Tudor City Cul-de-Sac Will Become Public Plaza If Residents Have Their Way

By Mary Johnson on December 6, 2011 8:52pm 

TUDOR CITY — Several Tudor City residents are trying to claim a little bit more public, open space in their 1920s-era complex.

The plan, which has yet to be solidified, would involve converting a cul-de-sac at the end of East 43rd Street into a pedestrian plaza.

“We believe that this will provide more open space for Tudor City, as well as a safe place for people taking pictures,” said Brian Thompson, chair of community development for the Tudor City Association, at a Community Board 6 meeting on Monday night. "It will also enhance pedestrian safety."

East 43rd Street currently dead-ends at Tudor City Place, a two-block elevated roadway that runs parallel to First Avenue, between East 41st and East 43rd streets.

The cul de sac — ringed by two residential buildings and the Permanent Mission of Bhutan — offers a view to the United Nations and the East River and is a popular spot for tourists eager to snap photos, Thompson explained. But as it stands, the space is a dumping ground for neighborhood garbage and a parking space for delivery and moving trucks, he added.

“Because it’s a cul-de-sac which is being used for that now doesn’t mean that its current use is…the best use of that space,” said Thompson, who lives in one of the buildings on the cul-de-sac and envisioned it instead as a spot for art exhibits.

The conversion would be to a temporary public plaza. A Department of Transportation representative in the audience said that meant the chunk of street in question would not be reconstructed. Instead, paint and planters and removable benches would be used to transform the space.

The project has already gained the endorsement of the DOT, which recently awarded the Tudor City proposal a grant through its public plaza program. But the plan will also need approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and members of Community Board 6 are reluctant to sign off on it, because the plans are so vague.

"We’re not saying no, but we’re not saying yes either," said Fred Arcaro, chair of the board’s public safety, environment and transportation committee, at the meeting. "We need a little more detail."

Plus, there were lingering concerns from neighborhood residents about the potential impact such a seemingly small change could have.

David Reiff, a 30-year resident of one of the buildings bordering the cul-de-sac, expressed concerns about creating a potential gathering place for protesters during the UN General Assembly — a popular time for rallies in the neighborhood — or an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street.

"I’m all for beautification," Reiff said. "However, I don’t necessarily feel that it should be done at the expense of the residents of the neighborhood." 

He also explained that his building recently paid about $100,000 for a new service elevator, which has an entrance on the cul-de-sac. Cutting that portion of street off to trucks and moving vans would make that elevator difficult to access, he added.

Thompson conceded that "there will be some inconveniences" and that a redesigned cul-de-sac would inevitably go through "a bit of a personality change," he said.

But, he added, "We think it’s a very straightforward proposition, minimal interruption."

Thompson said he and other residents will now work with the DOT to come up with a design that best fits the space and its needs and then return to the board to seek approval.

"We want the community to be involved," he said. “It’s not chocolate or vanilla; it’s working together to make sure it’s an asset for everyone."

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