Masaryk move to close walkway is opposed by NYCHA neighbors
By Lilly O’Donnell and Lincoln Anderson
Masaryk Towers, a Lower East Side Mitchell-Lama co-op, is planning to close off a stretch of Rivington St. that goes through the complex, and which residents of two nearby New York City Housing Authority complexes use as a walkway. Discussion of the proposed change is causing upheaval.
The NEST School, previously Junior High School 22, has already closed off part of Stanton St., so the additional restrictions caused by fencing off Masaryk would amount to what many consider a major inconvenience. Gating the stretch of Rivington St. would create a three-block area that would be off limits to the general public. Depending on where on the perimeter someone was, this would add one to two blocks’ distance to his or her walk.
While this may not seem like much to some, it does to many of the seniors who make up the majority of residents at Bernard Baruch Houses, a NORC, or naturally occurring retirement community. Also impacted would be tenants at Samuel Gompers Houses. In addition, the closure would lengthen congregants’ route to the nearby Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
However, Masaryk Towers’ tenants recently voted in favor of the plan.
Roberto Caballero, a Masaryk resident who is chairperson of the advisory board of the Baruch Houses Community Center, voted against the closure, but sees the issue as bigger than whether or not the walkway should be kept open. He pointed out that it seems unfair to ask Masaryk to keep the walkway public while allowing the NEST School to close off Stanton St. in the same way.
“When the Board of Education closed off Stanton St., nobody said anything,” he said.
He suggested that the NEST School share some of the burden of providing paths for people to walk through, mentioning that it might improve the neighborhood’s opinion of the school.
“There’s a lot of resentment toward that school, because a lot of kids who attend it are not from the neighborhood,” he said. “This would be a good way to resolve the animosity.”
The walkway in question technically belongs to Masaryk Towers, not the city; so, regardless of the potential inconveniences to the co-op’s neighbors, it’s within Masaryk’s rights to close it off.
Caballero acknowledged as much.
“I wouldn’t say it’s their responsibility to provide a path for people who don’t reside in Masaryk,” Caballero said. “People have to understand that Masaryk Towers is privately owned.”
Indeed, he said, the main concern appears to be security, with Masaryk wanting to create what would amount to a “gated community.”
City Councilmember Rosie Mendez is also concerned about the walkway’s fate, and has requested a meeting with Bernice McCallum, head of the Masaryk Towers board of directors.
“This is an issue I’ve been working on for a few years, since I first got into office,” Mendez said. “Masaryk says they want to close it due to insurance reasons. Though it’s their legal right to close it, people have been using that street for decades and decades. Whether there is legal recourse, there are different opinions,” she said of whether a lawsuit might be lodged to keep the walkway open to non-Masaryk residents.
Technically, these blocks of Rivington St. were officially demapped when Masaryk was built, and are thus private property, she noted. Nevertheless, many local residents use the route to get to the Key Food store on Columbia St., she added.
As Mendez explained it, the stretch that would be gated off would be between Columbia St. and a spot near Pitt St., with gates at both ends.
Some alternative proposals have already been dismissed by Masaryk tenants, Mendez said. One rejected idea was for fencing to be put along the north and south sides of the walkway to keep people from having access to Masaryk.
Another potential compromise idea Mendez said she wants to talk about with Masaryk leaders is for the stretch to be left open during the day, then closed at night until the early morning, around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., when it would be opened again for public use.