Gramercy Owners Take Up (Legal) Arms Against DOT Over Bus Stop Expansion

(flickr, Mark Morgan)

(flickr, Mark Morgan)

At least since Robert Moses capitulated to the demands of the robber barons and their estates—at the considerable expense of Long Island farmers—in routing the Northern State Parkway, the relationship in New York between placement of public transit facilities and socio-economic privilege has been fraught. And in recent months, Steven Sladkus, a partner at the law firm of Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, has been involved not infrequently in resultant fracases.

“There’s no rhyme or reason for anything the DOT does—or a lot of the things the DOT does, anyway—in my experience,” he told the Observer

Mr. Sladkus’ most recent run-in with the department concerns the Gramercy Starck luxury condo building at 340 East 23rd Street, on behalf of which the lawyer filed suit this week against the Department of Transportation. The MTA, the suit alleges, requested just 20 feet to extend a bus stop outside the building, and the DOT granted 120 instead, making of the condo’s curbside a haven for parked and idling buses, some of whose drivers use the space as an opportunity to nap and to get lunch at a nearby McDonald’s.

Tenants of the building, Mr. Sladkus said, now have difficulty loading and unloading at the curb and finding places to park. (A loading zone and four parking spots were absorbed by the station.) An employee of the building told the Post that the depot could sometimes produce “a wall of buses,” darkening the sidewalk. And one resident complained of being unable to catch a cab outside her doorway.

“The DOT and the city do not take property owners into consideration as they should,” Mr. Sladkus said. His current client’s conflict much resembles a series of scuffles he participated in not long ago over the placement of Citi Bike stations. In June, the Post went so far as to label Mr. Sladkus “Influence Pedlar,” for his role in getting the DOT to alter Citi Bike locations. (Street food vendors and neighborhood groups proved much less successful in similar efforts.)

Then, as now, he was hired to represent the interests of high-end apartment buildings with wealthy residents, including the Milan Condominium on East 55th Street—home to real-estate moguls Rotem Rosen and Zina Sapir-Rosen. Then, as now, Mr. Sladkus viewed the depot placement as “arbitrary and capricious,” the result of city government throwing around its weight without regard for residents.

“I can guarantee you won’t see a Citi Bike rack in front of Mayor Bloomberg’s town house,” he told the Post. “Maybe the same [courtesy] should have been given to all other property owners in the city.”

To be sure, the DOT is more than capable of expanding bus station footprints beyond the bounds of reason and need, and of installing bike racks in impractical locations. The thing is, though, that the kind of courtesy Mr. Sladkus is talking about ought to extend not merely to the mayor and to property owners, but also to New Yorkers who cannot afford to hire Mr. Sladkus.

The Observer must acknowledge, however, that such a prospect seems laughably quixotic, even in Bill de Blasio’s Brave New World.