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Tudor City Residents Protest Public Plaza Plan

By Mary Johnson | March 28, 2012 9:40am
East 43rd Street dead-ends at Tudor City Place, an elevated two-block stretch that runs parallel to First Avenue.
East 43rd Street dead-ends at Tudor City Place, an elevated two-block stretch that runs parallel to First Avenue.
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Brian Thompson

TUDOR CITY — A public meeting to debate design ideas for a public plaza that could soon replace a Tudor City cul-de-sac devolved into a heated battle on Monday night, with a vocal contingent of residents turning out in force to fight the project before it begins.

The proposal, which supporters describe as a “beautification project,” centers on the cul-de-sac where East 43rd Street dead-ends at Tudor City Place, a two-block roadway that runs parallel to First Avenue, between East 41st and East 43rd streets.

Supporters want to turn the area into a pedestrian plaza, and have already secured a grant through the Department of Transportation's public plaza program. But opponents despise the plan, saying it will prevent garbage and delivery trucks from coming to the property and could attract loiterers.

“Most of the people were just angry,” said Brian Thompson, chair of community development for the Tudor City Association, which has been spearheading the project.

Tuesday's event attracted 60 people, who were asked to limit their questions to a 10- or 15-minute period before breaking into groups to sketch ideas for the plaza, according to those who went to the meeting.

Instead, that question-and-answer period dragged on for around 90 minutes, with “loud” and “persistent” residents yelling over one another to make sure their questions, comments and critiques were heard.

"I’m all for beautification," said David Reiff, a 30-year resident of one of the buildings ringing the cul-de-sac. "However, I don’t necessarily feel that it should be done at the expense of the residents of the neighborhood."

Thompson said the cul-de-sac is underutilized, serving simultaneously as a dumping ground for garbage from neighboring buildings and a parking spot for trucks and vans making deliveries.

“Yet somehow, it became sacrosanct last night, in the voice of the people who spoke the loudest,” he added of the Monday meeting. Thompson suggested that the space would be better used as a comfortable gathering spot to encourage tourists looking to capture shots of the United Nations and the East River.

"We believe that this will provide more open space for Tudor City, as well as a safe place for people taking pictures," Thompson told members of the Community Board 6 transportation committee back in December 2011. "It will also enhance pedestrian safety."

Community Board 6 has so far declined to take a position on the cul-de-sac, claiming the plans were too vague.

Thompson said the meeting on Monday night was meant to solidify those plans, using community input to forge some kind of compromise.

But the meeting turned negative almost immediately, Thompson said. Residents fretted about the loss of access to building service entrances and about the potential for the space to attract more people who will linger and loiter and litter.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen now,” Thompson said. “Given the vehemence of the meeting yesterday, it’s not clear if [the Department of Transportation has] a better understanding of a direction to move the plaza in or not.”

Vivienne Gilbert, president of the Windsor Owners Corporation at 5 Tudor City Place, was among the many neighborhood residents who expressed serious concerns about the public plaza prospect.

“That’s a very, very useful little plot of property,” said Gilbert. “My main concern is why? If you’re giving up a lot of utilities, you should be getting something of value back."

Gilbert said several people raised concerns about noise in the area and about litter. Gilbert also worried about safety. Although other public plazas in the Flatiron district and Union Square have been largely praised in their respective neighborhoods, those areas are not as “enclosed” as Tudor City, she added.

"That’s all pretty nice and very open,” Gilbert said. “People are observed if they’re being improper or staying there too long."

Many residents also felt that there was not enough community consultation before the proposal got to the design phase.

“Everybody was a little annoyed because it seemed to be a fait accompli,” Gilbert said. “[Someone at the meeting] said, ‘You’ve already set the table, and you’re asking us where to set the doilies.'"

Despite such vocal opposition, not everyone agreed that the project should be abandoned.

“From my view, I think that any sort of improvement to that area in Tudor City is much needed,” said Giorgio Piccoli, 27, who moved to Tudor City in 2011. “And I think this could definitely be a nice proposal, if we were able to come to some sort of compromise.”

But Gilbert said she and other residents are happy to keep things the way they are.

“The world will not come to an end if they do this, obviously,” she said. “But it seems to us that the City has all kinds of problems and all kinds of expenditures to make, and this maybe shouldn’t be one of them.”