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Staying Put-nam: Panel members want to keep controversial plaza

It’s safe, see?: The Department of Transportation’s Emily Weidenhof makes the case for keeping the Putnam Triangle in Clinton Hill.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Members of Clinton Hill’s community board want a pedestrian plaza to stay on Fulton Street, despite opposition from local businesses.

The transportation committee of Community Board 2 voted 12–1 on Tuesday night to approve making Putnam Triangle permanent. Only board member Lucy Koteen opposed the move. The plaza on a de-mapped stretch of Putnam Avenue bound by Grand Avenue and Fulton Street has drawn complaints from neighbors and merchants with stores facing it, who say that it is a magnet for people who pound booze, do drugs, pee all over the place, and scare off customers.

A transportation department rep sang the praises of the space at the meeting.

“This plaza we feel has been incredibly successful,” said Emily Weidenhof, director of the Department of Transportation’s public plaza program. “It’s provided a valuable open space for local residents.”

The city made the plaza on a temporary basis in 2011. The $3.75-million proposal to spruce it up and make it permanent calls for doubling the number of trees and adding more lampposts. It also includes a reserved space for art, benches with backs, and a water fountain.

The plaza hosted more than 60 events in 2014, including concerts and film screenings, drawing more than 6,000 people, the city said. Neighbors and business owners have said the plaza is desolate most of the time, populated only by menacing characters, and that the year of construction involved in making it permanent will keep patrons away.

Only one critic turned out for Tuesday’s meeting to make the case against the plaza, local gadfly Schellie Hagen.

“What we think is really going to happen here is that these small stores will die,” Hagen said. “The little stores are barely hanging on.”

Hagen said that the Department of Transportation has refused to answer questions about the plaza throughout the planning process.

The city has identified the intersection as a hotspot of “negative activity,” but claims the plaza is attracting more foot traffic and that additional lights will help make it a safer place.

“By drawing more people into the space, we’re getting more eyes on the street,” Weidenhof said, in a turn of phrase invoking the urban planning luminary Jane Jacobs, who argued that street-facing, sidewalk-abutting, mixed-use buildings made neighborhoods safe.

Some locals at the meeting were glad to see there is a push to make the space permanent.

“This is an incredibly valuable community amenity,” said Lauren Gumbs, a Clinton Hill resident. “When you talk about creating a space that’s green, that is active, that is safe, I think that’s really compelling.”

The full community board is set to vote on the plaza plan next month. The board’s decisions are strictly advisory and the city has final say on whether to keep the park.

— with Nathan Tempey

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