SEA CLIFF BOARD AGAIN AMENDS LITTLEWORTH LANE REGULATIONS AFTER CONCERNS RAISED
August 13, 2015 -- At its meeting this past Monday evening, for the second time in seven days, the Sea Cliff Village Board voted unanimously in favor of amending the closure rules on Littleworth Lane between Hansen Place and Carpenter Avenue - this time modifying the regulations it had passed last week that had greatly eased restrictions on through- traffic on the section of street that runs between Sea Cliff School and its playground. The vote came after several residents spoke out in opposition to those changes.
Since 2009 that section of Littleworth has been closed from 8 am to sunset every day of the year.
On August 3rd, at its monthly conference, a meeting for which no agenda had been posted in advance, in which only two audience members were in attendance, and for which there is no opportunity for public comment, the Board voted unanimously to end those regulations, and replace them with ones that would keep the street open 24 hours a day on non-school days and closed on school days from 7:30 am to 4 pm, with the exception of Election Day when the street will remain open. The 7:30 am time for the closure was decided upon as a result of the Village Board members’ assumption that the existing regulations closed the street beginning at sunrise (not 8 am), and would thus be an easing of the restriction.
At this past Monday’s meeting, after several residents, citing concerns about children’s safety, had spoken in opposition to the easing of traffic regulations, the Board amended those new rules so as to expand the period of closure from 7 am to 7 pm while keeping the school days-only and Election Day rules, adopted the previous week, in place.
Before last week, the Littleworth Lane closure did not appear to be an issue that generated much interest among the Village Board members or the community. According to the official minutes from board meetings and conferences for the past two and a half years, since the longest serving of the current trustees took office, the closure of Littleworth has not appeared as an agenda item, nor has it been discussed by the Board collectively in public. Only once was the issue raised, when a resident in the fall of 2013 requested that the board consider opening the road on Election Day to give seniors easier access to the polls.
North Shore Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick said in response to questions from Northwordnews on Tuesday that neither he nor Sea Cliff Principal Chris Zublionis had been reached out to for input or an opinion concerning student safety before votes were cast either at the Village Board conference on the 3rd or the meeting on the 10th. The Superintendent explained that the last time the village had had conversations with school officials regarding street closures was five or six years ago, when the Village Board and School District discussed limiting through traffic on Carpenter Avenue between Littleworth and Franklin at the end of the school day.
“We came to a mutual agreement about the times [of the street closure] which has been the practice for a number of years now,” Dr. Melnick explained. “We have never been contacted or spoken to any Sea Cliff Village official regarding Littleworth Lane. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with Village officials and our safety consultant to discuss the ramifications of the proposal.”
The street closing issue was not listed on the Agenda for this past Monday's Board meeting. However, just prior to the Public Comment period, recognizing that many in the audience had come to the meeting to speak on the issue, after word of the new rules spread as a result of an article posted in Northwordnews the previous Tuesday, Mayor Bruce Kennedy addressed the audience stating that the village recognized the importance of keeping children safe, but said directly, “closing a public street is illegal.” He said that since the vote the previous week, he had spoken to many people about the issue and was open to ideas and suggestions.
The first resident to speak was Kevin White, who had served as a Trustee on the Board in 2009, and was a strong proponent of the 2009 regulation, which also had the support of the other three Trustees sitting on the board at the time but was opposed by Mayor Kennedy. He explained that a considerable amount of time and study, “with the help of legal counsel,” went into developing the regulations. “We hashed through this over a period of time,” he said. He questioned whether the Village had planned ahead by having other safety precautions in place before the more relaxed regulations begin. “Is this ready to go? Will there be speed bumps, are there guardrails?” he asked. “Are these things budgeted for or is this going to be ‘the school board has to accept some of the responsibility and they have to budget the money? And, in the meantime the kids are vulnerable.”
Mayor Kennedy responded that he was looking to “protect the safety of all of our residents . . . in a way that is defensible and common sense.”
Another resident said that the closed street and the play areas surrounding it is a gathering point during non-school hours - in particular on Saturday mornings, and that children, over the years have come to view it as a “safe zone where they do suspend some common sense.” Suddenly opening it would create a safety hazard for those who had grown accustomed to the road being closed, he explained.
Trustee Dina Epstein responded that parents had to keep in mind that “once your children are out of Sea Cliff School, they have to go out into the world and be safe on every street - not just around Sea Cliff School. We’d all love to put blow-up suits on our children. At some point every child has to become acclimated to the world they are going to live in.”
Still another resident said that there is a “natural flow” between the play areas surrounding the school and pointed out that unlike most other elementary schools, the Sea Cliff School campus is divided by streets rather than being contiguous and expansive like at both Glen Head and Glenwood Landing Schools.
And still other residents were critical of the process by which the previous week’s vote took place - that the change had been made without publication of an agenda before the board conference the previous week, and without the opportunity for the community to offer comment before a vote, and that it appeared little research had been done into the issue, with it having been raised for the first time and voted on in a single meeting after a relatively short discussion. Mayor Kennedy replied that the board had been looking at the issue for years.
At the the August 3 Board Conference the previous week, while the Mayor said he believed that closing streets was not only inappropriate but illegal,at no point during the meeting did the Village Attorney offer to the full board his opinion on the legality of the closure or cite any statutes or case law regarding the authority of a village to close a street. The 17 minute discussion, nearly half of which focused on the status of Franklin Avenue, addressed whether it was appropriate to close a street as a matter of principle and whether it was an “imposition” to residents.
Much of this past Monday’s discussion, on the other hand, was dominated by the legal issues involved, and Village Attorney Brian Stolar, supporting the Mayor’s position, stated that he believed the 2009 regulation was illegal.
When asked by the Mayor on Monday night what he thought of the changes to the regulations back in 2009, Mr. Stolar said, "I had my concerns about the revisions."
“If it is a public street, you cannot close it for private interests,” Mr. Stolar asserted this past Monday.
Addressing why the new 7:30 am to 4 pm closure was legal while the 2009 one was not, Mr. Stolar explained that he believed the new regulation was “closer to keeping it legal,” and “if challenged, it would be easier to defend. . . . The longer the regulation exists in terms of time the closer you are getting to closing a public street.” It is “more reasonable,” he continued, in response to a question from Trustee Villafane, to tailor the regulation to the hours of the school day.
"When legal counsel speaks," said Trustee Ed Lieberman a few minutes later, joined by Trustee Elena Villafane to complete the statement, "we listen."
Responding to a question concerning liability, Mayor Kennedy and Trustee McGilloway both responded that if someone got hurt as a result of a street being closed in violation of state law, it could open the village up to a lawsuit. “If someone gets into an accident because they have to drive around the street at night, and they decide to sue us, we have an exposure.” Trustee McGilloway said.
When the Mayor was asked what advice Mr. Stolar had given to the board in 2009 when it passed the more restrictive regulation, Mayor Kennedy replied the attorney had advised, “Don’t do it.”
In response to questions from Northwordnews immediately following the meeting, former Trustee White said that he did not remember Mr. Stolar being so definitive in 2009 in expressing his concerns about the regulations’ legality.
Following Public Comment at Monday’s meeting, the board discussed amending the regulations it had passed the prior week, allowing audience members to offer their thoughts as they deliberated . Trustee McGilloway questioned the urgency of the change, asking whether it was necessary to do this now. Mayor Kennedy said that he believed it was best to do it before the start of the school year, before children once again become accustomed to the 2009 regulations, and his board colleagues agreed. As for the 7:30 am start to the closure, the board agreed to move it up half an hour to 7 am, the same time the before school childcare program, for which students enter from Littleworth, begins, and to end it at 7 pm, the time the afterschool childcare program ends for the day.
As for other ways of making the street safer on non-school days, over the course of the discussion, a few suggestions were offered by both board members and the public, including encouraging the School District to move the playground back to the Franklin Avenue side of the school, where it had been years ago (where the school parking lot is now located). With the playground remaining where it is, suggestions included see-through barriers being installed along the sidewalk between the playground and school, with a raised crosswalk connecting the two sides, as well as installing self closing gates with latch locks that cannot be easily opened by small children at the playground and on the blacktop.
After the vote, Mayor Kennedy said that he would like to continue to look at other ways of improving safety and was “committed to working with the school district.”
The new rules will go into affect when signs are posted - in approximately two weeks.
BACK TO WEEKLY
SC VILLAGE BOARD VOTES TO EASE TRAFFIC RESTRICTIONS ON LITTLEWORTH LANE NEXT TO SCHOOL PLAYGROUND (August 4)
August 4, 2015 -- At their Monday August 3 Village Sea Cliff Village Board Conference, Mayor Bruce Kennedy and the three trustees present voted unanimously to ease the restrictions on traffic on Littleworth Lane between Carpenter Avenue and Hansen Place so that the street which runs between Sea Cliff School and its playground will now only be closed on school days from 7:30 am to 4 pm, and remain open at all other times. The regulation replaces one that had closed the street from 8 am to sunset 365 days a year. During Monday’s discussion it was clear that the board members believed that that that restriction, which was adopted in 2009, was in place from sunrise to sunset. READ MORE