C.B. 2 is taking a stand on illegal tree benches
BY SERGEI KLEBNIKOV | The Community Board 2 Executive Committee isn’t taking the issue of illegal tree benches sitting down.
On June 16, the board’s district manager, Bob Gormley, discussed recent complaints about the tree-straddling benches. The meeting was led by Bo Riccobono, filling in for David Gruber, the board’s chairperson, who was attending a different meeting.
The number of tree benches has increased around the district now, as well as the city. C.B. 2 is currently in the process of making inquiries to determine exactly which city agency should be contacted to deal with the issue. According to the board, the Department of Transportation claims the benches are not in its jurisdiction. The Parks Department will claim responsibility, but only if trees are hurt or damaged by the benches. On the other hand, if the benches are deemed part of the sidewalk, the Department of Sanitation could claim jurisdiction.
“We are currently still trying to decide on an agency to deal with the situation,” said Gormley.
The district manager described the two types of complaints about the seating that C.B. 2 has received. First, locals have complained about the benches narrowing the sidewalk, essentially creating a “bottleneck effect,” as Gormley put it.
The second main issue with the benches that has been brought to the board’s attention is that they encourage patrons of nearby bars and restaurants to linger on the sidewalk — potentially with cigarettes or alcohol.
The situation could quickly get worse if people become “more likely to linger outside,” especially at night on benches located beneath local residents’ windows.
The two most recent complaints that C.B. 2 has received focused on The Spotted Pig and Wallsé, restaurants both located at W. 11th and Greenwich Sts. The Spotted Pig’s tree bench situation was described as particularly egregious: In addition to the tree bench, another bench has been placed right across from it, next to the restaurant’s exterior, while various plants have been put out on the sidewalk, allowing for less than 2 feet of space across. Wallsé had also been getting complaints, but it reportedly removed its tree bench after a visit from the Department of Sanitation.
P.R. spokespersons for The Spotted Pig said the restaurant would decline to comment for this article.
“They’re all illegal,” Gormley said of the tree benches, explaining that building any bench around a tree constitutes a violation. “They can definitely be problematic,” he said, though added, “but if it’s a wide sidewalk, the benches can be nice to have.”
The community board can’t say for sure who it is that erects the benches, Gormley said, but the assumption is it’s the adjacent local establishments. He also reiterated that C.B. 2 only acts when it gets complaints about something, which is why the board is targeting the illegal benches.
“The tree benches are always an amenity to the restaurants, sometimes an amenity for pedestrians, and always a nuisance for the city,” Gormley said.
However, one local bar/restaurant owner, who asked to remain anonymous, scoffed at the C.B. 2 crackdown. His business is fronted by a wide sidewalk, in an area off the beaten path, with little foot traffic. Apparently, his tree benches are not on the board’s radar.
“This has been here 20, 25 years — before the community board,” he declared of his rustic assemblage of tree benches. “It’s a service to the community,” he said of the outdoor seating.
— With reporting by Lincoln Anderson