A specialized firefighting unit based at a Melrose firehouse has had to battle paralyzing traffic in the Hub for decades to respond to emergencies. But at Community Board 1’s September meeting, a fire chief with a Mott Haven battalion angrily told residents that the city’s transportation department is partly to blame, for ignoring the FDNY’s pleas to tweak routes and break up the bottlenecks for fire trucks, for the sake of public safety.

The audience at Lincoln Hospital auditorium let out a collective gasp when fire chief Ken Sinkevitch told them at the Sept. 27 meeting, that firefighters from Squad 41 needed 16 minutes to respond to a fire last spring at Cauldwell and 149th, just two blocks from their firehouse. Squad 41 is located on East 150th Street between Morris and Courtlandt avenues. 

“We’ve been battling this agenda for years,” said Sinkevitch, battalion chief at Engine 60/Ladder 17/Battalion 14 in Mott Haven.

“The traffic is unbearable, they can’t respond,” said Sinkevitch. “They make that right, it’s a logjam. Their response time now is two minutes more than anybody else. That’s horrific. Average right now (citywide) is 4.24. They’re at 6.06.”

Squad 41, he said, is “a main cog in the FDNY,” serving parts of Upper Manhattan and the Bronx. 

At the podium, Sinkevitch said he was “disappointed” that the transportation department failed to send a representative to the meeting to address the problem.

“It’s really a sin.”

Community Board 1 sent a letter to the transportation department earlier this year, then extended an invitation for the meeting, to no avail. 

“We’re going to do something different this time around,” said Housing and Land Use committee Chair Freddy Perez. 

In other topics Board 1 considered:

  • Board members peppered an officer from the 40th Precinct with questions and criticisms of NYPD’s approach to gun violence and strategies for dealing with young people. The officer read off the monthly crime statistics, noting rises in robberies, assaults and car theft. After four bystanders were shot in three unrelated incidents, NYPD assigned 40 new officers to a radius between East 136th and 145th, from Alexander Avenue to St. Ann’s Avenue. But board members were skeptical.

“I see officers walking the block,” said board member Ora Kemp. “I’d like to know that having the additional bodies in the neighborhood is actually doing something to bring those numbers down.” 

When the officer said the command is taking illegal scooters and motorbikes off the streets, Kemp responded that “I want to make sure we’re prioritizing the right things. Taking guns off the street. No one has been killed by being hit by motorbikes, but we have people killed by guns.

“Some of these kids you can help, some you can’t. They’re lost to the street,” the officer said, and added that the precinct’s Youth Coordination Officers work to build trust with the community. 

Several residents urged NYPD to look for help outside the precinct in dealing with young people. Audience member Barbara Alvarez said young people “don’t talk to the cops,” and that NYPD should instead collaborate with organizations like Save Our Streets. “How do we collaborate with organizations that do this work already?”

Board members complained to an official from PSA-7, the housing police, that officers usually seem to be on their phones. Even while patrolling at public housing complexes, “most of the time, they’re on their phones with the door closed,” said  Mitchel Houses activist and board member Ramona Ferreyra. 

  • An art collection management company that serves museums and galleries is looking to take over the lease at 131 Walnut Street, a six-story building. The company, Transcon, which stores artworks and employs 35 at the site, has rented the bottom five floors for 20 years from Mott Haven housing development company Sobro. Sobro has said that managing the building no longer aligns with its mission. 

Transcon will make a one-time lump sum payment of $1.25 million to the city, and will pay the city $714,000 annually in rent. But several board members questioned the terms of the lease, saying the rent Transcon will pay is unreasonably low. 

“Six dollars per square foot in 2023 doesn’t make any sense,” said a board member, pointing out that the proposed deal amounts to $6 per square foot, compared with the going rate of four times that. “I think we need to renegotiate that deal.”

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services will take the proposed deal to the Bronx borough board next month, and then on to the mayor’s office for approval. 

A consultant for Transcon said recent storms have damaged the facade, roof, window, elevators and basement, all of which will need expensive repairs. 

  • A retiree who worked for nearly thirty years s as a community liaison for the borough president’s office, informed the board that Mayor Eric Adams is pushing for a privatized Medicare plan for retired city workers. The program would be administered by insurance giant Aetna, rather than the city. “We deserve what we paid for,” said Aurea Mangual. She urged the board members to join in fighting the city, and pressure city council members to sign on. 
  • Housing Chair Perez said he was frustrated with board members continuing to miss meetings, leading to difficulty establishing quorum. Responding to restless audience members who waited nearly an hour for the September meeting to begin, Perez said “don’t get angry at us.” City council members and the borough president “keep reappointing people who don’t show up.”

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