CB 12 Member Tries to Derail Washington Heights Plaza to Preserve Parking

A board member looking to stoke outrage over a proposed public plaza at a health care campus says the 70 percent of car-free households in the district don't have a stake in how the street is used, since they don't need parking.

This is what opponents of the Haven Avenue plaza want to preserve. Photo: Google Maps
This is what opponents of the Haven Avenue plaza want to preserve. Photo: Google Maps

A Manhattan Community Board 12 member is trying to drum up opposition to a proposed public plaza in Washington Heights to preserve a handful of on-street parking spots.

Columbia University applied for the plaza, on Haven Avenue between W. 169th Street and Fort Washington Avenue, through the DOT Plaza Program. If the project comes to fruition, motorized traffic would be limited to emergency vehicles on that segment of the street, which is flanked by health care facilities including NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Columbia and DOT hosted a series of one-day pop-up plazas and workshops to gauge interest in a permanent public space. According to NY City Lens, each one-day event was attended by over 3,000 people, most of whom expressed “overwhelming support for a permanent plaza.”

The project [PDF] has support from NewYork-Presbyterian, in addition to local organizations including the Washington Heights and Inwood Chamber of Commerce, the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, and Broadway United Businesses, according to DOT.

Though the majority of people in the district don’t own cars, CB 12 has a long and sordid history of putting the needs of the community second to motorists’ insatiable appetite for free curbside parking. True to form, CB 12 is threatening to quash the Haven Avenue plaza over 17 or so parking spots.

DOT won’t build the plaza unless the board signs off. Board members have insisted DOT identify additional parking elsewhere before giving the plaza their endorsement. “Until you can do that,” CB 12’s Elizabeth Lorris Ritter told DOT at a recent meeting, “it would be difficult to be fully supportive of this proposal.” (In the comments section of the NY City Lens piece, Ritter called the plan a “terrific proposal,” but reiterated that parking was a concern.)

Some on the board are framing the plaza, which would be open to the general public, as an encroachment by Columbia upon the neighborhood. “They’re providing their community with this plaza,” said CB 12’s Anita Barberis. “It’s not for us. We don’t sit out there with a latte that costs 10 bucks. It’s for the students.”

At least one board member at the meeting noted the relative lack of public spaces in Upper Manhattan, according to the NY City Lens story, and indicated support for the project. “We don’t have places like this in our community,” said Maria Luna. “For people in our community that are limited [physically] … I think this is a plus.”

NIMBYs, however, have apparently badgered the board into postponing a vote. CB 12 member Ayisha Oglivie, who chairs the board’s committee on housing and human services, is capitalizing on the delay by attempting to stoke outrage over the project. Oglivie circulated a flyer urging people to come to a meeting, which CB 12 staff told me is not sanctioned by the board, to be held this evening. The flyer implies the plaza would harm the environment by causing motorists to cruise for parking.

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Oglivie, who told me over the phone she’s not acting as a member of the board, said she and others are not opposed to a plaza per se. But there is no real-world version of the plaza that would satisfy her demand to preserve all the parking on the block. (She would accept a plaza if Haven Avenue is decked over to maintain the parking underneath, she said.)

Oglivie said people who own cars in the area close to the proposed plaza can’t afford to pay for off-street parking. When I pointed out that NYC households that own cars tend to be wealthier than those that are car-free, she said that does not apply in Washington Heights — though when the 2000 Census was taken, relative incomes of car-owning vs. car-free households in the district were in line with the city as a whole.

I asked Oglivie if the the car-free majority in the district should take a back seat to the 30 percent or so who do own cars. She replied that since they don’t need parking, car-free residents don’t have a stake in how the street is used.

“You can come and look at the block surrounding the perimeter of the plaza,” said Oglivie. “Apparently those people own cars. So whoever doesn’t own a car in the district seems to be quite irrelevant to me right now.”

When CB 12 members think the 70 percent of Washington Heights and Inwood households that don’t own cars don’t matter, the board can’t be trusted to act in the best interest of the public.

If you’re interested, tonight’s meeting begins at 5:30 at 104 Haven Avenue, a couple of blocks north of the proposed plaza location, and according to the flyer will last until 9 p.m.

  • AnoNYC

    Some on the board are framing the plaza, which would be open to the general public, as an encroachment by Columbia upon the neighborhood. “They’re providing their community with this plaza,” said CB 12’s Anita Barberis. “It’s not for us. We don’t sit out there with a latte that costs 10 bucks. It’s for the students.

    Didn’t realize that students were not part of the neighborhood/community? And a lot of Columbia students live in Washington Heights.

    Additionally, as mentioned several times. Most people in Washington Heights do not have access to a personal automobile. The overwhelming vast majority. You have to be crazy to own a car and live in that neighborhood if you are reliant on on-street parking.

  • This is a national issue, with many local government groups considering universities and other higher education facilities to be “cancers” and the student residents to be interlopers, not community members. No surprise to see it here, or to see Greenwich Village residents doing it to NYU students, etc.

    Local government groups also have a more general problem appropriately representing the needs of transient residents (like renters) alongside the needs of permanent, home-owning residents. The latter group’s agenda is almost always over-represented to a dysfunctional degree.

  • Lindsay A

    I agree with much of this and personally I’d prefer a plaza but two things:

    1. To say that we don’t have outdoor public space in our community is laughable. Literally 50 percent of CD12 is parkland. J Hood is 3 blocks from here and there is also green space at 165 and riverside, a few blocks away.

    2. Parking really is a concern for a lot of residents up here. The lack of it leads to problems for pedestrians and to those of us using mass transit too. Double parking is rampant and rules are not enforced. This slows down buses and blocks bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    I love to ask Oglivie where it says the city is obligated to provide free car storage, particularly when other uses of that space benefiting more people might exist.

  • Joe R.

    If parking is a problem then private enterprise could fill that need by building garages. The problem here isn’t lack of parking but the fact car owners expect parking to be free in a place which has very high real estate values. If car owners were willing to pay enough for parking so a developer could make money running a garage, there would always be adequate parking. If you’re not willing to pay anything, well, the saying goes beggars can’t be choosers.

    The city should also enforce double parking rules mercilessly. Tow away double-parked cars, perhaps confiscate them after the third or fourth offense.

  • Brad Aaron

    1. How much of that 50 percent is Inwood Hill Park? At any rate, so what? The more public space, the better. Particularly since it benefits everyone, rather than just the tiny minority of people own cars and refuse to pay for off-street parking. Who wouldn’t prefer a space where people can sit, where kids can play, vs. that scene above? Nobody who isn’t looking out for his/her own self-interest ahead of everyone else.

    2. The problem isn’t a “lack” of parking. It’s parking people don’t pay for (which isn’t “free” since the rest of us are paying for it), of which there can never, ever be “enough.” And, as you say, non-enforcement of traffic laws on the part of the precincts.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    She really put a car spewing fumes on the poster? Irony really is almost dead in USA, 2017.

  • Joe R.

    That poster is just hilarious. It looks like it’s straight out of the 50s, which I guess matches her thinking.

  • Vooch

    remind her that overnight parking was illegal in Manhattan until the 1950s.

  • Vooch

    a better solution would be return to the pre-1952 situation when it was illegal to park overnight on anyManhattan street.

  • Vooch

    might want to send her this

  • [She would accept a plaza if Haven Avenue is decked over to maintain the parking underneath, she said.]

    If we’re gonna deck over anything in this town, it oughtta be the asthmaways (highways)!

  • And it’s this double-parking, not bus lanes, bike lanes, or pedestrian plazas, that truly causes local traffic congestion.

  • Frank Kotter

    This much effort is really about 20 parking spaces? Contracting a graphic artist to make in info graphic over a decision to remove 20 parking spaces? No matter which way this goes, that fact is enough to realize we have a very, very big problem of entitlement on our hands.

  • Frank Kotter

    I guarantee you this was by design. The car even has fins. FINS!!

    This campaign is designed to fill the CB meetings with drivers who are retired, remember the fifties fondly, and CAN’T EVAH FIND A DAMN SPOT!

    Know what? It’ll work.

  • Alec

    I bike here nearly every morning – It’s always filled with double-parked, sometimes triple-parked cars and trucks- good riddance to that. Though the plaza should maintain the bike lane as a shared use zone.

  • Reggie

    Anybody who is spending “2-4 hours a day looking for parking” needs, for their own sake, to reassess. That is just insane. Perhaps they are living in the wrong place relative to work or school. Perhaps they have chosen the wrong transportation mode. Perhaps they need to re-evaluate their assumption that they should be entitled to park for free. Everyone’s situation is different but life is too short to “waste 2-4 hours a day looking for parking.”

  • ohnonononono

    It’s an absurd exaggeration. Trying to find a street parking space every day is stressful and aggravating, and I’m sure the ~20 minutes people waste feels like 2-4 hours.

  • James

    Then what would be the point of living in the heights? I use my car to go downtown when the subways don’t work, and to leave when I need fresh air. Washington heights has a lot of people who use cars. But not the annoying Columbia people. But who cares about the original residents of his town? Once my tenanment apartment that should cost $1000 goes up to $2500, I’m out and everyone can have all of the latte space they want, even though j hood is 2 blocks away. Because it’s more important that the heights is livable for grad students who live here 4 years than actual residents with families and cars. Can we go to the playa today dad? Sorry Juanito, pretentious Columbia people took our parking so they can drink lattes and talk about bs

  • AnoNYC

    I don’t know. It can be really tough finding a spot in Washington Heights/Inwood. Perhaps the worst in the city. There aren’t nearly enough spaces for everyone that operates an auto in that area.

    I’m hoping that the car share pilot entices some owners to give up their cars.

    It is miserable owning an auto and relying on on-street parking out there.

  • Vooch

    pay for parking in a garage instead of leeching off others

  • Marco

    I have never seen so many lies together in such small space. That “Plaza” has been put through without the knowledge of most of residents of the area, that just now, already December, star to know what is going on. As per waiting for 2-4 hours to find parking, that is many times a reality, not a “exaggeration” as some may think or say. We have during the day lots of New Jerseys plates, and other NYC plates that we know are not from the community, but uses it as parking while using the trains to downtown, or going to “Columbia”. Has been ventilated that someone had said in one of the meatings, that the actual plan would lose only 12 parking spaces, but just take a picture of the area and you can count easily the double of cars parked in that space. Also, this mention of “the majority of people in the district don’t own cars” is a low play. If all residents had cars, we wouod be parking in the “West Side Highway”. And one more, trying to make anyone believe that you put more than 3000 people in that space means that or the space in not what we know, or the number of people are a “bit” wrong. Maybe they were calculate like the parking spots, using possible 12 weels trucks. Finishing, many residents of the surrounding area only now are getting the knowledge of what is going on, and we are not only car owners, and I have not hear one word in favor of such “Plaza”. So, the quickly and quiet moving is getting known, and you can expect much more people in your “future (private) meatings”, like today, Dec 4th, at 7 PM @ 530 W.166 St., Community Board #12, Ph# 1-212-568-8500

  • Ayishagisel

    “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” ~Malcolm X ?

  • Deborah M Cardona

    How about reporting that the plan passed through the committee back in December. It didn’t meet the standards was incomplete….and those community organizations supporting it receive some kind of funding and/or free services from the University/Hospital. No one has considered the other issues that affect the flow of traffic only to be worsened by water main replacement and the RSD viaduct restoration above Trinity Cemetery/Audubon Historic District….

    The application calls for taking an underutilized area like….Audubon and 166 to 168 which rarely has any traffic and is a ghost town….that is where we need to drum up business in an area that isn’t overused….and is in between two new University Buildings and new businesses that would love attention.

    Then there’s J Hood Wright Park that has more than enough space and area even for the farmer’s market and special events.

    Columbia is daring and bold enough to say this will be the heart of their soon to be expanded uptown campus. Buying up buildings as I type and evicting people along 169 and 170th… to eventually build…new.

    Journalism is supposed to be fair and objective…. this clearly demonstrates that government doesn’t work… the board is rogue and our local news is definitely fake.

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