Friday, May 11, 2007

Issues of the Day

The current issues of importance Downtown are many and varied.

The Department of Sanitation garage and fuel storage proposal at Spring and Greenwich is an ongoing community issue that clearly will not be quickly resolved. The destruction of Hudson Square as a viable community is at stake and activists and organizations such as the Friends of Hudson Square have weighed in and it appears that this will be a long litigious road. While a breakthrough is possible and certainly to be hoped for, there is nothing currently to suggest that.

Pier 40 is another community focus that has been a difficult matter for SoHo, Hudson Square and Greenwich Village - as well as Tribeca. Over the last 5 years at least five development proposals have been seriously considered. In fact, nearly three years ago Community Board #2 supported one plan to develop the 14-acre pier only to be rejected by the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT). The reasoning behind the rejection by the Trust was that the plan had a financial weakness involving a $30 million hole that needed to be plugged with public money.

This week a public forum was conducted at PS 41 in the Village to review and comment upon two new RFPs (development plans) that made it through the HRPT initial review and was also discussed by the HRPT Advisory Committee, a community-oriented group which makes recommendations to the HRPT. It is purely advisory, however, and has no decision-making power.

The public meeting, which had to turn people away at the door, was packed with over two thousand people, 300 of which were children hoping to emphasize the need to keep the ballfields in an area with virtually no park space.

Activists, youth sports organizations, environmentalists, elected officials and residents made their feelings known about the two proposals.

The Camp Group proposal was aimed primarily and providing sports fields, swimming, and kid-friendly uses, in addition to parking.

The Related proposal provided for a multitude of venues, not the least of which was Cirque Du Soleil, restaurants, entertainment facilities and sports fields.

While neither developer won the audience hands down, there was no doubt that maintaining the existing ball fields (which cost the HRPT $5 million less than 2 years ago), was primary in the minds of the hundreds of young people that came out for the hearing.

The Camp Group came closer to what is near and dear to the hearts of those with kids downtown but was still not an overwhelming success.

The Related proposal, described by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) as "Vegas on the Hudson" and clearly an unsuitable location for such a $600 million business deal.

The pier needs to be repaired and that is one of the reasons why the development of Pier 40 is becoming more urgent. While it may not fall into the water soon, at least 10 percent of the 1500 pilings needs serious attention. As time goes on, less and less of the pier will be functionally able to be used. Ergo, the need for a developer - or, an infusion of cash to properly replace the infrastructure. To the tune of about $35 million.

The search for a developer is partly driven by the need for the infusion of cash to do the work necessary to repair the pier.

But, as Al Ferrer, representative of Greenwich Village Little League, Downtown United Soccer Club and P3 (Pier, Park and Playground) has recently pointed out - the search for public or private funds to repair the structure of the pier is what is most important here. That should be the focus - not the seemingly unending search for a developer in hopes that a plan, any plan, will somehow be acceptable to the community and residents, and drag along that $35 million to get the job done.

The Electeds, residents, the non-profits, the philanthropists and perhaps Wall Street needs to get together to solve this problem. Whether it be bonds (with an exception in the HRP act), a massive fundraiser or a conservancy - the $35 million should be found so that Downtown has a park and ball fields.

What had once been considered by the HRPT (after the most recent previous round of developments had failed) uses could be added to a fundamentally sound pier. To augment the ball fields and parking with other uses - once the structure is sound. The ballfields at $5 million and parking should stay as they are to provide uninterruped use. SoHo and Hudson Square have no parks for its young children.

The Trump SoHo site is buzzing again after lying dormant for many weeks. The Department of Buildings issued a building permit for this mega-structure as was anticipated and now the fun begins.

Having negotiated a restrictive declaration that ostensibly prevents the owner of a condo unit in this hotel from staying for more than 29 days in a row, the City allowed the beginning of the end of Hudson Square.

One community observer wrote about this "deal" made with the Trump people, saying that....

"the voluntary restrictive "Declaration" that Bayrock/Sapir made last week is what the Department of Buildings claim was the basis for their affirmative decision. It's a self-policing sham! The declaration is full of holes and needs to be attacked systematically. The whole thing hinges on self-regulation. The managing company is to maintain a database that blows the whistle on the inhabitants. But the inhabitants via their condo board is who hires the managing company. This is like the fox guarding the hen house.... The check on the managing company is if complaints are received by the city then the city's Independent Private Sector Inspector General provision can kick in and an IPSIG can be hired by the condo to look into it. That's like the wolf guarding the fox guarding the hen house... If anybody were ever prosecuted for overstaying under this procedure, I'll eat my hat...."

Of course, there are a few issues here.

The immediate issue surrounding the entire distasteful scenario is that the City was asleep at the switch. While people like David Reck of Friends of Hudson Square and Andrew Berman of GVSHP have been lobbying for years to change the zoning in Hudson Square - it has not served the Bloomberg administration's purpose to limit development or business.

That's why we have movie crews jamming our streets, billboards plastered all over our architecture and why we have a Trump SoHo going up.

It's money in many pockets. While Bloomberg may have enough of his own, Governor or Presidential campaigns are done with OPM. And, then there are the many Doctoroffs that don't have $4 Billion of their own to play with.

So, key people were not asleep at the switch, they were just dozing.

Trump, money, influence, favors, money.

One phone call could have killed this project. But, it was never made.

With one eye on his bank account and the other on either the Governor's Mansion or Pennsylvania Avenue, there is no third eye to protect communities downtown.

The real issue, for the future, since there's another not yet announced 38-story condo/hotel in the pipeline only two blocks from Trump SoHo (by Mark Epstein) - is contextual zoning for Hudson Square and western SoHo.

Since the Trump deals have already been made and the arrangements, wink-wink, nod-nod, have been set in stone, it is the speed with which downtown residents can push through a change in zoning that matters most.

When a community is sold out, the ripples are felt a long way away.

Borough President Stringer came out early against this project, as did Deborah Glick. Speaker Quinn has begun to address the issue, which lies within her City Council seat district. Tony Avella, of the Land Use Committee at City Council actually walked the picket line protesting the development - talk about guts.

But Bloomberg has been all smiles over a fellow billionaire that is destroying our City.

And, while the Molinari Republicans have purchased the last two mayors of New York, Giuliani and Bloomberg (and continued to pollute downtown by virtue of the Verrazano one way toll), think about how happy Staten Islanders would be with a 50-story condo-hotel located on Bay Street.


Inside Out said...

Seriously, Avella has guts? Are we so unwitting of political jockeying in our neighborhood that we can't see he's trying to ride a popular fight for votes (he's got a bid in for mayor)? Eat out of his palm, why don't you. It's discouraging to see that when government figures or organization leaders abuse our outrage at this development for their own popularity or political gain, we blindly follow. I'd much rather have some one work on the issue that yell.

Anonymous said...

All this is just a bunch of one-sided, anti-development nonsense.

Destroy the city? After Trump's Soho project goes up, the city will continue on and might even be better off for it.

That is a eyesore parking lot right now. It couldn't get any worse for a city than that.

The way I see it, it's all these anti-development, anti-height nuts living in their rent-controlled apartments that are the ones killing this city with their absurd and mindless propoganda to fight every attempt to create more housing in this city.

The cost of living is going through the roof and people that contribute to this city's culture and life is forced to leave because these nutcases want Manhattan to look like a country village for eternity.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that everyone keeps says Doctoroff is behind Related's plan when Camp Group cites his wife as a reference...