BY Rob Wolfe
Chelsea residents asked Community Board 4 to rezone areas of West 18th and 19th Streets for better parking at the board’s land use meeting on August 19.
An upcoming expansion of affordable housing on the parking lot of the Robert Fulton Houses project on 18th Street between 9th and 10th avenues will cut down on off-street spaces. Residents who already park on the street, such as Frank Lowe, a retired jeweler who lives on West 19th, worry about where people displaced by the expansion will park.
“If you are building to a higher density and reducing the number of off-street parking spaces,” said Lowe, “these people have to park someplace, so they park on the street.” He asked for a rezoning of 19th Street west of the Fulton projects because he fears displaced residents and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) employees will compete for spots that are already scarce.
Significant areas that could otherwise be used for parking are taken up by a strictly enforced 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. parking ban. Lowe said the ban is a relic of an earlier time, when the area was largely industrial. Nowadays, only a few art galleries and a service wagon repair shop remain on West 19th Street. Otherwise, the block is predominantly residential. Art galleries like the Rauschenberg Project Space at 455 W. 19th Street and Petzel Gallery at 456 W. 18th Street occupy buildings with sidewalk cuts designed for the garages of years past, and guard them jealously. Plastic cones and a sign that said “NO PARKING ANYTIME! … 24/7 INCL. SUNDAYS & HOLIDAYS” stood outside the Rauschenberg gallery one recent day. On September 5, the gallery’s cones even blocked spaces on the opposite side of the street.
Representatives of the Rauschenberg Project Space did not respond to requests for comment; Laura Higgins, gallery manager at Petzel, whose curb cuts are protected by a 24-hour no parking sign, also declined to comment.
John Loché, 67, who lives on West 18th and works part-time as a technician at TREC Rental, Inc., asked the Community Board to rezone the street for reasons similar to Lowe’s. Like 19th Street, 18th is an industrial area gone residential. Loché expressed frustration with plans for parking reallocation submitted by Artimus Construction, the Fulton Houses developers.
“They very nonchalantly say, ‘Well, [the displaced cars] can park on the street.’ Yeah, but you got to change a lot of things for them to be able to park on the street,” he said. “As it is, there’s a tremendous amount of illegal parking every single day, because there’s not enough space.”
Luckily, Loché doesn’t have to park on the street. After 10 years on a waiting list, he found a spot in NYCHA parking, for which he paid $270 last year.
“We finally got it and I told my wife, ‘We’re not giving this up. This is ours. And whether I have a vehicle anymore, I’m still keeping it.’ I don’t know if they’ll allow me to do that,” he said.
Television shows like “Law & Order: SVU” present another obstacle to on-street parking; according to Loché, they often shoot in the neighborhood, blocking off spots for days. On September 9, “The Michael J. Fox Show” blocked off much of W 18th for a shoot that wasn’t scheduled to start until the next day. Lowe, on the other hand, does not have an off-street spot. He parks blocks away from his home on West 19th even when spaces are available, because the street is narrow and cars are often sideswiped.
Lowe and Loché speculated that New York City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) would not support the rezoning measure because it could mean lost parking ticket revenues, but a DOT representative said,“DOT will consider any request for alterations received from the community,” making no mention of the likelihood of their approval. Erica Baptiste, transportation planner for Community Board 4, said that for the residents’ proposal to carry weight with DOT, they would need the support of organizations such as NYCHA, Community Board 4, or Artimus.
This was the first request Lowe and Loché have made in any official capacity; they know of no other such requests made by 18th and 19th Street residents. John Lee Compton, co-chair of Chelsea Land Use, said the board would forward Lowe and Loché’s requests to the Transportation Planning committee, which will meet on Wednesday, Sept. 18. Lowe said he would raise his concerns again at that meeting.