Biz-friendly Willoughby pedestrian plaza worries Brooklyn Friends

May 18, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Mary Frost

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

DOWNTOWN  While nearby businesses are looking forward to the completion of the new 14,667-foot Willoughby Plaza, a private school around the corner is expressing concerns.

The plaza, at the corner of Willoughby Street and the Adams Street service road, will feature trees, landscaping, bike racks and outdoor seating, replacing a Department of Transportation “test” pedestrian plaza that closed the road to vehicular traffic for the last several years. It’s next to Shake Shack on the Fulton Street side, and next to a developing “restaurant row” (currently housing Panera Bread) in the direction of the New York Marriott at Brooklyn Bridge.

DOT and the MetroTech Business Improvement District (BID) say the new plaza will improve foot traffic flow and provide a safe, shady spot to eat lunch purchased from what will soon be several adjacent restaurants.

But a staffer at Brooklyn Friends School says that the closing of the westernmost block of Willoughby Street and the Adams Street access road may have unintended consequences and threaten the safety of his school’s students and staff.

With the surrounding streets closed or redirected, the only way to make deliveries to the new restaurants and businesses at 345 Adams St. will be along the narrow, short and dead-end Pearl Street, where Brooklyn Friends has its front door and the restaurants have their rear entrances.

While parking is officially not allowed on Pearl Street, “People park here all the time,” the staffer said. “All I see are delivery trucks day and night. God forbid there’s a fire. How would we get all of these kids out of the building?”

Brooklyn Friends Headmaster Dr. Lawrence Weiss downplayed — but did not wholly discount — such concerns.

“In general the plaza is a very positive thing for the school,” he told the Eagle. “Trees, open space, Shake Shack and Panera.” But the school is having to make some adjustments, he admitted.

“We’ve developed a new fire drill strategy. Instead of taking the kids out to Willoughby, we now go to the pedestrian arcade next to the Marriott.” He added that Brooklyn Friends was committed to working with the surrounding business owners.

“We got through a difficult period of construction OK and want to keep working on it with the responsible parties. The safety and security of the kids is predominant, which is why we are changing the emergency procedure and looking at changes to a ‘playstreet’ environment when possible.

“If there are problems, we have to look at the timing and coordinate with school drop-offs and pickups. We’re having informal conversations with Muss [Development] and the community board.”

Community Board 2 District Manager Robert Perris says that traffic planning “has to take everybody into consideration.” While he didn’t rule out the playstreet idea, “We can’t tell businesses like the Marriott that they can’t have their laundry delivered.”

Pearl is a “very narrow, dead-end street made even more isolated by the creation of Willoughby Plaza,” he said. “There are businesses there; it’s going to be tough on Pearl Street.”

In terms of safety on the street, “That comes down to parking enforcement,” he said. “Historically, it’s been a free-for-all. Essentially, it’s a self-enforcement zone. Traffic enforcement lets local police handle any enforcement.”

Perris said that the impact of NYU moving into 370 Jay St. would also have to be reckoned with. “It will lead to more traffic on a really small piece of geography.”

Presently, traffic accesses the west end of Willoughby Street and Pearl Street via Red Hook Lane. Under a 2004 plan, the city intends to eliminate Red Hook Lane between Fulton and Livingston streets. City officials told Community Board 2, “We’ll figure that out when it happens,” Perris said.

Despite all the talk of accommodation, the Brooklyn Friends staffer is still worried.

“I’m very concerned. We’re in this cul-de-sac. Obviously, the plaza is beautiful. But the overriding and long-term concern is having emergency access to the building filled with 700 young children and adults.”

With the opening of Shake Shack and Panera Bread and the expected opening of Sugar and Plumm, and American BBQ and Beer, “the restaurants will need to use Pearl Street as a loading zone. Some mitigation has to be in place.”

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