By Paul Bisceglio
The wire fence that blocks access to One Chase Manhattan Plaza has been a source of controversy since it was erected around the 60-floor Financial District skyscraper’s outdoor square last September for a yet-to-be-seen construction project. Now, the city’s newly formed Urban Planning Committee is adding its voice to demands that the bank reopen the plaza to the public.
The committee met for the first time last Thursday in the Community Board 1 (CB1) office on Chambers Street. Following a presentation by Michael Levine, CB1’s Director of Land Use and Planning, and his Pace University students on Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS), the committee addressed the Chase plaza’s closure, which they considered a significant obstruction in the daily lives of the Financial Districts 28,000 residents.
“It’s a catastrophe,” said committee member Ro Sheffe, arguing that the plaza – “the major open space in the center of the financial district” – was essential for reducing pedestrian traffic in the area during what he called “the largest urban renewal project ever.”
Jeff Galloway, the committee’s chair, agreed. “It seems to be to be extraordinarily unneighborly,” he said.
The problem the committee faces is that One Chase Manhattan Plaza is not a Privately Owned Public Space – it’s just private. The building was constructed before POPS zoning laws were made in the 1970’s, so the bank has no legal obligation to keep the square open to the public.
The committee echoed general public speculation that the plaza’s alleged construction project is a guise to ward off Occupy Wall Street protestors. One man has even sued the New York Department of Buildings for refusing to disclose Chase’s construction plans, but One Chase Manhattan Plaza’s place on a Police Department list of buildings potentially vulnerable to a terrorist attack has allowed the bank to guard the details of the project from public scrutiny for security reasons. Levine mentioned that the legality of the fencing could come into question if Chase were proven actually not to be engaging in construction.
The committee agreed that if no legal imperative exists to make Chase open the plaza, a social one still does. A preliminary vote unanimously passed a resolution to tell Chase that the plaza should be opened as quickly as possible, that security concerns should be accommodated in a way that has minimal impact on the public and that the bank should provide a timetable for the construction project’s completion.
Chase had not responded to the CB1 staff’s attempts to contact them about the fencing at the time of the meeting, but the bank has since agreed to send a a representative to the CB1 Quality of Life Committee meeting on Thursday, July 12 to discuss the issue. Chase has not responded to New York Press’s requests for details about the construction project.
Tags: Chase Bank, Community Board 1, Financial District, jeff galloway, michael levine, one chase manhattan plaza, pace university, pops, privately owned public spaces, ro sheffe, urban planning committee
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