The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) under the vigorous leadership of Executive Director Andrew Berman has been weighing in on zoning issues in SoHo and Hudson Square. The Tunnel Garage was one of the first SoHo locations where a small protest demonstration was held and although the building was ultimately razed, consciousness was raised as well - and developers and their attorneys have taken notice. It's no longer business as usual. And, the Far West Side, where the Superior Ink building became a cause celebre, the Meatpacking District where the High Line has been preserved, the Julian Schnabel "high rise" in the Village and lately the "Trump SoHo" (which is actually in Hudson Square), have become targets of Mr. Berman's intense scrutiny. It's not easy to save buildings or neighborhoods in Manhattan, where buildings and then neighborhoods are destroyed in a matter of a few years. Especially, when politicians are asleep at the switch.
But to her credit, Christine Quinn, the new Speaker of the City Council, seems to be listening. A public hearing has now been scheduled for Monday of next week. One of the criticisms leveled at Quinn, Bloomberg and other political leaders downtown had been what appeared to be the lack of opportunity for the community to review and speak on a few zoning and development issues - notably the Schnabel and Trump matters. That has now changed.
While it is true that GVSHP is an organization which represents the positions of numerous downtown community organizations, it also has a focus of its own. As a result of the persistent attention given to issues raised by the Far West Village development pressures and the SoHo/Hudson Square development pace, there may now be reason for some cautious optimism.
Although no one expects Trump not to build a hotel, it would not be terrible if he actually got a condo/hotel with some real modifications. And, it would not be a travesty if it were 25 stories instead of 45 stories. As a result of the air rights sold to him (Trump is just the marquee on the deal, the money comes from Dubai and the syndicate is out of the Midwest), the permitted 45 stories would really change Downtown for the worse. The real Trump card for Downtown would be getting the rezoning of Hudson Square initiated and on the fast track as a result of all of this.
Quinn's stock just went up 100 points on this effort to bring the community in on the process. At this rate, her chances of preparing for a Mayoral run look a lot better Downtown.
Community Board #2 is still owned and operated by the Bar and Chamber of Commerce crowd and its now wholly-owned political subsidiary, VRDC (Village Reform Democratic Club).
The newly elected president of VRDC, Bradford Sussman, was previously with C. Virginia Fields' office before she term-limited out last year. Scott Stringer defeated several contenders and replaced Fields as Borough President and quickly disposed of a number of her appointees. Sussman hung around for a while before moving on. Now, however, he will be listening carefully to Bob Rinaolo, Maria Derr, Phil Mouquinho, Arthur Schwartz (Democratic State Committeeman), and supported PR-wise by none other than the ubiquitous Allen Roskoff - of CB#2 "Anonymous Letter" fame and political character assassination notoriety in the Downtown political arena. These sparkling jewels of political science is under the supreme leadership of Ray Cline, another of the survivors of political intrigue. Having bounced around Gotham for many political wars, unlike Roskoff he is described as genuinely smart. As President of VRDC before Sussman's recent election, there is little doubt that he will be still running the show, Deus Ex Machina-style. It appears that the "Reform" moniker of this, the Village Reform Democratic Club, has to be seriously questioned as it hitches its trailer to the recent ascendance of Arthur Schwartz, who defied the Quinn/Duane/Glick powers that be and pulled off a stunning upset in winning the race against Larry Moss for State Committee. While Arthur is rising star at VRDC (despite his former adversarial relationship with Cline) he also serves as Chair of the Hudson River Park Advisory to the Trust Board. As wily a character as Schwartz is, he needs to be careful with whom he associates. Traces of Polonium-210 have been suspected at several meetings and a "taster" is rumored to be on call at all of the VRDC functions where food and drink is served.
Speaking of contests, rumors have it that the VRDC crowd - aka the Bar/Chamber of Commerce group currently controlling Board #2 - will float Phil Mouquinho for Chair after Derr is retired next summer. Derr goes off into the sunset to contemplate how to unseat Deborah Glick and Mouquinho will battle it out with Brad Hoylman.
Hoylman, Chair of Transportation Committee and 1st Vice Chair is not allied with any political group on the Board and seems to be intent on normalizing the nastiness of the last few years. Mouquinho, currently Chair of the Sidewalks Committee is a question mark after having been so closely allied with the business interests taking their cue from Bob Rinaolo, Chair of Institutions Committee, and his underlings. Rinaolo has divested himself of several Village business interests and is sitting on a mound of cash from the sale of former properties, including the Garage Restaurant, Senor Swanky's and the Village Nursing Home parcel - all of which came before Board #2 for approvals of one sort or another whether they knew it or not - and he may now no longer need Board 2's services.
A new dynamic duo of the Real Estate world has seen the rising stars of Mark Ramer and Michael Saperstein wafting in the stratosphere with such luminaries as Trump, Rudin, and 'er Alred E. Newman.
They own numerous properties since giving up dentistry. But while Aeschylus keeps his head high and Trump tries to work the Art of the Deal, these two characters, Ramer & Saperstein, take on a whole new meaning when thinking SoHo Slumlords. But, with psychiatric overtones.
Picture a "Monk" episode which tries to figure out how two supers, both Polish, both in the U.S. on permanent "temporary work visas" as slaves to these landlords, and both dead (in their 40's) from doing the same job at the same building within just a couple of years of each other (no health insurance can do that). Then add several "teen" apartments illegally "shared out" at $1500 per head with 5 to 10 "models" occupying each apartment courtesy of a private, illegal deal involving I.D. Model Management and these very religious landlords, through a surrogate;
Add to this -- a building where members of the Tenants Organization are routinely subjected to threats of eviction and where decontrolled tenants are abused and threatened to keep quiet about building violations;
And then add to this wonderful pedigree, a building infested with bedbugs.
With tenants living in the basement, in storefronts, in commercial spaces, anyplace where another bed can be stuffed - it almost gives landlords a bad name. It's good for bugs, though.
Monk would have a good time but not the tenants of 80 Varick Street. Makes you wonder how bad a building has to get before the electeds take notice.
But, the bugs are everywhere these days. Even the Downtown hotels have been hit.
Europe is a wonderful destination. It's what comes back with the luggage that makes the trip truly memorable. Wipe down your bags with alcohol on your way back from the airport -- don't drink it first. After a few weeks and no bites, then finish the bottle.