Community Board Votes to Approve Baruch College Pedestrian Plaza

By Mary Johnson on September 20, 2011 12:53pm 

Community Board 6's public safety, environment and transportation committee approved a resolution supporting the creation of a pedestrian plaza on East 25th Street in front of Baruch College.
Community Board 6's public safety, environment and transportation committee approved a resolution supporting the creation of a pedestrian plaza on East 25th Street in front of Baruch College.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

GRAMERCY — A plan to create a pedestrian plaza on East 25th Street in front of Baruch College came one step closer to completion on Monday night, despite the protests of several residents.

Members of Community Board 6’s public safety, environment and transportation committee voted unanimously to approve a proposal to cut off vehicular access to the block of East 25th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue, which cuts between some of the most used buildings on Baruch's campus.

The meeting was attended by representatives from Baruch College, including President Mitchel Wallerstein, along with a group of students clad in baby blue Baruch T-shirts.

Gabe Eszterhas, vice president for administration and finance at Baruch, told committee members the the project will be funded entirely by Baruch, which will also pay for 24-hour security to patrol the plaza as well as for garbage and snow removal.

The street will remain open to emergency vehicles when necessary, he said, and trash pick-up will likely be diverted to the surrounding avenues, he said.

College officials came armed with blue folders stuffed with letters of support from businesses along East 25th Street, as well as from the 23rd Street Association, which advocates for residents and businesses in the area.

Despite some student opposition in the past, the student council has passed a resolution in favor of the plans, and the group gathered at the meeting and cheered as the committee supported plans for the plaza, pending an outcome of a traffic study from the Department of Transportation.

But the decision rankled several residents in the crowd who have been less than pleased with the proposal.

Several people who live at 330 Third Avenue, a 200-unit building near East 24th Street, complained they have not been given sufficient information about the project and came to get more details.

Laraine Mancuso, a resident of 330 Third Avenue, said the area already looks like an ashtray in spots, and garbage is often littered about the street.

“You’re already having a problem keeping up with trash,” said Mancuso.

The promise of 24-hour security didn’t do much to quell critics' concerns, either, as several women worried aloud about people loitering in the plaza late and night, or skateboarders using the space to do tricks into the wee hours.

Noise was also a key concern. Even though their building doesn’t directly face the plaza, residents of 330 Third Ave. said sound from that area reverberates throughout the building. They also questioned the impact the plaza will have on traffic in the area.

Critics are also concerned about an increase in traffic as a result of the proposed plaza.

“Do you drive in their neighborhood?” Mancuso asked before mapping out the various clogged streets in the area that would become even worse if East 25th Street was turned into a plaza.

Baruch officials said that an independent traffic study they commissioned from the engineering firm Philip Habib & Associates found a minimal impact to traffic in the area since there are a multitude of diversions available.

“We see this as something that will benefit the community,”  said Mitchel Wallerstein, president of the college, “We are, at our own expense, proposing to create more open space to benefit the community."

Wallerstein said Baruch plans to form a coalition of students, residents and businesses to have input on the design of the space, and added that the plaza would be accessible to the community. Although students will likely dominate the space during the week, it will be open on the weekends and available for book fairs or greenmarkets or other community events.

The committee will present the resolution at the next full Community Board 6 meeting on Oct. 12 to get a final vote on approval.

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