Sunday, August 13, 2006

SoHo Security

Or, how I learned to live with the bomb.

The most recent proof that Homeland Security is keeping us safe is the D.O.T.'s recent refusal to allow the gift of planters partially sponsored by Bloomingdale's to be placed around SoHo. The planters, each one dedicated to a fallen 9/11 Fireman, were to have been placed around SoHo to beautify and lend some sense of foliage to our concrete arts Mecca . In spite of the love that the city professes to have for SoHo -- as Lady Bird Johnson once suggested -- we need to plant "a tree, a bush or a shrub to beautify".... SoHo.

However, as Joshua Simons of the Crosby Street Block Association has learned, the D.O.T. apparently considers the planters a "bomb threat."

Just exactly how a planter with the inscription of a dead fireman who gave his life for that tragic event could be considered fodder for yet another terrorist attack leaves one incredulous. The local chapter of Al Qaeda seems to be more interested in large targets rather than designer lofts with Bosch appliances.

Or, is there another explanation for denying SoHo the planters.

A simpler one may have leaked out of the lower rungs of the D.O.T. when it was learned that Commissioner Iris Weinshall, Chuck Schumer's wife, lives across from Prospect Park and doesn't like planters. She has a point. Planters really are not a good substitute for grass, trees and flowers.

But Iris, can you bring us some grass, trees and flowers? At over $1000 a foot, we can't even get weeds. We'd love some rolling meadows too! It's just that, well, can someone bring them to us - like, now? We'd be happy to give up our planters.

So, what has been passed along to us as a security protection smells suspiciously like a personal predilection on the part of a City Commissioner. It must be nice to be a Commissioner who gets to decide what all of the little people are permitted to have in their lives.

The heat has been turned up on the City over the Trump development at Spring and Varick Streets. The Trump people insist that the hotel/condo will be built - a 45 story residential tower in a manufacturing zone. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, GVSHP, insists that this is not a permitted use in a manufacturing zone and that this project perverts the use and variance system and defeats the zoning process. While a hotel is "as-of-right" in a manufacturing zone, residential use requires a variance. Thus, transient hotel use is permitted while long term residential use is not - unless a plan comes before the community and becomes subject to its comments, suggestions, modifications and approval process. What is as stake here is the foisting upon a downtown community of a huge mega-structure without review, comment or modification that would normally be subject to the carefully negotiated zoning structure. We have a huge new structure with a high density of tenants, perhaps families, and no social net to absorb them. Mr. Trump, you build buildings but do your planners have any interest in what becomes of the community or your new tenants once you have moved on? What about schools, what about the parking crisis, and, forgive us, but what about the silly concern about light and air?

The City has not yet issued permits to the Trump people, but they have not agreed to meet with Andrew Berman of GVSHP either. Our guess is that the bureaucrats are trying to figure out how much heat they will have to take if they give this project the green light without consulting with residents. Right now, Berman is putting their feet to the flames but they are dragging them nevertheless. If you object to this project, contact the City.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Dog Days

These are the lazy, dog days of summer yet there seem to be rumblings of thunder coming from the DOI and DA's office as the aftermath of those investigative subpoenas looking into records at Community Board #2 continues. There were rumors afloat that there was some connection between the Pier 57 fiasco after it was learned that Cipriani pulled out of the "Leonardo" development team leaving Witkoff, et al, seemingly holding the bag-- and the defeat of Berlusconi in the Italian election as a possible connection. Unseemly allegations flew.

But it turns out that aside from continuing application woes of the Pier 57 development team, the investigation appears to be focused upon the history of the Oceanarium proposal that was submitted several years ago as part of the Pier 40 RFP. Despite the fact that the applicant was defeated by the Korman bid (and then all were rejected by the HRPT), both DOI and the DA are apparently delving into allegations of wrongdoing in that area.

Several sources have confirmed that James Ortenzio, former Chair of the HRPT, Republican County Chairman and consultant for the Witkoff Group involved with the Pier 57 proposal -- has had interviews with both investigative agencies and is rumored to be trying to avoid an indictment. The rumors are that both agencies are investigating a connection between the Oceanarium effort and money changing hands to keep the Pier 40 application viable during the year of 2003.

Arthur Schwartz, Chair of Parks, Waterfront and Open Space at Community Board #2 has stated that contrary to comments implying that he was close to Ben Korman are incorrect - and that he (Schwartz) had, in fact, sued Korman in order to secure more interior space on Pier 40 for ball fields. Thus far, there have been no rumors that Schwartz is a target of this investigation and he has been very active during his recuperation from quadruple by-pass surgery only two weeks ago.

Speaking of Waterfront matters, Julie Nadel, member of the HRPT Board recently re-appointed by Scott Stringer, is now also a member of Community Board #1. In a swift elevation, Julie has been chosen to head the Waterfront Committee by Board Chair Julie Menin. It looks like Nadel will be THE person to talk to on Waterfront matters. Here's wishing her luck in her latest assignment.

The success of the Town Hall meetings and the Summit, which was organized by Zella Jones of the NoHo Neighborhood Association, Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance and at least a dozen other community organizations, has apparently been picked up by the press - and the politicians. The New York Post recently published an article giving credit to Speaker of the City Council Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg for bringing the issue of bar over-saturation to the forefront. But, from the community's point of view, safety is only a narrow view of the problem. According to one activist....

"....Safety is the wrong issue. Solving it leaves the real problem -- that nightlife proliferation undermines community -- untouched. The nightlife issue needs to be viewed in the context of community displacement, away from narrower problems of safety. The problem is the nightlife strip: strips raise commercial rents driving out commercial diversity and small businesses; strips attract young and transient residential tenants who care little about noise and community, who drive up residential rents especially under the new rent (de)regulations which contain new means to pressure older tenants out. The only solution to the community displacement problem is the banning of nightlife strips -- some revision of the 500 foot rule." -- Rob Hollander (LESA)

Making matters worse for some activists, not only is safety the wrong guiding issue but Quinn's office is planning on having the Nightlife Association be in charge of inviting the attendees to this "Summit." One activist described this as being akin to placing the fox in charge of the chicken coop.

Listen guys - downtown has been screaming about this saturation of liquor licenses issue for a few years. Between the violence and the "wild west" antics at certain bars, the noise and the "zoning by fiat" when neighborhoods are changed with too many bars and lounges - wouldn't it be appropriate for these elected officials to give some credit where credit is due? And, invite the community to the meetings?

Where were these powerful elected officials when the smear campaigns, lawsuits and anonymous letters were being spread around by the nightlife operatives and undercover members of Community Board #2? Where was the Mayor's and the Speaker's wise support when the Nightlife crew at Board #2 began to retaliate against activists who were fighting bars and trying to improve our neighborhoods?

It wasn't two months ago, before the tide clearly had turned against the nightlife people, that the Daily News was printing slurs in its gossip column about Community Board members - rumored to have been placed with the aid of paid PR operatives like Allen Roskoff of the Durham Group - a close personal friend and sometimes weekend guest of Maria Derr, Chair of Board #2. Roskoff was formerly a Tom Duane employee and is currently one of Mark Green's campaign staff operatives (Green is running for Attorney General).

The Speaker and the Mayor should address the hard work of downtown people -- like Zella Jones who was sued for fighting a bar in NoHo; Sean Sweeney who was smeared and vindictively removed as Chair of the Landmarks Committee by Maria Derr because of his objection to bar proliferation; David Reck who was removed as Zoning Committee Chair by Maria Derr partly for his stand against nightclubs; and, Jo Hamilton who was removed from Board#2 for her stand against Gansevoort bar proliferation. All of them have given much time and energy to rid downtown of liquor license saturated neighborhoods where it has become too dangerous for families and children to walk about freely in the evening.

If they doubt that we have all been hard at work on this issue, they should check the archives of the SoHo Journal.