DOT Admits Knocking Down Historic Stanchions Was A Mistake, Will Rebuild Them

DOT Admits Knocking Down Historic Stanchions Was A Mistake, Will Rebuild Them
stanchion knocked down at Foster:Westminster
The DOT knocks down a stanchion at Foster and Westminster.

At a meeting last week, the New York City Department of Transportation vowed to work with community members on a resolution after the agency demolished two historic brick stanchions without any notice to residents.

“It definitely was a mistake,” said the DOT’s Claudette Workman. “We should not have removed them without notification first.”

Workman explained that the DOT brought in the bulldozer to the corner of Westminster Road and Foster Avenue after they had received numerous complaints about graffiti and trash, as well as a few requests to remove the structures, which were reportedly originally constructed in 1924. Trash had indeed piled up in those areas, as those stanchions, along with a few others nearby, have spaces cut out of the brick columns, presumably where past residents had made an attempt to install electricity to light bulbs on top. Complaints were also reportedly made to Council Member Jumaane William’s office, and Community Board 14 confirms there had been issues with trash on that corner. Still, Workman admits the DOT should have sat down neighbors before taking such a drastic action.

“Was it an error that we removed them without notification to the Community Board?” she said. “Absolutely.”

Now the DOT will work with residents of West Midwood, where the stanchions were destroyed, to ensure their replacement — so long as locals promise to handle future trash complaints. In order for the DOT to agree to rebuild them, the local neighborhood association will be required to file a revocable consent form (essentially to get permission to construct a structure on a city sidewalk), as well as a to submit a maintenance agreement that says the neighborhood will be in charge of keeping the stanchions clean — but, since the neighborhood doesn’t receive 311 complaints like the DOT, they’ll be given a heads up by CB14.

“The Community Board will also make a commitment as part of this that we will bring any complaints that we get about them to the attention of the neighborhood association president,” said CB14 district manager Shawn Campbell.

One of the demolished stanchions, pictured in 2013, with litter stuffed into a cut-out in the column, and graffiti on the bricks.
One of the demolished stanchions, pictured in 2013, with litter stuffed into a cut-out in the column, and graffiti on the bricks.

Potentially, this could end up affecting all neighborhood associations. Hoping to avoid similar incidents in the future, the DOT may require maintenance contracts with representatives in all the areas that have stanchions.

“At this point, we need a maintenance agreement with all of them, so we won’t have this kind of situation again,” Workman said.

“It’s not illogical that these pillars are under the auspices of DOT, because they’re on the sidewalk and they’re street signs, so for years I thought they were DOT property,” Campbell said. “These are not DOT property, so the DOT will not address damage, graffiti, and other issues pertaining to them. So I’m going to make sure that the other neighborhood associations that have them understand that these are not under the auspices of DOT, and that the neighborhood associations might want to be proactive about what they’re going to do to maintain them.

“We don’t have a precedent,” she continued. “I believe this will set the precedent.”

As for ensuring their upkeep, that could be trickier. The neighborhood can reach out to the Brooklyn Borough President’s office for help with graffiti removal, but trash removal will be solely up to residents. One thing that’s likely to help a bit is if the holes in the remaining stanchions are bricked over, removing the invitation for so-called “litterplugs,” but that would require a fair amount of funding. Council Member Williams’ office has not yet responsed to our question about whether they would consider assisting with that work.

After: No more stanchions at Westminster & Foster
After: No more stanchions at Westminster & Foster

Meanwhile, some neighbors at the meeting wondered if the stanchions could be landmarked, to help prevent anyone else from knocking them down. It seems unlikely — particularly for the ones that will be rebuilt — but we’ve reached out to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and will update if we receive a statement. Such designation may ease the worries of some who, understandably following the toppling of these columns, are concerned it could happen again.

“I have the underlying sense, and it may or may not be correct, that this administration is not all that excited about historic preservation,” said Jeffrey Ewing, a member of the West Midwood Community Association Board [as is, full disclosure, this reporter], who recently worked on the team that tried to gain a historic designation for that, and a few other, Victorian Flatbush neighborhoods, though the designation was not granted. “Those stanchions, and those all over Victorian Flatbush, certainly all are historic structures built either at or shortly after the time the neighborhoods were developed. They’re not something recent that somebody threw up. I would hope that somebody at the DOT says, ‘Oh, maybe these are historic structures that the neighborhood has an emotional attachment to, maybe we shouldn’t just run out with our bulldozers next time.'”

Once the local neighborhood association files the paperwork, the DOT will begin the process of rebuilding the stanchions. Before constructing them, they’ll provide renderings to the community, and they’re hoping to get them back up before winter.

Admitting the mistake multiple times throughout the meeting, the entire commotion has been something of a lesson in communication for the DOT — but also a unique situation the likes of which they’ve never dealt with before.

“This is a first,” Workman said. “This is definitely a first.”


Sign in or become a Bklyner member to join the conversation.