The wildest New York City community meetings

A New York City Council town hall meeting.
A New York City Council town hall meeting.
Jeff Reed for the New York City Council

The wildest New York City community meetings

Bike lanes and homeless shelters definitely rile up passionate New Yorkers.
October 8, 2019

In a city known for its theatrical and impassioned residents, New York City’s community meetings have a tendency to get out of hand.

From intense verbal arguments to physical altercations – and even the occasional conspiracy theory – these fiery meetings cover a wide range of issues, large and small, and often draw a crowd of fierce New Yorkers ready to fight.

Here are five of the most intense meetings and debates from the past couple of years.

Glendale homeless shelter: “I hope somebody is going to burn the place down”

A Queens Community Board 5 meeting erupted into raucous debate Monday night over a proposed homeless shelter in Glendale. The New York City Department of Homeless Services fanned the flames in August when it announced that it was not only moving forward with the controversial Glendale shelter, but also planned to locate a new homeless shelter for families in nearby Ridgewood. This seemingly never-ending fight over the proposed Glendale shelter goes as far back as 2013, when the plan for its construction on the site of an abandoned factory was first made public.

At Monday’s meeting, a woman voiced her opposition to the shelter by saying: “I hope someone is going to burn the place down.” In a video posted to Twitter, the majority of the other people in attendance can be seen cheering in support of her shocking announcement.

“I do not care about homeless (people). I feel sorry, but I don’t want them in my backyard,” the woman said.

After years of uncertainty over its construction, some community members are hoping to stop the Department of Homeless Services from finishing the 200-bed men’s shelter, which is anticipated to open during the first half of next year.

Crown Heights residents say “kill the deal” for a new homeless shelter

In 2017, a Brooklyn Community Board 9 meeting that was described as “two and a half hours of swearing, cheering, booing” showed how deeply divided Crown Heights residents were over a proposed homeless shelter in the neighborhood. The shelter was part of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s initiative to build 90 new shelters across the city.

During the meeting, a large group of residents opposed to the shelter chanted “Lawsuit! Lawsuit!” and “Kill the Deal.” Some arguments made against the shelter were more sound than others, but one especially memorable moment was Alicia Boyd’s brief outburst.

“We have to stop the bullshit. Get these elected officials the fuck out,” Boyd said, before having the microphone taken away from her by the Rev. Daryl G. Bloodsaw, who moderated the meeting.

In the end, the distraught community members were unsuccessful in their fight, and in May 2017, the new shelter opened and began accepting the first of the 132 families to be located at the site.

The infamous Park Slope bike lane shove

During a debate spurred by the controversial bike lanes that were recently introduced in Park Slope, Brooklyn, on Ninth Street, a Sept. 25 town hall meeting ended with a physical altercation and screams of “assault” and “somebody arrest this man.”

After being installed last year, the bike lanes have become a contentious topic in the neighborhood. Myra Manning, the founder of Citizens United for Safety and an outspoken opponent of the newly implemented bike lanes, called for the meeting and invited John DiLeva Halpern, a filmmaker and self-described climate activist, to voice his opinion.

While reading from a prepared speech, Halpern claimed bike lane advocates were being funded by Jeffrey Epstein, the late notorious sex offender, resulting in laughter from the audience. The tension between the supporters and opponents of the bike lanes only escalated from there, with Halpern proceeding to stand on a chair and yell at the crowd.

The room quickly erupted and Halpern was drowned out by the arguing. Doug Gordon, a safe streets advocate and co-host of the “War on Cars” podcast, began reading off the names of the five people killed by drivers on Ninth Street since 2004. The night’s climax was when Halpern shoved Gordon shortly after, causing at least one crowd member to yell “assault.”

During the action-packed meeting, Keith Bray, the New York City Department of Transportation’s Brooklyn commissioner, said the city supported the bike lanes, but would listen to the arguments posed by both sides.

Upper West Siders approve a bike lane

At a July Manhattan Community Board 7 meeting, Upper West Side residents approved a plan that would create a one-way protected bike lane along Central Park West. The local push for the new bike lane was in response to the death of an Australian tourist, who was killed by a drunk driver while bicycling.

In spite of the strong community support for the plan, that didn’t stop opponents from making their voices heard. After the meeting that was described as “punctuated by angry outbursts, constant interruptions, boos and jubilation,” Nevona Friedman, a 25-year-old resident of Central Park West, told Gothamist that there were very few people against the bike lane. “They were just loud,” Friedman said. “It was chaos, just screaming mad people who were against it.”

The new bike lane would run from 59th Street to 110th Street and eliminate 400 parking spaces, a main reason behind the community opposition. Although it was approved by the community board, the bike lane’s future remains in limbo as a result of a series of legal challenges.

Correction: An earlier version of this story conflated two separate disputes over proposed drug treatment facilities, one this October involving Community Boards 10 and 11 in the Bronx, the other last October involving Community Boards 10 and 11 in Manhattan. 

Madeline Lyskawa
is a City & State editorial intern.
20191023