Saturday, July 15, 2006

Trump This

You have to give him credit. He keeps on coming.

Despite tremendous opposition to Donald Trump's attempt to develop the Spring and Varick Street parcel into a 45 story Hotel/Condo his people attended the recent Zoning Committee hearing of Community Board #2.

Of course, the Donald hasn't yet met Andrew Berman. Through the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), Executive Director Berman has managed to move his focus from Gansevoort to the West Village and now onto SoHo in his mission to downzone and preserve downtown communities. Few landlords would place him high on their list of favorites. In zoning circles, he is as well known as Trump is himself.

Berman describes the Trump development as a Trojan Horse Hotel, and just as illegal as 848 Washington Street was before the Hi-line became a fact of life. His concern is that allowing an as-of-right development disguised as a "Hotel condo" - would set a precedent for further residential development in this area without having to pass through the review process normally required of such a variance application. In Berman's words it would "strip away" zoning protection in areas like NoHo, SoHo, the Meatpacking District and the Far West Village. Berman calls this development plan an "illegal circumvention of the law."

Key, of course, is taking action to prevent any kind of proposed development of this magnitude.

Substantially more than 100 residents came out to express their opposition to the plan and as a result a resolution was passed denying the application at the Community Board's Zoning Committee.

There is a long and growing list of elected officials downtown that are opposing the plan and thus far the City has not issued any permits. It looks like they might have a very big stampede if they were to do so. Opposing Andrew Berman is like fooling with Mother Nature when it comes to zoning issues.

Diether's new role as the Chair of the Zoning Committee is like Yogi Berra's "deja vu all over again." After David Reck was fired by Board Chair Maria Derr for opposing her in last month's election contest, the only Board Member left who could claim to have the knowledge of how to run the Zoning Committee was Doris Diether. Reck was unquestionably the most knowledgable and competent person on what is described as "wacky Board 2."

As a white-haired survivor of the Community Board wars, Doris Deither (at 86) is not someone to be trifled with. Like a cat dropped from dizzying heights she always seems to land on her feet. The only trouble is that she has a Conflict of Interest and no amount of sympathy for the octagenerian changes that fact. Gentle little white haired old ladies can also be wily foxes that cut corners. The most recent ruling on her private consulting work which she does for landlords and developers - whether they come in front of Community Board #2 or not - was ruled on by Borough President Virginia Fields a few years back. During the 80's Diether had been told that as long as clients did not appear in front of any Board Committee of which she was Chair (the most likely being Zoning), it would fly. However, that was changed by Fields a few years ago.

The current ruling, made by Fields, prohibits any Chair of the Zoning Committee from engaging in a business relationship with landlords or developers that go before any Community Board.

The race between Maria Derr and David Reck was widely viewed by downtown as a loss to the Nightlife people, but the lopsided rejection of several liquor license applicants shows us that isn't the case.

In fact, what was suspected by some and now appears likely is that there was a well-coordinated smear campaign that started several months before the election itself that was later augmented by a fear campaign. This secret agenda, organized with the help of political operatives like Allen Roskoff of the Durham Group - a close personal friend of Maria Derr - and supported by the Nightlife contingent on the Board (Roscia Sanz, Phil Mouquinho, Bob Rinaolo and supporters like John Maggio and John Diaz), was part of a coordinated campaign of fear and intimidation. Some members on the Board were threatened where it hurts - in the pocketbook. Particular Board members are dependent upon referrals from political connections friendly to Derr. Ray Cline of VRDC, for example, has made it known in the past that Judges dole out patronage assignments (foreclosures, probate, etc) and control purse strings in the political arena - and Board members not voting correctly would not be smiled upon if Derr did not win. Others were threatened with expulsion to the archipelagos of the Board like the Youth Committee or the LBT Committee. Still others Board members did not want to risk the wrath of a vindictive and vengeful Chair despite the Kennedyesque fiction and much-hyped aura claimed by the Passanante-Derr connection. Between the fear, the intimidation (some Board members were told to vote for Derr, Sanz, Maggio, and Diaz), the financial threat and the threat of expulsion to a political Siberia - worked.

Election speeches and articles about Community Board #2 as corrupt body were drowned out and not welcome. For the last year, and now for another year, it will be business as usual. The Chamber of Commerce and Nightlife Association will continue to run Board #2.

The Borough President's office has stepped in and commented upon the selection process for District Manager of Community Board #2 . Up to this point, the process has suffered from a lack of Sunlight. Even a flashlight would have been helpful. Maria Derr is handling the confidential legal work for the Estate of Arty Strickler (the now dearly departed District Manager), yet the selection committee seems to be suffering from the same level of privacy. The BP's office has commented that the level of disclosure emanating from the Personnel Committee which was configured to select a new District Manager -- having conducted 7 meetings and 14 interviews without reporting anything to the Board membership -- is a violation of the By-laws. All requests for a peek at the CV's was either ignored or given lip-service. Board members didn't even know who the candidates were until this past week and the vote will be held on Wednesday. It is a mockery of Democratic process and is insulting to the membership of the entire Board.

The Personnel Committee, controlled by Derr supporters (Derr, Schwartz, Sanz, Yankay) should be disbanded, the election should be cancelled and the process should begin anew -- observing the "Sunlight laws." All of the Board members, with comment from the community (which has contact with the District Manager on a day to day basis), should have access to resumes and all of the proceedings. Arty Strickler was sometimes perceived as heavy-handed and sometimes insulting to community members who wanted information. That should not be the face of the new Community Board #2.

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