function, which was difficult for members calling into the meeting via phone to access, so the Board Chair also accepted votes via text, in Zoom’s chat function, and physical hands raised in front of webcams.
At 7 pm, the Board paused to applaud essential workers and healthcare heroes.
After voting, the Board welcomed three new members, and then opened up the public section of the meeting with comments from elected officials.
The elected officials emphasized their work was addressing both crises caused by the current pandemic and the crises New Yorkers have been living in for years. Board member Madelyn Innocent echoed this sentiment in her public comments about the impact of this crisis on NYCHA residents. “We were in crisis before this coronavirus,” she pointed out.
Peter Arndtsen, District Manager of Columbus Amsterdam BID echoed the sense of crisis. He voiced concern about the discontinuance of the NYC Sanitation organics program. “I am seeing more rats on the streets, alive and dead, and that’s an issue that we’ve fought for years and it’s coming back in full force. I’d like to see the organics become mandatory,” Arndtsen said.
Winfred Armstrong, from State Senator Brian Benjamin’s office, spoke about Senate Bill S5615, which strengthens lead testing standards in the state. The bill was inspired by concerns about lead from parents at PS 163 on West 97th Street. “It’s a local issue here,” said Armstrong, but lead contamination threatens schools throughout the state and country. “It would be leadership for New York State to [pass this legislation],” said Armstrong.
Lisa Orman of nonprofit Streetopia UWS called for communal action to create more open street policies, bike lanes, and transit education. “As we start to emerge from this 2 month period of slowing down and focusing on our health and our families, we have choices to make. […] Do we want to be a polluted, congested city or do we want to embrace the opportunity to be innovative, forward-thinking, and build a city that supports our climate goals, health goals, and safety goals. The Upper West Side can really lead on this.”
“We can choose how our neighborhood looks,” she said. “Let’s not lose this opportunity.”