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Reporters Barred From 'Public' Meeting to Discuss M Train Construction

By Gwynne Hogan | April 28, 2016 11:07am
 The Bushwick Cut that connects the M line to the J and Z trains needs to be repaired, according to the MTA.
The Bushwick Cut that connects the M line to the J and Z trains needs to be repaired, according to the MTA.
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DNAinfo/Gwynne Hogan

BUSHWICK — A meeting at Community Board 4 headquarters to discuss plans to temporarily evict dozens of Bushwick residents from their homes and businesses during the M train construction was held Wednesday behind closed doors — despite being billed as public.

Community Board 4 members told residents on April 20 that the discussion between the MTA and elected officials would be open to everybody.

But on Wednesday, a DNAinfo reporter was asked to leave — once by an MTA official, who refused to reveal his name, and twice by Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, who said the meeting was never meant to be public.

"This is a private meeting, this is a closed meeting," Davila said, adding that she didn't know anything about the community board's announcement. "[It's] just a mistake. It's not public."

Afterwards, community board members, who were allowed into the gathering, reaffirmed that they had thought the meeting was public.

"We don't have closed-doors meetings," said CB4 District Manager Nadine Whitted, noting that past trouble over open meetings has made the board hypersensitive to the issue. Last May, Whitted was rapped for barring the public from CB4 discussions over liquor licenses.

"We cannot have a closed meeting unless I'm talking about staff," Whitted added.

Those allowed into the meeting included representatives of the MTA, Director of Downstate Intergovernmental Affairs for Gov. Andrew Cuomo Aimee Vargas, state Sen. Martin Dilan and City Councilman Antonio Reynoso, among other local elected officials and their staffers — plus three members of CB4. 

MTA spokesman Stephen Morello said, "The MTA’s intention was that the meeting was not a meeting of the Community Board, or a meeting to which the general public was invited.  Nor was it a meeting exclusively with or for the Community Board.  

"Rather, the MTA invited elected officials and asked the Community Board to allow us to have the meeting at its offices since the topic of the meeting was the Bushwick M line project.  

"We regret the misunderstanding or any hard feelings resulting from it."

The gathering was organized to discuss the MTA's plans to boot residents of 26 apartments and two businesses for between six to 10 months, or possibly longer.

The areas that need to be emptied sit close to the "Bushwick Cut," a curved section of track near Myrtle Avenue and Broadway where the M train connects to the J and Z lines, according to the MTA.

Residents, some of whom have owned their houses for decades and rely on income from tenants, have vowed to fight the MTA.

After Wednesday's gathering, Dilan, who represents the area, described the first meeting with the MTA as "very good."

According to Dilan, the MTA said it planned to compensate everyone involved, including renters, homeowners and two businesses, Little MO and Harvest Cycler, which will have to close during construction.

"They'll pay for the new site while they're paying landlords for their empty apartments," Dilan said.

The MTA didn't list any specific locations where residents would be relocated, but MTA officials mentioned hotels, Dilan said.

A follow-up meeting with all the residents and business owners will be organized soon, though the MTA didn't offer a specific timeline, Dilan and Davila said.