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April 10th, 2006

Community Focus: Putting the Genie Back Into The Bottle

by D. Clark MacPherson

After years of abuse, Downtown got angry. On March 2nd, the Town Hall meeting got revived. Elected officials and many of the Commissioners as well as police brass attended a joint Town Hall meeting sponsored by The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, The SoHo Journal, and The Public Theatre and supported by The SoHo Alliance, The NoHo Neighborhood Association and LESA. While this was a very well attended meeting with several hundred residents, the March meeting was organized and efficient, thanks to Zella Jones, Sean Sweeney and Rob Hollander.

It was essentially the opening act in an unfolding drama. A list of demands was presented to the community’s political and law enforcement representatives in civilized but no uncertain terms. The transformation of Downtown neighborhoods by the unbridled proliferation of bars, the unsupervised and out of control increase of traffic, and the lack of planning in the approval of new building development, has arrived at a crisis point.

Bars have infiltrated and rezoned neighborhoods, children cannot cross the street because there are no traffic agents and institutions like NYU are devouring areas like Washington Square in Greenwich Village.

As Simon Schama said in Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, “The prospect of redress–was what pulled ordinary Frenchmen into politics for the first time. And it was their participation that turned a political crisis into a full-blooded revolution.”

This seemed to be the mood of many residents who now are known to hiss at Community Board members during some meetings and this same attitude was apparent during the speeches by some attendees during this meeting.

As a result of the controlled anger and constructive recommendations by community leaders, several initiatives were promised by panel members:

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will be holding hearings in May on the introduction of a bill that would provide for enforcement of the 500 foot rule (as stated in the Padavan Law). This would require Community Boards and the S.L.A. to prevent the kind of over-saturation from occurring in the community.

Assembly Member Deborah Glick announced the introduction of two bills (A.10049, A10050), which would require proper notification and posting of liquor license hearings at the Community Board and allow adequate time for comments by the community to the S.L.A.–and provide for hearings on the contentious issue of license renewals.

Senator Martin Connor stated that he would introduce a bill to limit the number of applications that could made for a specific building that the community has deemed unacceptable. This would lead to a minimizing of the cost to fight repetitive applications for problematic locations.

Borough President Scott Stringer, on the issue of traffic, invited residents as well as Community officials to attend the Borough Board meeting in order to implement changes in the Enforcement of Traffic rules to protect out citizens.

Out of the maelstrom of ideas and resurgence of activism, change will come. We will follow-up in our summer issue with some of the results of these promised initiatives. An Elected Officials Report Card will soon be available for our readers, so stay tuned. *

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