Thursday, December 23, 2010

Questions over Christmas tree fine

On Tuesday, DNAinfo's Patrick Hedlund reported that the Department of Transportation fined Roger Baust, who sells Christmas trees and wreaths outside St. Marks Church in-the-Bowery on Second Avenue at 10th Street, for having a temporary structure on the sidewalk that gives his staffers periodic breaks from the cold.

Baust has been doing business here every holiday for the past six years without incident. The summons is for $1,500, but Baust thinks it could end up as high as $5,000. He has a court date on Feb. 14. According to a reader, Baust got the OK for the shelter from church officials and the Parks Department (as well as the manager who runs the farmer's market here on Tuesdays).

According to the article: Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3, said her office received complaints about the sidewalk structure, so she turned them over to the city, which came last week to summons the vendor. "Just because somebody got away with something for years does not mean it is correct," she said of Baust not having permit for the shack.

As the resident noted, the temporary structure is 7 feet wide; the Tuesday farmer's market tents are 10 feet wide. Neither interferes with pedestrian traffic. Just look at the photo. TWO people walking side by side by the structure without incident!

The summons was issued by DOT — not by whatever department issues vendor permits. So it's unclear whether there were any actual complaints about the structure taking up space or whether some alleged failure to obtain a permit of some kind is behind this.

A few questions we'd like answered:

• Why and at whose request did the DOT get involved in this?
• And why now? The stand went up on Nov. 27.
• What dept. of officialdom is responsible for issuing these permits? Why couldn't the Community Board office have told Baust he needed one? Their office is only seven blocks from Baust's stand — it's not like he was hiding.
• Is there some sort of vindictiveness going on here? Did Baust piss off some influential person somehow? Did Baust fail to grease someone's palm?
• How does a complaint or two turn into a hefty fine... or put a damper on concerts in Tompkins Square Park?


Anonymous said...

Gubbermints be sticking it to the mans.

blue glass said...

in previous years, if i remember correctly, they had only one shed on the 2nd avenue sidewalk (or was it into the street?).
when they first set up the second shed this year it was in the street. with these new lane rules i'm sure somebody said something to someone. (i sent you pictures) it seemed that an awful lot of room was taken up with sheds.
these days the fashion police extend to the sidewalk and street.
and perhaps all those sodas piled ceiling high in one shed was offensive to somebody. sugar you know.
there is a real push to destroy small businesses in place of huge chains where customers are never right.

Goggla said...

I would think the DOT would only get involved if the stand was in the street. I'm no street vending official, but I thought permits for public sidewalks were issued by the Dept of Finance, with cooperation of the NYPD, who would enforce the rules. If it's private property (like the church wall/fence), that owner would need to give permission. Am I wrong?

It's interesting that this tree vendor would be summoned for something like this (blocking the sidewalk?) when the Union Square holiday market causes a huge public safety issue, but is allowed to go on. The difference? $$$$$$

Anonymous said...

apparently community board 3 has nothing better to do now that the super bar SUPERDIVE is on haitus. LONG LIVE SUPERDIVE! Reopening 2011 !!!

glamma said...

susan managed this issue entirely without holiday spirit. way to go

Better Pissed Off Than Pissed On!! said...

A friend told me about how back in the day he and is bf had nothing--he was given a rock cause that was all his friend had. It is the thought-the kindness-compassion that I find lacking.
A this word verification is palin--wtf???

RyanAvenueA said...

Good to know the Grinch has an outpost in CB3. Sick of escalating the problems on Mt Crumpit to the Sanitation Department, perhaps?

Brandon said...

Could have at least given a warning first....

Lisa said...

It's just business as usual in Bloomberg's new and improved New York.

T.E.V.B. said...

Anything we can do to support Baust?

I live nearby and walk by the trees multiple times and have absolutely no problems whatsoever with the shed, and have not noticed anyone else having any problems with it or their business. This sounds like some bureaucratic BS.

5th Gen. said...

Constructing a rather large shed - and everyone who's lived in the neighborhood since Baust has been selling trees in that location can attest to its size vis-a-vis previous years - is a conversion of public property to private use, period. It's no different than the sidewalk cafe permits everyone on this blog seems to hate (which I believe should be extremely expensive so that at least there's some general revenue generated from aggrandizing our sidewalks), but I guess the double standard is that Baust somehow fits within the punk rock-centric ossified in the 80s conception of the neighborhood, and restauranteurs who appeal to a more well-heeled crowd and different cultural mores/aesthetics do not. Christmas trees are a luxury good, they're not an affordable eatery or mom-and-pop store necessity. Christmas trees aren't going to roll back rents or keep murray hill frat boys out of the community.
Am I happy that he got fined? No, I'm sure he's just trying to make a living. Everyone's trying to make a living. Cultural nostalgia isn't a good basis for policy, however. I'd get it if he was selling trees for 1/4 of the price of competitors to neighborhood stalwarts, but he's not. Again, my point is not that he should have been fined (perhaps a compromise solution would be to waive the fine and require a reduction in the amount of sidewalk space he's taking up), but rather I take issue with the current trend of commenters on this site which seem to have no inclination to examine their own subconscious bias prior to passing judgment.

blue glass said...

googla, the union square folks PAY the city for their right to be there. pesonallyl i prefer the trees.

glamma, i merely put down what is hapapening. do you think this city encourages small business?

and what does xmas spirit have to do with any of this?

the guy with the parkaing sign on first avenue and 11th street got a fine for resting his sign on city property.

it's all a greedy way to get money for the city from those that can least afford it.

at the very least the city could issue a warning first, even landlords have to send a notice to cure.

Anonymous said...

I like these guys but you can't just go around building sheds. Believe me, if you tried to pull this sort of thing in Quebec, the authorities would be on you in minutes. I love my Canadian tree men but they've got to follow the rules like we all do.

chris flash said...

The unelected political appointee aspiring politician and park nazi Susan Stetzer is once AGAIN over-stepping her bounds.

NO ONE filed a complaint with the "manager" of Community Board Three regarding a mini-shed outside of St. Mark's Church -- I DARE Stetzer to PROVE it!!

This is the same line of bullshit Stetzer used regarding alleged complaints of "noise" in Tompkins Square Park. When we investigated, we found that Stetzer could produce NO proof that her complainants were genuine.

If pressed to prove that she received "complaints" from anyone about the sidewalk shed, Stetzer will be forced to falsify again.

5th Gen. said...


How could you possibly know that no one made complaints? And you want her to "PROVE" it (your emphasis)? With what, affidavits signed by east village residents with copies of current leases attached? It's very likely resident neighborhood curmudgeons like frequenters of this blog (no derogatory inference intended, I'm one too) have made complaints. Maybe Stetzer is some sort of fascist government pig, but the only two issues I'm aware of re: this sort of clamping down is this, and the limitations on tsp concerts: isn't she on our side when it comes to the proliferation of frat bars and noise caused by the murray-hill/nyu frattards descending on the East Village like locusts?

Does it suck that Baust - a guy who seems like he's just trying to make a buck and keep warm - got fined? Sure, but as I said in my previous post, the only reason it's getting any play whatsoever is because he fits a neat archetype of the sort of person you believe "belongs" in the east village. It's not just "nazis" and johnny-come-latelys who don't care to be subjected to blaring punk rock on weekend afternoons (the bandshell is another issue-they should construct a new one, but half-assed "protests" whose only effect is to make you feel like you're actively doing something aren't going to prompt anything).

Remember that old fogey Oliver Wendell Holmes? "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." (which is an analogy for John Stuart Mill's harm principle) And Baust's right to sell trees ends where it interferes with my (and everyone else's) use of public space.

Anonymous said...

DOT has authority over all temporary or permanent structures on sidewalks, whether it's a fruit cart in front of a bodega, a bench or a bike rack. Doesn't matter. Rules are never protested until they are enforced.Right or wrong it's on the books and the city loves revenue these days; fact of life.

Anonymous said...

The guy gets $130 for a fucking christmas tree. Let him pay some fucking rent to the city for the sidewalk space like every other merchant in this god forsaken town.


Anonymous said...

I walked other there yesterday afternoon, figuring I'd buy a tree from the guy, and I see one of his employees hauling out the contents of the shed and leaving it piled up around around the trash can on the corner. It wasn't just bags of garbage, it was a giant sofa/chair thing torn into pieces and a bunch of other bulk garbage that will likely sit on that corner for weeks now. Thanks for littering our neighborhood Christmas tree idiots! Needless to say I didn't buy a tree from these jerks.

chris flash said...

To 5th Gen:

Think about it: is ANYone who's bothered by either the level of sound in a city park or by a guy warming himself in a mini-shed as he stands in freezing weather selling xmas trees REALLY going to call Susan Stetzer at the Community Board office or are they going to call 311 or the non-emergency police precinct number? Who would YOU call?

Based on Stetzer's history of lies and denials when confronted with her lies, I do not believe that Stetzer received any complaints about the xmas tree guy's shed. It's more likely that she took it upon herself to drop a dime on the tree seller, which, in essence, Stetzer has taken credit for.

Stetzer is a wild card, operating on her own, outside of the boundaries and responsibilities of her politically-appointed "job" as "manager" of "Community" Board Three. She represents no one but HERSELF!!

As for the frat rat bars (that I also despise) popping up everywhere on the LES, choking out local businesses, Stetzer cleverly plays both sides. In her position with CB3, she facilitates the approval of liquor licenses for these joints (these approvals are routinely available for a payment under the table.) Then Stetzer decries the proliferation of these joints and the corresponding increases in rents that force moderate-income folks out as well.

Make no mistake about it: Stetzer is part of the problem -- she is NOT on anyone's side but HERS!!