Newly Forged Hell’s Kitchen Coalition Gets Cooking | chelseanow.com

Newly Forged Hell’s Kitchen Coalition Gets Cooking

Joe Restuccia gives the crowd a brief history of how area residents used to organize to get their voices heard. Photo by Jackson Chen.

Joe Restuccia gave the crowd a brief history of how area residents used to organize to get their voices heard. Photo by Jackson Chen.

BY JACKSON CHEN | At the first official Hell’s Kitchen South Community Coalition meeting on Tues., Feb. 7, members presented the previous months’ expansive survey results and began to plan their goals moving forward.

The coalition was first ignited as the community’s way to respond to the lack of public input for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s bus terminal project. The aging facility on Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 40th & 42nd Sts.) is long overdue for a renovation, but the process has restarted after a concerted effort from unhappy residents and local elected officials.

According to Joe Restuccia, a coalition and Community Board 4 member, the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood has a history of uniting to oppose some major nearby projects. This time around, the tentatively named Hell’s Kitchen South Community Coalition came through to represent the community with an extremely detailed survey first distributed in December.

Several dozen residents showed up for the coalition’s first meeting, which focused on sharing the survey results that received more than 250 comments, ranging from topics of neighborhood preservation and housing, to air quality and transportation.

Nearly 30 percent of the comments mentioned the need to improve air quality overall, with roughly 16 percent calling for better enforcement of idling buses, and more than 10 percent suggesting that part of the bus terminal should move to New Jersey. As for the area’s transportation issues, close to 20 percent of respondents said tunnel and street-level traffic should be alleviated, especially prior to a modern bus terminal as one comment noted.

Reverend Tiffany Henkel encouraged people to fill out a form to indicate if they'd like to join a committee and which organization name they preferred. Photo by Jackson Chen.

Reverend Tiffany Henkel encouraged people to fill out a form to indicate if they’d like to join a committee and which organization name they preferred. Photo by Jackson Chen.

The survey specifically posed the question of “where to rebuild the terminal,” where 70 percent of the 254 respondents said both states, 84 percent said the terminal should use Port Authority land only, and 65 percent said to rebuild on Eighth Ave., as opposed to a site west of Ninth Ave.

Outside of the controversial project, residents wanted to see more affordable housing, protection for and diversity of small businesses, preservation of the area’s limited historic structures, an extension of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 7 line to New Jersey, and more parks, playgrounds, and green roofs. 

Reverend Tiffany Henkel, the pastor at Metro Baptist Church (410 W. 40th St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), said she was not surprised at the massive amount of survey results they received, as Hell’s Kitchen residents tend to be aware of the area’s issues.

“It was good to collect [the survey results] in the way we did,” Henkel said. “The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but I think it does help us get a sense of where we’re starting and gives us a basis to start our goals.”

Since it was the coalition’s first meeting, Henkel was looking to create some structure by forming a steering committee to oversee coalition operations, and a planning committee to make clear what the community wants in terms of future projects. The pastor added that outside of the committees, the coalition is also looking for anyone with enthusiasm and special skills like data analysis or fieldwork.

“We have passion and we have food and we have power. That’s kind of where we are,” Henkel said. “We need some folks to help us really get motivated and moving around preserving our neighborhood.”

Henkel said the coalition would meet every two months or so, with the next scheduled meeting for April 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Metro Baptist Church again (unless something comes up where they would have to call an emergency meeting). Ultimately, the coalition is hoping to form a cohesive community vision  that Port Authority can refer to whenever they need context moving forward.

“We learned a long time ago these public actions happen one way or another. We’re not going to stop the action from happening, our goal is to shape how the action happens,” Restuccia said. “By us being organized, that’s what makes a difference and enables community board and elected officials to walk into a room and sit with Port Authority officials, negotiate back and forth, and determine what is the plan that helps us instead of wipes us away.”

For info on CB4’s interaction with the PA, visit nyc.gov/html/mancb4. Choose the Committees and Task Forces option, then go to the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use page.