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'Turf War' Breaks Out at Community Board Over E. 81st St. Pedestrian Bridge

By Shaye Weaver | July 21, 2016 3:29pm
 Residents say work has stopped at the East 81st Street pedestrian bridge and wheelchair ramp, but don't know why because the city hasn't been forthcoming with them.
Residents say work has stopped at the East 81st Street pedestrian bridge and wheelchair ramp, but don't know why because the city hasn't been forthcoming with them.
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DNAinfo/Shaye Weaver

UPPER EAST SIDE — Officials can't decide who's in charge of a controversial East 81st Street pedestrian bridge over the FDR that was stopped dead in its tracks last month.

In an effort to "avoid any turf wars," Community Board 8 chairman Jim Clynes is holding a general forum on the topic because individual committees are squabbling too much about who should be in control.

"We won't call it a parks committee meeting or a transportation committee meeting, we'll just call it a Jim Clynes community board meeting," he said at Wednesday's full board meeting.

The disagreement began last Thursday when the board's parks and recreation committee held a joint meeting with members of the transportation committee to discuss the status of the project. 

The city stopped work on the bridge last month, but hasn't explained why.

Members of the transportation committee took issue with the parks committee heading last week's discussion.

"I do object to parks having jurisdiction," Chuck Warren, the co-chair of the transportation committee, said on Wednesday.

"For years we've been doing an adequate and good job of keeping the public informed."

But other board members, including Michele Birnbaum who sits on the transportation committee, felt the issue should be a parks item since the project is on park land. 

"This property is owned by Parks. It absolutely makes sense to have been in parks committee all along," she said.

"Any jurisdictional dispute is ridiculous. The community has to be served. [Last week's meeting] was an opportunity for the community to vent … but to think this should not go forward as a joint meeting in September is out of line since parks owns the territory."

After years of planning, the DDC approached CB8's transportation committee last December for its input on the bridge and ramp, which is a joint project between the Parks and Recreation Department, Department of Design and Construction and Department of Transportation.

The bridge, which connects 81st street to the East River Esplanade, had been only accessible by stairs, so the addition of a ramp would bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, officials said.

The ramp was planned to make a u-shape on its way down to the street, but residents said that would take up too much space and potentially block a service entrance to residential buildings nearby at 45 and 33 East End Ave.

Ultimately members suggested the ramp be moved to East 82nd or 84th streets instead to minimize impact on residents who live in the area.

City officials said they would continue its discussion of the bridge and ramp but residents say they haven't gotten an update and nothing has been said publicly about why work on the ramp was stopped.

"There has been a big problem with communication…the community did not have any information on this ramp," said Susan Evans, the co-chair of the parks committee.

"I cannot resolve if it’s parks or transportation," she continued. "We decided to have a joint meeting. I think that's fair to your committee and to ours."

Clynes said that the board would invite all the involved agencies to its planned September meeting.