Chaos and indecision descended on Community Board 8’s Seventh Regiment Armory subcommittee meeting last night at the New York Blood Center on the Upper East Side.
At issue are plans that the Seventh Regiment Armory Conservancy has for the 127-year-old brick fortress between Park and Lexington avenues and 66th and 67th streets. The conservancy, which expects to sign a 99-year lease with the state for a performance-arts center and exhibition space for the building, has been battling the Veterans of the Seventh Regiment and neighborhood groups who are opposed to the change.
At issue last night, at least initially, was whether to demand a thorough environmental-impact statement for the proposed use changes. (An E.I.S. is required for certain large-scale projects; it studies the environmental impact of traffic, noise and pollution, among other things, on the surrounding neighborhood.) The conservancy has already conducted an environmental assessment, which has less public-input mechanisms such as public hearings on both the draft and final findings.
The conservancy responded that it has fulfilled all its legal duties for the project to begin.
But rather than mollifying its critics, it infuriated them: “This is a community issue, not a legal issue,” shouted one project opponent.
The veterans group, citing traffic engineer Brian Ketcham, also accused the conservancy of fudging certain traffic-count figures to minimize the traffic’s effect on the surrounding community.
“It will be the equivalent of adding the amount of traffic as a Wal-Mart or Costco,” said the veterans’ attorney. He adding that an E.I.S. is mandated by law if only one adverse condition is projected for a new project.
The lawyer for the conservancy called the veterans’ traffic engineer’s findings “palpably erroneous.” The conservancy’s traffic engineer, Philip Habib, stated that the neighborhood would be able to accommodate the projected extra traffic.
The board has found itself in a curious twilight area with the project as of late. Sponsored by the powerful Empire State Development Corporation, a state private-public development entity, the project doesn’t need the approval of the board to move forward. But the opposition groups were looking for a ally in demanding the E.I.S., hoping to leverage enough community outcry for the E.S.D.C. to concede and allow the E.I.S. to begin. But the board, stuck between two rival camps, each seemingly unwilling to compromise, itself devolved into indecisiveness and petty infighting.
Groans, jeers and scattered applause followed each testimony, depending on which side of the issue the strictly segregated audience sat. Catcalls and threats–“You will be held accountable”–even comments demeaning speakers’ professional capabilities, were bandied about.
In the end, the board made no decision.
See The Real Estate’s previous coverage here.