Neighbors Say 'No' to Planned Move of Summons Court to Tribeca

At a Community Board 1 meeting held on a bare and barely lit floor of 4 World Trade Center, residents who live near the site of a planned summons court raise their hands to show their numbers. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Oct. 24, 2013

Nearly 100 people who live near the intended site of a summons court in Tribeca appeared at a Community Board 1 meeting last month to say, as one of them emphatically put it, “Not over here, not now, not ever.”

The city is shuffling many city agencies as part of the sale of two city buildings. With the transfer of 346 Broadway to a private developer, the displaced sum­mons court is moving to 71 Thomas, at the corner of West Broadway, where a state civil court has been for 20 years.

The court that is moving in, officially known as the Summons Arraignment Part, adjudicates tickets issued by more than 40 city agencies and written for a gamut of offenses, from littering and bicycle riding on the sidewalk to marijuana possession, noise, and fighting. By far the most common summons is for public consumption of alcohol, according to the city’s statistics for 2012.
Although 346 Broadway is just three blocks from 71 Thomas Street, opponents argue that the Broadway site is far less residential, and they fear the additional crowds and the potential for crime that could come with it.

“This is 101 of what not to do to a neighborhood,” said Martin Vahtra of 60 Thomas St., who compared the court to the methadone clinics that disrupted communities in the 1960s and ’70s. “This can rip the heart out of our street and our neighborhood.”

“These buildings are in the civic center for a reason,” said board member Tricia Joyce, who lives nearby on Duane Street. “There’s a civic center and then there’s the residential part of this neighborhood. Now they’re going to put condos in the civic center and, much to my fear, they’re trying to move city offices into a residential neighborhood.”

Opponents of the plan spoke in the public session at the beginning of the board meeting. A short time later, with the public session over and most of the group gone, Cas Holloway, deputy mayor for operations, who had overseen the move, along with several high-level city court officials, came before the board to give the city’s reasoning for the move. Their appearance came as a surprise to many in the room, and it was not clear why it had not been announced to the residents before they left.

“There’s been a lot said about what the 71 Thomas Street plan is, and a lot of it is not true,” Holloway said. “So I want to go through what the facts are.”

“We’d love it if you could come around to the administration’s way of thinking,” he added.

That didn’t happen, as CB1 later voted in opposition to the move. But standing at a lectern on the bare 50th floor of the yet-to-open 4 World Trade Center, Holloway insisted that the board should see the move as benign once it was understood. The infractions the court handles are not cri­minal but “quality of life,” he noted. And unlike 346 Broadway, where people wait in long lines on Leonard to enter the building, the interior of 71 Tho­mas will be reconfigured to hold up to 250 people.

“That’s more than we think we will ever need,” said Holloway, who estimated the anticipated number of visitors to the court at 500 per day.

(According to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, speaking at the First Precinct Community Council’s October meeting, the city was previously considering 80 and 100 Centre streets as possible sites for the summons court. It is unclear, based on Vance’s statements, why those possibilities were ultimately turned down—though Vance alluded to a “security risk” at 80 Centre.)  

The board was also unpersuaded by Holloway’s noting that, as part of the deal negotiated with Councilwoman Mar­­garet Chin and Borough President Scott Stringer for their support of the buildings’ sales, a $20-million digital me­dia center for youth will open at 346 Broadway.

In addition, Holloway pointed out, the convicted criminals who had been going to 346 Broadway for probation visits—as well as another court service—would be served elsewhere. “All you’re going to be left with is a court for minor infractions, nine to five, Monday through Friday,” he said.

Where would the convicted criminals be going, Holloway was asked.

“Sixty-six John Street,” he replied, to a collective groan from board members, who also represent the Financial District.

“You know that area is the fastest-growing residential area in Manhattan,” said Joel Kopel, noting the schools and children in the area. “So why would you want to put something that toxic there?”

Holloway said he was not prepared to talk about the probation office move that evening but would consider returning to the community board next month.

After the meeting, the Trib asked Holloway if the outpouring of objections to the summons court relocation, including 1,100 signatures to an online petition, could persuade him to change the plan.

“Unlikely,” he replied.