BET Declines Funds for Greenwich Ave ADA Improvements in Tie Vote on Party Lines

On Monday night there was a vote down party lines concerning the Dept of Public Works request for the release of conditions on $450,000 toward Greenwich Ave improvements they said were necessary to comply with the decades old Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The deal breaker for Republicans seemed to be the bump outs proposed for 8 intersections to narrow the distance in crosswalks.

There are plans to re-pave Greenwich Avenue, and doing so triggers the requirement to fully comply with ADA.

On May 30 there was a well attended public hearing – a requirement for the release of funds – where plans for the intersections were presented by DPW.

During the hearing there was an outpouring of objections to the DPW’s plans to include new bump outs at all eight intersections, starting at the the top where vehicles currently enter from Route 1 across a wide apron.

While there was one person at the hearing who spoke in favor of the bump outs at Elm Street, every other person who testified spoke against them there and at other intersections.

There was even the suggestion that the large speed hump at Elm Street be removed before work proceeds on the other intersections.

Also, it was noted that the work had already begun.

A new 4 ft x 8 ft tree well with a newly planted tree at the bottom of Greenwich Ave. June 9, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

On Monday night Deputy Commissioner of DPW, Jim Michel, and his boss Amy Siebert, both insisted that narrowing the crosswalks was necessary to achieve ADA compliance.

But there was push back from the Republicans.

Leslie Tarkington brought up the issue of fairness to retail merchants. The DPW proposal is based on the premise that seasonal outdoor dining will be in perpetuity; and Tarkington noted there are no ADA spots planned in front of restaurants with outdoor dining in street nodes.

An ADA parking spot by Mediterraneo was displaced by an outdoor dining node. Since then a new one put in across the street at the corner of Fawcett. Photo: Leslie Yager July 2023

Lucia Jansen commented that the BET should not learn for the first time what projects look like after the BET and RTM approve them. She said the entire situation could have been avoided.

“I personally would like to see that in the future a project that would encompass our most important avenue, a commercial district, would have more than just a satellite picture with some circles as to the scope of the project,” Jansen said.

“This project deserved to have full disclosure, with at minimum, sketches. This project was not just addressing a very specific point. It grew. We would have seen that earlier and had a robust discussion.”

BET chair Harry Fisher also pushed back.

“This was presented to us as an ADA project, but what came out of the public hearing is there are aspects that are not required by ADA,” Fisher said. “What I find particularly bothersome is the extreme narrowing at the top of Greenwich Avenue.”

Cars turning left from Putnam Ave onto Greenwich Ave where bump outs are proposed as part of a plan for ADA compliance. June 9, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Schematic design shows proposed bump outs at Route 1 at the top of Greenwich Ave.

“There may be some need for some extensions and ramps, but the public is generally dissatisfied as far as I can tell with the Elm Street intersection. Anyone who drives a car through that intersection is confused,” he added.

“I think we need to do a re-set on this project,” he said. “We need to go back to the drawing board and look at minimizing this, and taking this down the ADA scope because the feedback in the public hearing was not good for the other aspects.”

Democratic member of the BET Leslie Moriarty said the responses from DPW were that the narrowing of the roadway was “in line with” ADA accommodations.

“My understanding was they may be ‘in line,’ but ‘not required,'” Fisher said.

Mr. Michel repeated that the proposals presented at the public hearing did not include excessive work.

“You’re saying that the narrowing of the roadway is necessary for ADA?” Mr. Fisher asked.

“Correct,” Mr. Michel said. “It allows us to be able to properly create the sidewalk area and the slopes on the sidewalk in order to accommodate the ADA compliance.”

Karen Fassuliotis referred to the intersection with Rte 1 and “the chaos it is going to cause going forward with cars making left hand turns to the Avenue.”

“Why can’t you start the slope further back on the sidewalk, so it doesn’t have to result in a narrowing (of the roadway)?” she asked.

Mr. Michel replied, “Because you have to have a landing area once you get off of the sidewalk…plus the sloping to get down to the roadway is necessary.”

He noted the top of Greenwich Avenue was the steepest slope. “So we have to provide a landing area plus the sloping area, which forces us to add additional space to the sidewalk area that goes out into the roadway.”

“We’re very skeptical that you have to take it to the degree you’ve taken it down,” Fisher said. “We just need a reset.”

Mr. Michel promised that the “speed hump feature” of the Elm Street intersection would not be repeated at other intersections.

He said that at the hearing there had been questions about the number of parking stalls, and explained that looking strictly at the code, 4% of parking spots meet ADA, for a total of 16 ADA stalls.

He said other feedback included the issue of plantings in the bump outs growing leggy and blocking sight lines. Further he said there were requests for adding parking possibly in the form of a parking garage, and requests to restore the police officers directing traffic at the intersections. (Short of that ever happening, there were also requests to put in traffic lights at the intersections.)

But he said the point of the hearing was to get feedback on ADA, not trees, sight lines, plantings, parking garages or police.

There was a question about whether the town was being sued.

“There was a complaint made to the ADA coordinator for the town on Greenwich Avenue approximately 2 years ago. That complaint went through the hearing process. It went before the Board of Selectmen, and the agreement was there would be a budget request made for ADA compliance for this project,” Michel explained. “That’s the process we went through.”

“Woah, woah,” said David Weisbrod. “This is really surprising to me. It has been alleged that DPW somehow didn’t disclose the project adequately, that they’re grossly negligent in terms of how they presented this. Their competency…”

“Your comment is out of order,” Fisher said.

“No, I don’t think so,” Weisbrod said.

“Your language is out of order,” Fisher said.

“No, I don’t think so,” Weisbrod replied. “We had a budget committee meeting for the budget. We had a full BET meeting for the budget. We had a vote during the budget process. There was ample opportunity for this BET to explore to its heart’s content any issue relating to the project. BET had a vote that approved, although at a lower amount, but it was approved to grant the money – with conditions.”

“The only matter we are here tonight to do is to determine, were the conditions met or not?” he asked. “Show me where the conditions are not met. We’re not here to evaluate the project.”

Nisha Arora said the requirement the DPW holding a public hearing was to understand what the public was thinking.

“If there are concerns raised in that public hearing, we absolutely as the BET  have the right to think through how we want to go about – either slowing down, re-scoping, or whatever,” she said. “At that public hearing, which I did attend, there were about 30 residents who attended from the community – over 90% had concerns.”

Stephen Selbst disagreed.

“The issue before this board is whether the release of conditions has been satisfied,” he said.

“This is a disguised collateral attack on the process rather than a vote on the release of conditions,” Selbst said.

Ms Arora said her interpretation of the public hearing condition was that the public feedback be incorporated into the plans.

Matt DesChamps asked Mr. Michel and Ms Siebert what concerns they gleaned from the public feedback, and what specifically was within or beyond the scope of ADA requirements.

“We understand that change can be difficult for some people to fully understand what’s necessary,” Mr. Michel said.

Amy Siebert and Jim Michel face the Board of Estimate and Taxation. Monday, June 17, 2024 (via Youtube live).

Ms Siebert talked about how public hearings attract people who are critical of DPW projects.

“It’s been my experience – who comes out for public meetings? It’s rare for most of the things we do to see people come out and actually like what we do. What comes out is people who don’t like what we’re doing,” Siebert said.

Ms Moriarty said she was astounded at the idea of taking the pubic hearing feedback from the public hearing as the basis for “saying it’s a project that’s widely rejected.”

Ms Fassuliotis said the only reasons why curb cuts were being changed at all was because of plans to repave Greenwich Avenue.

“We are ADA compliant with the standards from when these sidewalks were put in,” she said.

Fassuliotis said that at the hearing, good suggestions were “dismissed out of hand.”

“When we voted for this, we were told we had a lawsuit pending. It was like  we had a gun to our head,” she added. “We found out after the vote that there is no lawsuit pending.”

Mr. DesChamps asked what would happen to the project if the vote was not to release the funds.

Ms Siebert replied, “I’m not sure. We do want to pave the Avenue. And it is true that when you pave you bring things into compliance.”

Ms Tarkington said that while everyone wanted to be in ADA compliance, there was a chance to “go back and rethink.”

“I think it should be the responsibility of the town and Public Works to balance that compliance with a Greenwich Avenue that is equally safe for other users – whether it’s at the top of the Avenue or for other users including Greenwich Avenue retail, restaurant, office tenants and employees, and the customers of those retail and restaurant spaces.”

“Because many of the restaurants have these pods for outdoor dining, should all the ADA spaces with ramps be in front of the retail? Tarkington asked.

Also she wondered if ADA regulations would be met if some of the ADA spaces were situated on side streets.

“The current plan calls for the redesign of 8 intersections. Quite frankly, this should have been presented at the budget committee,” Tarkington said.

Ms Moriarty requested to have a recess for parties to caucus, which they did for about a half hour.

When the BET reconvened, Democrat Eliot Alchek joined the meeting via telephone, and said he supported the DPW’s ADA improvements at the 8 intersections.

The vote was a 6-6 tie down party lines.

The motion to release the funds failed.

No: Fisher, Arora, Fassuliotis, Tarkington, Jansen, Alfano,

Yes: Moriarty, Weisbrod, Kalb, Alchek, DesChamps, Selbst

See also:

Feedback on DPW Plans for 8 Greenwich Ave Intersections: Comply with ADA, Skip the Bump Outs

Vehicle stopped in the middle of the intersection at Elm Street to let pedestrians cross. June 9, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yage