Monday, April 30, 2007

Waiting for The Other Shoe

Community Board #2 is preparing for elections once again and the forces of reform are still completing the mission supported by Borough President Scott Stringer. New members were appointed and those whose agenda did not clearly have the community in mind were allowed to exit, stage left. Under current Chair Maria Derr, protege of Bob Rinaolo and rumored aspirant to Deborah Glick's Assembly seat, the most controversial Board in Manhattan is now about to hold new elections. Some hope that the process of reform will be completed through the electing of community activists rather than business owners and their associates who, history has shown, have more interest in furthering their own interests than those of the community. The Chamber of Commerce is watching this election.

Roughly 20% of the Board is hardcore holdovers and sympathizers from the Rinaolo/Derr era who seek to maintain control of the Board for simple reasons - money and power. These are well-informed people who are savvy manipulators of the arcane Community Board election process. Many have learned tricks of the trade at the knee of former Board Manager Arty Strickler - a fox who was keeper of the secrets and one who performed not a few dubious manipulations in the service of - well, basically, Arty Strickler.

At the next meeting, nominations will be made from the floor of the Full Board and it will be instructive to see if any these holdovers have been designated to carry the mantle of the old guard. Clearly, an attempt had been made to stack the Nominating Committee, but that failed and reform-minded board members control that committee whose Chair is Ed Gold.
Gold is a long-time member of the Board whose pragmatic approach to community activism is rooted in Greenwich Village politics. Furtunately, there's not much wool that can be pulled over his eyes.

If you think Trump is the first one to force the Hotel/Condo concept down the throats of communities like Hudson Square - or, the last one to do so - you're wrong on both counts.

As to the latter, which is more important, it seems that the line is forming to take advantage of the lack of intelligent zoning in Hudson Square.

Apparently, not more than a few blocks away from Trump "SoHo" on Spring and Varick is 515 Greenwich, a corner parcel where another Condo/Hotel is reportedly under consideration. Trump's project is 45 stories; this one would be 38 stories.

Borings are already in progress by the developer, Mark Epstein, and the rush is on to get this development done.

There was some hand wringing at a recent meeting among those who had an interest in this affected community since it is clear that the only route to take on this issue is to push City Planning to re-zone Hudson Square. Contextual Zoning would limit the size of buildings and their bulk.

Christine Quinn's office hosted a sit-down for the purpose of learning what the various interested views were. While cordial, the meeting underscored the fact that there is no political consensus on how to handle this pressing issue - other than to change the zoning.

Gossip has had it that the 9 story condo development at 140 Avenue of the Americas may now become a hotel -- but this has not been substantiated. This has not been a welcomed piece of rumor-mongering to Sullivan Street neighbors.

Moondance Diner is about to go the way of kitchen grease -- and while there is an attempt to save the building, the last chicken-corn soup is about to be served before the wrecking ball moves in. Another 9 story condo is approved for that site.
There have been efforts to save the diner but even if successful it would only move Moondance to some other location.

With all of the parking lots and gas stations disappearing, where's Joni Michell when you need her?
SoHo could use a little paving over with a few more parking lots.

Last, but certainly not least, please attend the hearing on May 3rd at PS 41 (at 7 pm). The issue that concerns most SoHo and Hudson Square residents is the protection of the ballfields now located on Pier 40. The new development by the Related Companies would create what many activists are calling a plan that would destroy sports for the kids downtown -- in an area that has few parks. In fact, in SoHo, there are literally no parks. Attend the hearing and speak your mind. Ask questions, make comments, and find out what the real agenda is.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Several issues have been bubbling up to the surface in SoHo, as it has in America. Within the last few weeks Don Imus and his stupid "nappy-headed ho's" remark killed his career on CBS radio - causing Lenny Bruce to roll over in his grave and giving not just a few rappers reason to look over their shoulders -- to see whether Reverend Al was headed their way. Freedom of Speech is a delicate subject these days.

It was also the week after the Virginia Tech killing spree and the two-hour delay. Maybe gun control will now have new life. The shooter walked into a gun shop and walked out with a Glock in Virginia. Here's someone with a history of mental illness that a teacher begged the administration to remove from her class due to anger issues.

It was also a week that finally brought the Attorney General problem to a head -- as Gonzalez hopes to save his job for firing some prosecutors. The interesting thing about the whole firing of the U.S. Attorneys is that there is a general sense of shock and awe that such an office could be so politicized.

So, it would be shocking to think that prosecutors are not above the political fray and pick cases and individuals to target because of pressure from those who want favors - or that prosecutors are not highly moral people who move directly from the seminary to a position of practically unchallenged power? Why is it that people do not understand that prosecutors like former Suffolk County D.A. Catterson, for example, was so corrupt a power hungry politician that even the Republicans (his own party) had to get rid of him? Between the car leasing scandal that left one informer murdered and his son "Kitty-cat" tainted - now a judge in the Appellate Term of the First Department with a history (Pataki's reward for being loyal and his father not using his little black book) that actually makes Tom Spota look good. But Catterson never had a problem for all of his nasty prosecutorial vendettas and even forced his former buddy, the Sheriff to resign. The U.S. Attorney investigated but Catterson was never removed or sanctioned.

Prosecutors are political and able to exercise vendettas with nearly total immunity? Couldn't happen.

Meanwhile, back in SoHo, we expect the Trump situation to heat up again very soon. Rumors have it that the Building Department will soon issue a permit to Trump SoHo, exactly as the Bovis team explained to the Community Board Zoning Committee a few months back. It appears that counsel for the City is hard pressed to block the eye of the needle that The Donald has wended his way through with the Condo/Hotel ploy. The problem, of course, is a lack of definitiveness in the zoning laws in Hudson Square.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn has been seeking responses from activists and, it appears at this point that the betting is on a restrictive use agreement (declaration) to ensure that Trump SoHo will be primarily a transient hotel with strict control on extended stays so that it does not become a residence in disguise. Whether this dog and pony show will limit the use of what was clearly intended to be a residential condo building with 45 stories, as opposed to a hotel or a condo building with maybe 15 stories (with community approval required), remains to be seen. Almost no one is fooled by the cute move allowing a 45 story buid to be be built downtown.

The question is, will lawsuits follow. And, will this development spawn an all-out effort on the part of City Planning to redefine Hudson Square as a location where contextual zoning is the guiding principal. Or, is this just the parting shot of the Gold Rush for developers in Hudson Square and western SoHo.

Quinn appears to have become more concerned with Hudson Square. But, has City Planning?

Has the Department of Buildings begun to take its mission more seriously - in that it has become the endgame of City Planning Policy. To issue the permit, or not to issue the permit?

Of course, all are painfully aware that this 45-story behemoth should not be built. The game will play on.

It's Nominating Committee time at Community Board #2 again, folks.

The reign of Maria Derr is about to come to a close and all bets are on a curriculum vitea preparing for an Assembly run. The rumors and the p.r. machine, including the poisonous pen of infamous Alan Roskoff have been at work for several years attempting to clear a path for a challenge to Deborah Glick for her Assembly seat. This is the very seat that Derr's uncle Bill Passanante held, who left office rather than challange Glick. Having completed her two years at CB2, Derr can now move on to bigger and better Elysian Fields.

Brad Hoylman is the likely canddidate for Chair but the lesser posts are still up for grabs. These positions are usually a good predictor of who is hoping to fill the top slot in a couple of years. Keep your eyes on David Gruber, Jo Hamilton, Bo Riccobono and a few others who have not yet announced. Then, of course, there are the last minute nominations from the floor of the Full Board. This is where it could get interesting.
While the peculiarities of the balloting for those to be chosen for the Nominating Committee are unremarkable, it tells us two things.
First, the counting of the ballots for those who ARE on the nominating committee tells us who is NOT running. (You cannot be on the Nominating committee and run for office.) Second, it also tells us that there is a holdover group of indiviuals who
may still want to continue the power clique that controlled the former Board. This much is clear from the voting patterns for the Nominating Committee which is public information.

While Board reform has largely been accomplished, it is not yet a fait accompli on Community Board #2.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Beyond Trump

While the City Council fiddles, Trump is preparing to build on Spring and Varick Street. And, unless Quinn takes a stand against this illegal development - purporting to be condos in the guise of a hotel - we will soon have a 45 story monstrosity sitting right here in Hudson Square.

The ramifications go far beyond Trump SoHo and call into question the effectiveness of our Speaker whose City Council seat oversees this very neighborhood.

Not well publicized but also considerable in size is the 17 story hotel being constructed at this very moment on Watts Street - two blocks from Trump SoHo. Two small buildings (a one story manufacturing building and a 3 story brownstone) were razed for this 17 story monster. And, there appear to be more of these to come. Although, this has not been widely publicized.

Neighbors on Watts Street have begun to take notice of the fact that there have been some unusual, unsolicited offers for their properties. The 100 Varick Street parcel on Watts and Varick Streets and its mirror on Broome and Varick Streets are a single site which was approved a year ago by the Community Board -- but ground has not broken on the proposed 8 story rental building. That developer has also recently picked up a brownstone next to him - yet he still hasn't started building. Meanwhile, several building owners on Watts Street have been hearing some very large offers for the mid-block contiguous parcels. Could The Door also be next in line?

The Tunnel Garage is gone, Moondance Diner will be consigned to condo history, the Film Forum is long gone from Watts Street, and Trinity will soon give Hudson Square another 21 story office building at Varick/Grand/Canal/Sullivan Streets. Add to that mix the fact that Ramer & Saperstein, a couple of ex-dentists cum real estate manipulators are attempting to litigate the rent stabilized tenants out of 80 Varick Street (corner of Watts) in contemplation of a "better" use. Rumors of D.O.B. and HPD payoffs are rife as a result of their multi-year flouting of nearly every rule in the book.
Add these all up and you have almost an entire residential neighborhood facing extinction, except for the Swells.

So, is Mr. Trump now looking to pick up another block for Ivanka's Monopoly game? Or, is this another Trump-like creature from the black lagoon of developers. No one is talking - which is usually the case when a parcel is being assembled.

But, the neighbors think something's up. When you get offers ranging from $6 to $12 million, as they have, for individual, aging, 3 to 4 story brownstones with little more than a view of the Holland Tunnel and the smell of diesel smoke--- and several owners at once are being wooed - you have seriously deep pockets at work.

What we have here is the ongoing consequences of a zoning policy that is, well, basically, non-existent. It is bereft of intelligence. Vision, is not usually the hallmark of a politician unless he or she is gifted. Hindsight is their forte. Blindness, is even more common. Then, of course, there's graft.

SoHo (west of West Broadway) and Hudson Square needs rezoning - contextual rezoning -- and we need a moratorium on development in this area until the residents of downtown can have an effective dialog with City Planning and the Electeds. One that is not condescending or stacked against the residents.

And, then pass some new zoning regulations. Fast.

The Stringer Community Boards

Borough President Scott Stringer campaigned and won election based upon his view of reforming the Community Boards. He took his time and gradually pieced together a plan that entailed reviewing existing board members, and adding new people while dropping others. Many activists and community people were disappointed in the slow progress being made in eliminating self-interest and the broadening of community involvement in this elemental form of democracy. As imperfect as the Community Boards are, they do provide a forum for local issues to be heard.

After two years of planning, Stringer has managed to accomplish a great deal and appears to have brought a better balance to the Community Boards.