Over 120 Morningside residents rallied against luxury condominium towers on W 122nd Street and overdevelopment on Sunday, April 30th, at 4pm on the NE corner of Broadway and W 122nd Street. We were joined on the steps of JTS by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Public Advocate Letitia James, State Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, and Democratic candidate for State Senator Brian Benjamin, who all addressed the cheering crowd.
To see what the event was like, and hear the speeches, go to our YouTube channel:
Summary of the MHCC Platform:
• BUILDING HEIGHTS CONSISTENT WITH NEARBY BUILDINGS
• EXTERIORS HARMONIZE WITH SURROUNDING BUILDINGS
• PROVIDE 30% AFFORDABLE HOUSING FOR NEIGHBORHOOD
• HIRE UNION LABOR
• JTS/UTS/DEVELOPERS: INVEST IN A COMMUNITY BENEFITS AGREEMENT
• REZONE MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS TO STOP FUTURE OVERDEVELOPMENT
SUNDAY, APRIL 30 PROTEST RALLY
“SINGING SONGS AND CARRYING SIGNS”
by Neil Rothfeld
On April 30th, in front of JTS, I joined with over a hundred protesters from Morningside Heights, the majority of whom were our neighbors from the Gardens, as well as labor union members. It was a spirited group, “singing songs and carrying signs,” to quote the 1967 Buffalo Springfield classic, “For What It’s Worth.”
Our protest rally against the overdevelopment of Morningside Heights, focused on JTS’ sale of air rights to developer Savanna and its planned 32-story luxury condo tower. This is the largest of a number of projects resulting from JTS’ sales of properties in the area. Also, Union Theological Seminary is still looking to build a 40-story luxury tower on its quad and this has already aroused student protests.
Our protest was preceded, for over a year, by community meetings and planning sessions at the Gardens and Corpus Christi Church. In this time, Gardens’ residents connected with the Morningside Heights Historic District Committee (MHHDC), which has had success in its efforts to gain landmark designation for buildings in the neighborhood and has gotten through the all-important Phase One designation. Last year, Gardens and other neighborhood residents joined with MHHDC to form the Morningside Heights Community Coalition (MHCC) to oppose overdevelopment in Morningside Heights and to pursue the re-zoning of our area, which will be the most effective means of preventing future high-rise towers in our area.
Over two nights, we prepared songs and signs. Kyle Haver’s “Size Does Matter – Rezone Now” was a star at the rally. District leader Curtis Arluck showed up carrying “Build For Need Not Greed!” Resident artist Nancy Eder designed several classy signs. My own sign was inspired by a Neil Young song: “Hey Hey My My – 32 Stories Are Way Too High.” In a similar vein, Sarah Eggleston created the chant: “Hey Hey Ho Ho – Luxury Condos Have Got to Go.” Gardens residents Sarah, Kyle, Skip, Sherry French, Ben Feldman and I served on the Protest Committee. Ralph Della Cava, Diana Multare and Sarah assisted me with the tabling in various lobbies in the Gardens. Joan and Norman Levine thanked us for bringing a protest to which they could go, to them.
Back at the rally, the crowd was given support and encouragement By Public Advocate Letitia James, Borough Pres. Gale Brewer, one of the Union reps and MHCC’s own Laura Friedman. Some cynical neighbors had said: ‘Isn’t it a done deal?”; “You’re tilting at windmills.” As I see it, until it’s in the ground and up 32 stories, it can still be influenced. As for tilting at windmills, what’s better to do? Nothing? That gets you just that. This protest should not be viewed in isolation, as a one-off effort. Rather, it is part of a broad effort to “come together” as a community and to support further efforts to landmark and re-zone.
The very next day, May 1st, the Labor Rights March kicked off from JTS, giving it the dubious distinction of being the target of back-to-back protests. The focus on the 1st was JTS’ use of non-Union labor (which our protest had also raised in regard to JTS and Savanna) and JTS student activists contended that such a practice was in contravention of Conservative (not politically) Judaism’s own ruling that “urges Jewish institutions to fulfill the imperative to treat workers fairly by hiring union labor and paying a living wage.” Demonstrators also cited safety citations at sites of JTS’s contractor, Gilbane, including a fence collapse here on West 122nd Street (“The Jewish Week,” 5/5/17, p.10-11).
Safety concerns, in addition to noise and other quality of life issues, will be an unwelcome presence in the Gardens for the next few years as two construction projects proceed simultaneously at the JTS site (the library re-building and the Savanna tower). Our MHHC Board may very well need to re-think its head-in-the-sand attitude if safety issues become a concern, as is likely. In the meantime, Gardens residents with a bird’s-eye view will be watching and reporting violations.
In this way, pressure applied by different means can yield positive results. As Mr. Young reminds us: “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye. Hey Hey, My My.
Neil Rothfeld is a resident of Morningside Gardens, and a member of MHCC