Residents of The Benson, a new development condo located at 1045 Madison Avenue (between 79th and 80th streets), want the bus stop in front of its entrance to be moved down the street – and they’ve hired a consultant to explain why it’s a good idea to the rest of the neighborhood.
The 15-unit building is a new development condo by Naftali Group, and the bus stop at its entrance serves the M1 through M4 buses. Most of the apartments which have sold at The Benson have gone for well over $10 million. According to Streeteasy, two 6-bedroom units are currently in contract for about $15 million each, and a 2-bedroom appears to be in contract for $6 million. Another unit with 10 rooms is currently asking $18.5 million, and the most expensive apartment to sell at the building was a penthouse that went for over $35 million, according to the real estate listing website.
On Friday, a vice president at Naftali Group named Hugh MacKay presented the building’s case to Community Board 8, but the board wasn’t buying it – and neither was anyone else in attendance.
MacKay opened up his presentation by calling attention to the often overcrowded bus stop. “There is essentially a bus arriving every other minute in peak rush hour conditions. And when you account for the standard bus dwelling time of 30 seconds, we characterize it as basically having one continuous flow of buses when the system is operating efficiently. It’s important to note here that this isn’t the case for all the stops on Madison Avenue. But because this is an express stop for the M1-4, it gets both local and express buses.” MacKay added that at its busiest, the stop sees about fifty people waiting over the course of an hour.
MacKay goes on to argue that there’s more than enough room to shift the bus stop south by about forty feet based on estimations provided to them by the consulting firm they hired, Sam Schwartz. “There is adequate buffer between the buses and the pedestrian crossing on Madison Avenue. And our consultant tells us these distances are well within the acceptable range for the MTA.”
The next segment of the presentation speaks to the motivation behind the proposal. MacKay says they’re looking to “improve the overall quality of life for both users of the bus and residents of The Benson,” a claim which will later be called into question multiple times. MacKay argues that the congestion makes it difficult to enter and exit the building, which is not only inconvenient for residents, but also “the bus stop patrons who experience this congestion on a narrower portion of Madison Avenue at just under 15 feet of sidewalk.”
He then went on to say that the Benson is “proud to be a family building, with most of its residents actively shuffling around children with busy lives. If the stop were moved to this new location, it would allow for a safe area for pickups and drop offs to the north of the new stop. This would benefit residents, but it would also alleviate traffic problems and double parking caused by delivery trucks serving Benson.”
MacKay’s presentation was followed by an immediate avalanche of criticism. The first verbal lashing came from MTA representative Lucille Songhai, who swiftly suggested that residents of this building are in no position to ask for favors.
“I would feel a little bit more sympathetic if your building did not place concrete planters in front of your building to actually disrupt the routine of our bus customers,” Songhai said, referencing the photo below. “You come here with a presentation and with consultants, but you weren’t thinking of your neighbors when you all decided to plant those concrete planters. So I’m just going to say it, shame on you for that.” The DOT has since asked Naftali Group to have the planters removed.
Songhai added that according to DOT records, this bus stop has been at its location since 1974, and it’s the MTA’s policy to restore bus stops to their original locations after construction takes place. Also, there are people who don’t live at The Benson who like this bus stop.
“This specific location provides for convenient transfers between bus routes, traveling on Madison Avenue, and the crosstown bus, the M79 on 79th Street,” Songhai added. “And again, I will add that in good faith, we are all New Yorkers. And we all share the city streets here. And for your building to place concrete planters … and the photographs and the complaints that we have received from customers trying to alight off of those buses is not neighborly.”
Another MTA employee, Rob Thompson, added that “all around Community Board 8 and all around the city, there are countless bus stops that are in front of residences. And you know, not everybody likes a bus stop in front of their building.” Then, he pointed out the simple fact that the new location they’re proposing might make other people unhappy. “In this case, we’d be concentrating the buses at the other building that’s on the corner of 79th street.” Rob stated that the MTA makes it clear to building developers that if they move a bus stop to allow for construction, “it’s going back after construction.”
CB8 board member Craig Lader jumped in to share his disgust. “I would never imagine in a million years that there would be a property owner that would look to [install those planters] and then have the audacity to ask for us to give them relief. And if there was any confusion as to the size of this building, I believe it’s a 16 unit building. So there are not that many residents that are actually affected by it.”
An attorney representing residents of another nearby building, 49 East 79th Street (at the northeast corner of 79th and Madison), tuned in to the meeting to basically say those residents weren’t okay with this plan either. “The proposal to move the bus stop 40 feet south of its current location in our view is not neutral or positive as has been suggested, but actually unsafe,” said Judith Gallent of Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. “There are many elderly people living in the building who have to deal with this intersection on a daily basis for whom it is a concern. And moving the bus stop to the south will only increase the issues because the buses do in fact bunch up two and often three at a time, and that will create a dangerous situation.”
Members of the public also had a chance to chime in.
“I have lived in this neighborhood since 1963,” said Upper East Sider Margaret Poser. “And to Ms. Songhai’s point, that bus stop has been there since long before 1979. I know because I went to school on 72nd Street and took the Madison Avenue bus home every day. And that was the stop until I’d say at least the mid ’60s. I think that Mr. Mackay’s presentation displays tremendous arrogance. He expects us to believe that the advantages to the building residents also redound to those of us who take the bus and then switch to the 79th Street crosstown. By invoking the steepness of the hill and all of that, that’s just bunk. You all have paid obscene prices for those apartments. And your developer was clearly either arrogant enough to think that he could accept the MTA rule when he was warned that the bus stop could be moved temporarily north, or he didn’t really care about his buyers any more than he cared about us.”
“It does seem like moving it increases convenience for one building at the cost of just a different residential building which is on the street corner, which itself has a different bus stop right next to it,” said Dylan Kennedy.
Community Board 8 member Adam Wald pointed out that the building’s offering plan actually has a dedicated paragraph about the bus stop, and that anyone who bought in the building should have known what they were getting themselves into. “It’s very clear in the offering plan. Anyone buying a unit should have been well aware of that. It’s not on the developer. It’s not on the MTA.”
“It is infuriating to see that a building would have the hutzpah to do that,” said Upper East Sider Judith Berdy. “It’s hard enough to get off a bus and not trip over a tree pit, or something else.”
The proposal was unanimously disapproved.