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Garment District Identity Crisis Plays Out In Parking Rules

By Mary Johnson | January 9, 2012 8:32am
Residents on West 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues are pushing to change commercial parking restrictions on their block.
Residents on West 38th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues are pushing to change commercial parking restrictions on their block.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

MIDTOWN — The block on 38th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, was once home solely to manufacturers and other commercial ventures. But over time, factories have been replaced with lofts and high-rises, giving the strip an influx of residents.

Now, this small stretch of street in the Garment District is a microcosm of a neighborhood that is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis — one that is playing out in a budding battle over parking regulations.

Last week, the changing neighborhood prompted Aviva Werner, 51, who moved to West 38th Street with her husband and children more than 15 years ago, to approach the transportation committee of Community Board 5. Werner, who moved to West 38th Street with her husband and children more than 15 years ago, asked that parking restrictions on the street, which allow only commercial vehicles from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., be changed to allow more access for residents.

Ideally, Werner told the members of the CB5 committee, she would like the commercial-only hours to be amended to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but she would gladly settle for 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., she added.

“We are really, I think, empowered to say that we are becoming a more residential street. Not Greenwich Village residential, but residential enough,” Werner said.

“The extra hour on either side really is not a big deal, I don’t think, for the stores,” she added, noting that several ground-level shop owners she spoke with said they wouldn’t mind the change.

“[The current parking restrictions are] a hardship that’s really not necessary,” she said. “We want this place to be a little more user-friendly.”

Werner said that commercial vehicles rarely take advantage of the street parking between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., and Susan MacKenzie, an accountant who owns a commercial condo on the block, agreed.

“I walk to work every morning, and I walk down 38th Street between 6 and 8 o’clock in the morning,” MacKenzie said during the meeting. “That street is half empty most of the time.”

Several other residents at the meeting spoke out in support of changing the rules, citing problems unloading from their cars to their apartment buildings and the frequent towing and ticketing of vehicles that break the rules.

But Mark Sarraf, another business owner on West 38th Street, said the residents should not be the only voices heard on the subject of new parking rules.

Although the Garment District as a whole has been facing an exodus of top designers, Sarraf has operated the clothing manufacturing company Karen Miller Ltd. on that stretch of 38th Street since 1987.

Sarraf attended the committee meeting on Thursday night and acknowledged that the neighborhood has changed “dramatically.” But the conversion from commercial center to residential enclave is far from complete, he said.

“This is still a business district,” Sarraf told the members of the transportation committee.

“There is business going on. It’s fashion, millinery,” he continued. “These buildings still need commercial vehicles to come to this block.”

Sarraf said he was game for a compromise of some sort, like changing the parking restrictions on only one side of the street and shifting the commercial parking hours to begin at 7 a.m. instead of 6. But decreasing the evening commercial parking was “still trouble,” he said.

Sarraf’s concerns resonated among board members, who said they had reached out to some businesses in the area through email and flyers posted on the block in advance of last week's meeting. But they agreed that before moving forward with any concrete plans, they would conduct more outreach.

“We should take the time to do this,” said committee chair Michael Keane.

Werner said she already had emails of support from area residents and was happy to collect more, if necessary. For her, it’s a “quality of life issue,” she said, and one she intends to fight for, if that’s what it comes down to.

“I appreciate the fact that it may take time,” Werner said. “But if it becomes a numbers game, and if its X number of residents versus X number of businesses, then I will definitely rally the troops.”