It was loud. It was messy. And in the end, Harlem’s Community Board 10 decided against turning a short section of Macombs Place in Harlem into a car-free public space.
Supporters of the proposal spent years trying to get CB 10’s backing but came up a few votes short last night.
DOT won’t proceed with the project without a vote in support from the community board, and last night a resolution backing the plaza failed with 12 in favor, 18 against, and four abstentions. An earlier resolution to hold a town hall meeting on the plaza before revisiting the issue at the community board in October also failed, 13-19, with one abstention.
…you don’t keep the neighborhood unsafe just so the real estate values don’t go up.
“We’re being bullied into delay, delay, delay, which means it doesn’t happen,” said CB 10 member Daniel Clark, who voted for the plaza. “We have to make decisions.”
“It’s what, four years this project’s been going on?” CB 10 transportation committee chair Maria Garcia said via telephone this morning. “My job was just to get a vote on it, and that is what I accomplished last night with my team.”
Although Garcia voted for the plaza, she took its defeat in stride. “The point was just for it to be heard in the public forum,” she said. “We have to vote. We have to say yes or no. We can’t just drag everything on for four or five years.” Plaza supporters, while disappointed, also seemed relieved to at least have an answer from the board after years of back-and-forth.
The plaza would have been maintained by Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc., which did not return a request for comment this morning. DOT says that while a plaza is now off the table, it will consider other safety improvements for the intersection.
As at previous meetings, the loudest voices last night belonged to plaza opponents.
The loudest of them all was Barbara Nelson, a CB 10 transportation committee member who lives near the proposed plaza site. She and others trotted out a series of familiar (and repeatedly debunked) claims that the plaza would endanger seniors and the disabled, create a traffic safety hazard, impede emergency response, and make parking harder to find by eliminating three on-street spaces.
“These people are trying to force this thing down our throat. They’re forcing it down our throat,” said Bobby Jones, president of the residents association at Dunbar Apartments, which is adjacent to the plaza site.
At times, the meeting devolved into shouting matches. At one point, CB 10 Chair Henrietta Lyle threatened to stop the meeting. “Are we gonna finish this tonight or are we gonna close the meeting down?” she asked. “We cannot get anywhere like this.”
“Close it down!” plaza opponents shouted from the audience. But the meeting continued.
Garcia voted for the plaza, which would have been home to a farmers market, because she believes it would have improved street safety. Currently, drivers make quick turns off Frederick Douglass Boulevard on their way to the Macombs Dam Bridge. But Garcia believes last night’s vote was really about something else.
“We’re not talking about the underlying issues in underserved communities, which would be gentrification,” Garcia said. “That’s what I believe the issue is about. I don’t believe it’s really about transportation, in this particular project.”
“If they make it more attractive, it’s going to attract new people… and people are afraid of that,” Garcia said. “I understand why they were so angry. I get it. However, you don’t keep the neighborhood unsafe just so the real estate values don’t go up.” (source),