COBBLE HILL — Crews demolishing Long Island College Hospital have been fined for using phony "no parking" signs to commandeer spots on a local street — leading police to slap drivers with tickets for legally parking in the neighborhood, locals claim.
Now, residents hope the Department of Transportation can persuade the developer to come up with a comprehensive plan to mitigate traffic problems during construction.
Scala Contracting, which is working for hospital developer Fortis, posted the bogus signs at two spots on Henry Street, between Pacific and Amity streets.
“I had community members up in arms because you couldn’t read the signs,” said Amy Breedlove, president of the Cobble Hill Association, who noted that she first raised the issue about the signs with Fortis in February, when residents complained to her group about being unable to decipher where the arrow on the signs pointed.
“I had dozens of complaints from people seeing tickets written or their neighbors got ticketed or they had a ticket.”
At that point, Breedlove didn’t know the signs were not authorized to be there and only wanted to improve them to help drivers. Only after months of chasing down the issue, she learned they were illegal.
Though the city’s Department of Transportation confirmed that the signs were used illegally, CEO Jonathan Landau told DNAinfo that drivers had no business parking on that stretch of Henry regardless, since the contractor was legally allowed to erect a barrier in a lane for construction.
He called the issue “fake news” and said the company would pay tickets for those who could prove the signs were the cause.
“No one has been able to show it,” Landau said. “I don’t think these signs were the cause of someone’s ticket. The facts are: The entire length of Henry between Amity and Pacific, we had permits to put traffic barriers along the length of the road. It is illegal to park next to a traffic barrier. The signs are really just a red herring.”
The DOT slapped Scala with two $150 tickets in late March when an inspector first saw the signs and then fined the company an additional $300 a week later when an inspector found the signs were still posted, DOT officials said.
The next day, an inspector saw the signs had been removed.
“Our inspectors found that the signs were not authorized by DOT,” a DOT spokesman said. “Scala Contracting Company did not have permits for installing temporary construction signs at the location.”
Though previous reports cited that more than 80 drivers received parking tickets for $115 a piece, the NYPD told DNAinfo that fewer than a dozen people received tickets in that vicinity this year to date.
The signs, which cost $22.31 through the DOT Sign Sales Program, are only available to contractors once approved by DOT’s Office of Construction Mitigation and Coordination, which determines whether a project needs the parking spaces.
Scala reportedly received a permit to put up the "no parking" signs elsewhere, but contractors don’t have to return the signs once they buy them.
Scala did not respond to a request for comment.
The barriers were permitted to protect the work zone from the general traffic, but had nothing to do with parking, DOT officials added.
Breedlove said the signs were posted at the northern end of the street past where the barriers had stopped. She was concerned that the developer still refused to acknowledge that the illegal signs had been posted and caused problems.
“We can be the eyes on the street, but we need to know what’s legal and what’s not,” she said, noting that local elected officials such as City Councilman Brad Lander and state Senator Daniel Squadron — who wrote a letter about the parking issue — have been helpful in getting responses from city agencies.
The signs are part of a larger issue regarding parking and traffic related to the LICH development, the first phase of which Landau expects to break ground on in the “next few months,” he said. The 1 million-square foot megaproject will bring high-end condos to a stretch of Atlantic Avenue two blocks from Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Breedlove said dealing with the traffic issues could become "a chaotic effort" without coordination among all the parties involved.
Even before construction has begun, the area is a traffic nightmare, with cars often moving at a snail’s pace on Henry, Hicks and Clinton streets, clogging side streets and bus routes into the Columbia Waterfront District and beyond.
Locals say it's hectic near the on-ramp to the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway, and there are dangerous conditions on Atlantic Avenue — the first major thoroughfare in the city to get a “slow zone” under the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero plan.
Compounding all of this is residents’ longstanding desire to get more street parking in the area now that the hospital is gone.
DOT officials said Tuesday that they asked the project’s consultant to revise traffic plans for its construction crews.
“We’re very worried," Breedlove said. "We want to know what’s going on with every permit. It would help us to communicate to the neighborhood what’s going on and mitigate the impact, which is what we try to do as civic advocacy group.”
She hopes that having more communication with the DOT about what’s permitted could help prevent future situations like this parking fiasco.
“We now hope to work much more collaboratively with the city agencies to mitigate the negative impacts of this massive out-of-context development,” Breedlove added.
For Landau’s part, he wants to move beyond what he called a “non-issue” regarding the parking spots and collaborate with the neighborhood.
“I would like to see the effort here being spent on trying to work together on ways that could positively affect the community,” he said.