Last Wednesday, April 6, MTA Chairman Jay Walder wrote a letter to Deputy Mayor Robert Steel confirming the relocation of the Access-a-Ride and Emergency Response vehicles at 65 Commercial Street to a site in Williamsburg, which will hold the Emergency Response vehicles, and another in Maspeth at the east side of 49th Street between Galasso Place and 56th Road, which will hold the Access-a-Ride vehicles.
The relocation agreement, which comes after almost six years of discussions between the MTA and the city and after numerous community-coordinated protests, ensures that the public park promised to the Greenpoint community during the 2005 rezoning will move ahead.
“The community activism, the rallies, and the public eviction notice forced the MTA to heed the demands of the Greenpoint community and vacate a parking lot that we will finally see developed into a new park,” said District Leader Lincoln Restler in a statement. “This is a big victory for the Greenpoint community.”
The MTA spent the last six years looking for a suitable site to relocate the vehicles. The city offered at least a half-dozen sites for relocation, but the transit authority didn't deem any of them as fit.
The agency came under fire recently when Greenpoint residents protested their presence. Last month, Maspeth residents, along with Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Elizabeth Crowley, also fired back at the transit authority for not consulting them about their potential move into the neighborhood.
“We are deeply disappointed that the MTA has changed its mind and has now said the Maspeth site is 'suitable' for their Access-a-Ride garage/depot,” Van Bramer said in a statement. “Any move to build a depot in Maspeth would take millions of taxpayer dollars to accomplish and it would be a disgrace for this city to take this funding away from our senior centers, libraries and schools to fund this irresponsible relocation.”
In 2008, the MTA agreed to relocate the Emergency Response Units to a site directly under the Williamsburg Bridge, but Walder noted in the letter that finding a location for the relocation of the New York City Transit’s Paratransit Operations has proved more difficult.
A stipulation between the city and MTA notes that the city will be responsible for constructing the necessary facilities on both the Williamsburg and Maspeth sites prior to the relocation.
A feasibility study will soon be conducted to determine whether a facility could be built on the Maspeth site. The facility would include several training rooms for the transit authority's Division of Paratransit operations to conduct operator training for drivers and other personnel.
Walder noted that in no way would the Maspeth site be operated as a bus depot. According to the letter, the Maspeth site would provide a parking space for up to 150 vehicles composed of sedans and vans. The space will be used when new vehicle orders are received and when old vehicles are retired.
The vehicles will only be accessing the site twice a day – on their way in and once on their way out. “They will not be traveling in or out of the location on any other basis,” he wrote.
In a statement, Councilman Stephen Levin called the move “a significant step forward for the long-awaited waterfront park.”
“Greenpoint deserves the parkland that was promised to them during the rezoning process,” he said. “This agreement signifies the commitment of both the city and the MTA to ensure that 65 Commercial becomes public open space in the near future.”
But for Van Bramer, the issue is far from over. “We have just begun to fight,” he said.
Roe Daraio, president of the Communities of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together (COMET) noted that they, “will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Council member Van Bramer and our other elected officials to fight this proposal.”