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Sidewalk Story: the Long Wait For Repairs to Begin on Columbia Street

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What does it take to fix a sidewalk in New York City? Quite a lot, it seems. For the past several years, local residents have been complaining about large holes in the crumbling sidewalk on Columbia Street, in front of Masaryk Towers.  The privately-owned affordable housing complex received $8 million in government money (from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.) to fix the problem and make other exterior improvements to the buildings. Residents were promised the work would be done last year. But still, no repairs are underway.

Neighborhood activists gathered on the sidewalk yesterday with the leadership of St. Mary’s Church, representatives of the Grand Street Settlement and the affordable housing organization GOLES to put pressure on Masaryk to cut through the red tape. The rally and news conference, organized by Lower East Side resident Sammy Vasquez, was covered by NY1. On television, the pothole problem became a “Sidewalk Crater.”

Carmen Martinez shows a mark on her leg caused by a fall on Columbia Street.

Residents, many senior citizens or people in wheel chairs, complained about the dangerous conditions. Vasquez said he fell on this section of Columbia Street a couple of years ago. Carmen Martinez showed a mark on her leg, the result of a similar accident. Pastor Neil Connolly of St. Mary’s Church on Grand Street lent his support in the form of an opening prayer.

The offices of City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez and the Public Advocate have all tried to resolve the problem. After indicating work was scheduled to begin last fall, there was apparently a problem with the contractor. Masaryk was forced to begin the bidding process from scratch. A spokesman for the company running the buildings told NY1 work would finally begin “early next month.”

In the past, Masaryk has floated the idea of gating off the complex, a concept a lot of people in the community oppose. The complex is surrounded by public housing developments, including the 17-building Baruch housing project.  Fencing off Masaryk would cut off pedestrian access between Columbia and Pitt, blocking a passageway that used to be part of Rivington Street.  Jessica Williamson of Grand Street Settlement (located on Pitt Street), said there’s uneasiness about the sidewalk project delay — some people worried Masaryk might be buying time for a master plan incorporating both the sidewalk repairs and a gated community.

We have calls and emails into Masaryk manager Ed Koslowski and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which oversees the complex. We’ll let you know if/when they respond.

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