KIPS BAY — A property owner has pressured the local community board into yanking its support for a year-round farmers' market on Second Avenue, threatening to put the kibosh on a popular community project unless the weekend vendors close up shop, board members said.
Just last week, the Murray Hill Market seemed to have been spared relocation from its home in front of the Kips Bay Plaza retail complex on Second Avenue near East 33rd Street, after complex owner J.D. Carlisle Development Corp. requested that Community Board 6 shut down the Sunday-only farmers' market.
When the committee instead voted to keep the market where it stands, the developer told the board it would push back against any attempts by the city to turn that stretch of Second Avenue into a pedestrian plaza — a sought-after conversion the board enthusiastically supports.
The market has now been given just six more months in its coveted home, where its been located for the past year-and-a-half, before facing eviction.
“There is an aura of mean-spiritedness here," said Carol Schachter, chairwoman of the Community Board 6 business affairs and street activities committee, at a full board meeting this week, where the future of the market came up for a final vote.
"[The Murray Hill Market vendors] were good enough when they were pioneers on Second Avenue. And now that the tony tenants are coming in, they’re not good enough,” she added. “I feel this is blackmail ... and it stinks.”
J.D. Carlisle did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The market, which is a major fundraising mechanism for the nearby elementary school P.S. 116, first found out it might lose its home several weeks ago.
The opposition stemmed from Carlisle, which is welcoming several big tenants to the stretch of commercial space, including Fairway, Staples and TD Bank.
Carlisle wrote a letter to the board indicating its distaste for the market and its junky vendors, claiming that the market would be bad for Fairway’s business. Those comments prompted community board members to assume Fairway had joined in the opposition.
But at a committee-level meeting to debate the market’s future earlier this month, the president of Fairway made a surprise appearance and assured the committee and the residents in attendance that he did not share in any opposition.
"We don't want you to think that we're in any way involved with this," Bill Sanford said at the meeting. "We're good neighbors."
Committee chair Fred Arcaro said those comments were “a game changer,” and the committee subsequently passed a resolution in support of allowing the market to stay where it has enjoyed substantial financial success.
But that support faded at the full board meeting Wednesday night, when the approved resolution was amended to allow the market just six more months in its current space. Come July 1, it will be forced to find a new home under the board's resolution
Final approval rests with the mayor's Street Activity Permit Office, but community board input is heavily weighed by the office, according to the SAPO website.
The decision Wednesday rankled several community board members, who were outraged the committee would backtrack on its previous resolution under pressure from a big-time developer.
Several board members explained that the reason for the abrupt shift was that Carlisle had threatened to pull its support for the creation of the pedestrian plaza, a project Community Board 6 has championed for months.
“If we lose the support of Carlisle, the plaza does not exist,” said Toni Carlina, district manager for CB6.
The issue is not one of funding, Carlina explained. Before the Department of Transportation will approve any plan to move forward with turning the three-block stretch into a pedestrian plaza, the agency will look for the support of Carlisle as the major commercial property owner affected by any changes to the street.
Arcaro said the choice was difficult, but the desire for the plaza outweighed the importance of allowing the market to stay.
“[The Murray Hill Market vendors] do do good works for P.S. 116,” Arcaro said. “I commend them, I really do. But the thing is, we still want a plaza.”
“It’s not that we’re going to try to do away with the market,” he added. “We’re just going to try to find another location.”
But market organizers have said that location has been vital in turning the market from a money-losing operation into a profitable one, earning P.S. 116 roughly $12,000 in donations last year.
“The fact that there would or wouldn’t be a plaza shouldn’t determine whether the market, which isn’t disrupting anything there, should stay,” said Beth Parise, a P.S. 116 parent and CB6 member.
Nicole Paikoff, a vice chair on the board’s business affairs and street activities committee, agreed.
“I know we all want the plaza,” she said.
“[But] we have to find a compromise here,” Paikoff added. “This is important to the community and the kids.”
While the majority of the board agreed it was “a terrible choice” to have to make, a majority of its members ultimately voted to push the market out in six months time to appease Carlisle and ensure the developer would support the pedestrian plaza project, which has yet to be approved by the Department of Transportation.
The board also pledged to help the market find a “more beneficial” location for it to occupy come July 1.