Chairman: Bank allowed Occupy to use park to avoid trouble
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The chairman of BNY Mellon of Pennsylvania testified this morning that his company allowed Occupy Pittsburgh to set up camp in its small park along Grant Street back in October because it feared what might happen if it didn't.
Vincent Sands was the first witness called by the bank in a hearing to determine whether the Occupy Pittsburgh members who have been staying in the space since Oct. 15 must be forced to leave.
"We permitted the occupiers to utilize the green," he said. "We were frightened there could be confrontation. We thought the best thing for employees and clients was to let them use the area."
When the occupiers first set up camp, BNY Mellon provided a list of guidelines that were designed for the "duration" of the stay, Mr. Sands said.
By the second week in December, however, the company believed the group needed to leave.
"We thought we were losing control of the property," Mr. Sands said.
The bank took action when officials heard about the occupiers trying to build "permanent structures."
"Did it have anything to do with the views they were expressing?" asked Daniel Booker, who represents the bank.
"No," Mr. Sands answered.
Since the occupation began, Mr. Sands said that additional security inside the company's buildings is costing about $24,000 per week.
Jules Lobel, an attorney representing Occupy Pittsburgh, said during his opening statement that the bank is not entitled to an emergency injunction -- the focus of the hearing before Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward.
"You need specific, irreparable harm," he said. "What is the danger that will befall them? What is the irreparable harm that will befall them?"
Mr. Lobel also argued that the park in question is a public thoroughfare, has no barriers or "no trespass" signs and was constructed with public subsidies.
"They claim the absolute right to do what they want with this park," he said. "It is that disconnect and that arrogance that is at the heart of this demonstration."
At a packed courtroom in the City-County Building, Judge Ward heard testimony from city zoning administrator Susan Tymoczko as the two sides conducted an exhaustive analysis of the parklet's zoning and whether it was technically "urban open space," a distinction that Occupy Pittsburgh lawyers say would bolster argument to let the encampment stay.
Lawyers for BNY Mellon have argued that only a narrow strip of
sidewalk near the bank's high rise is "urban open space," but Marvin Fein, representing Occupy Pittsburgh, pointed out that the sidewalk is not handicap accessible, making it in violation of zoning laws.
Under questioning by lawyers from BNY Mellon, Ms. Tymoczko agreed that the encampment was "inconsistent" with the goals of urban open space. But when pressed by Mr. Fein, she added there was nothing in the zoning code that specifically prohibited it.
She said, however, that it's not uncommon for urban open spaces to close to have hours and to close to the public. BNY Mellon has argued in briefs that it needs the campers out because it typically closes for the winter.
The hearing continues this afternoon.
First Published January 10, 2012 12:44 pm