Nix newsstand, East Siders demand


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Can you just “plop down” a major piece of street furniture without telling your neighbors? Apparently, the answer is yes


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  • The iron gates are still rolled down on the soon-to-open newsstand on East 79th Street – but the mountains of litter that already flank it are one of the reasons the community is opposed to its presence. Photo: Sandra Lerner



“It’s already very crowded with all the strollers there.”

Sandra Lerner, 79th Street resident



BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN

The newsstand on the north side of the quiet residential block on East 79th Street between York and First Avenues hasn’t even opened yet — and already the community is up in arms.

It’s exactly the wrong location, mere steps away from the Hopscotch Montessori School, and it will occupy space in an area where two large apartment buildings pile their trash, neighbors say.

Adding insult to injury, the two city agencies with regulatory authority over newsstand siting did not issue any public notice, and the operator was not required to appear before Community Board 8, officials say.

Residents first noticed the pouring of cement for the project on July 30, followed by installation of electricity on Aug. 1 — and the “sudden plopping down of the newsstand” at 435 East 79th Street on Aug. 6, said Sandra Lerner, who lives next door at 425 East 79th Street.

“It was exactly one week from start to finish, and my feeling is that this was done very rapidly to get it in before it could be stopped,” she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the sidewalk newsstand will open.

“It’s not the right place for it,” said Betty Cooper Wallerstein, the civic activist who has been president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association for the past 34 years.

“Newsstands are usually on corners,” she added. “They don’t block the entrance to a residential building. They don’t block the entrance to a school with little children. They don’t take up space where garbage is placed. How does something like this happen and the community isn’t told?”

Astonishingly, the law allows it.

BUREAUCRACY IN ACTION

Newsstand oversight falls under the purview of both the city’s Dept. of Consumer Affairs and its Dept. of Transportation. And although the siting criteria for a new newsstand is quite stringent, the requirements of the two agencies for the relocation of an existing newsstand has First Amendment protections and is far less rigorous.

The newsstand in question, which had originally been located on the northeast corner of 79th Street at First Avenue, was forced to move from its approved location because of an Extell Development Co. project at the site.

Under those circumstances, the city gives the licensee three options, according to Will Brightbill, district manager of CB8, who was briefed on the matter by DCA on Aug. 15.

An operator can relocate to any other sidewalk newsstand that is currently unoccupied, apply for a new application and go through the full approval process anew — or else relocate to a spot within 500 feet of the previously approved location in either direction that meets all established DOT and DCA criteria.

The licensee chose that third option, which doesn’t require a new application. Since the new spot is roughly 440 to 465 feet away from the original location, the normal process of public notice and informing the community board is waived.

But just because the lack of notice is permitted under regulations, doesn’t mean it’s the appropriate thing to do, Brightbill said.

“While we respect and appreciate the newsstand operator’s situation, and their contribution to our city streets, we are disappointed in what appears to be an obvious omission of public notice in the newsstand relocation process,” he said.

“As with the original application, the public deserves a chance to comment on the newsstand that will physically occupy a place on their street and in their life,” Brightbill added.

And he called on the City Council and DCA to “proactively address this oversight, and apply the same procedure, with ample public notice as is required for new applications, to these relocations.”

In the meantime, if the newsstand opens up next to the Montessori nursery school, the students, aged 2 to 6, and their nannies, will be subjected to increased litter from Lotto cards and candy wrappers, second-hand smoke and other unhealthy conditions, Lerner says.

“It’s already very crowded with all the strollers there — and unless this is stopped, it’s going to get a lot worse,” she added.

Is there any way to stop the newsstand? The odds are long. But in an Aug. 23 email to Lerner, a constituent service staffer for East Side City Council Member Ben Kallos held out a small ray of hope:

“Our office is still trying to see if there is any way DOT would consider moving the newsstand to another location that is less crowded,” he wrote.

invreporter@strausnews.com






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