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‘CONVERTING’ INTO A PARK?
A group of West Village residents have filed suit to stop the construction of the Witkoff Group’s 98-unit residential development at 150 Charles St., site of the former Whitehall Storage building. The developer was granted zoning waivers because the project included a conversion of the former, full-block warehouse building. But, the plaintiffs charge, the warehouse was subsequently totally demolished — except for a few spindly beams that have been left standing — so the approvals should be pulled, the plaintiffs contend. Their suit is not only against Witkoff, but also Robert LiMandri, commissioner of the city Department of Buildings. “It’s outrageous that the developers tell the city one thing and then just go and do whatever they want,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Barry Mallin, told The Real Deal. “The D.O.B. has not been enforcing the law here and is allowing the developer to get away with things they should not get away with.” Jean-Louis Bourgeois, son of the late famed sculptor Louise Bourgeois, lives across from the site and is one of the plaintiffs. Bourgeois called us last week to report concerns about another problem related to the project: He thinks Witkoff may have struck the undergound Minetta Brook, creating a huge pool of standing water on the construction site, which Bourgeois fears could be a breeding ground for West Nile Virus. (Bourgeois took the photo above with his iPhone to show the extent of the prodigious puddle.) Confident their lawsuit will prevail, Bourgeois is currently making plans to convert the cleared site into the Louise Bourgeois Sculpture Park in Sapokanikan/Greenwich Village — “Sapokanikan” being the Native American name of the area when it was home to the Lenapes. In addition to his mother’s sculptures, the park would have a smaller-scale model of the Washington Square Arch, according to Bourgeois. “No one is going to put a red cent into a project that is being sued,” he assured, predicting the litigation will scare off potential condo buyers. Steven Witkoff will just have to admit defeat and sell the property to the residents’ group, Bourgeois said. Still, there would be an homage to the developer, in the form of a tunnel under the West Side Highway connecting the sculpture park with the Hudson River Park, to be dubbed, “The Steven Witkoff Path to the River.” Anyway, this is Bourgeois’s ideal outcome. According to a Witkoff representative, however, the project is being built in full compliance with all approvals and permits that were issued. In 2005, the representative noted, Witkoff reduced the project’s height from an as-of-right 32 stories to 16 stories, to address the community’s concerns about its height. The framework that’s still standing is actually the former warehouse’s structural concrete wall — and that’s what they were required to preserve, the Witkoff representative said. Windows that were removed between this concrete frame will be replaced. Brickwork (which was not required be preserved) that was removed because it was weak and not waterproof, will be replaced and the warehouse portion of the project will look just like it did before, he assured. As for Bourgeois’s West Nile alarm, the rep said they haven’t hit Minetta Brook and that, despite being near the river, this particular site isn’t really landfill, but is actually “close to the rock” below. In short, there are no health or safety violations at the site, he said. The building’s foundation should be finished in the next five months, after which they’ll be “going vertical,” he said, with completion estimated in 30 months from now.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Occupy Wall Street’s kitchen down at Zuccotti Park was the veritable hub of the “99 percent” movement. A tiny morsel of that spirit lingers on at Union Square, where Kazoo Cruiser (above) can be found daily offering free bagels and donuts. Kazoo didn’t know exactly where they came from, but we had one of the bagels, and it tasted O.K. “To me, Zuccotti was the soup kitchen — rich and poor rubbed shoulders,” he said. Kazoo’s story is a tough one. A former lawyer in Atlanta, he now lives in Brooklyn. He was camping out down at Zuccotti at O.W.S., where he was known for burning dollar bills. Last November, a few days before police evicted the Zuccotti encampment, he was trying to get fuel for his gas mantle lamp at a Brooklyn hardware store, but wasn’t receiving any service. So he lit some frankincense on fire in a Coke can, “just to get some attention,” and found himself being blasted with a fire extinguisher. Long story short, he was arrested for arson, served time on Rikers and then Upstate at another facility. Now he’s back, keeping the flame burning — oops, sorry, wrong word — for Occupy and its food-sharing ethic. Seriously, he seems like a good guy, and we saw no sign of matches or lighters at his booth. He said he’s Indian, which explains the found pigeon feathers in his cap.
KOCH: ‘PUNISH PUSSY RIOT’:
Former Mayor Ed Koch is decidedly not jumping on the “Free Pussy Riot” bandwagon. In his e-mailed “Ed Koch Commentary” column, he says Madonna, the State Department and the White House “have it all wrong” and that “the Russian Orthodox Church is the victim, not Pussy Riot.” Three female members of the rock band, of course, were sentenced to three years in jail for “hooliganism” after they invaded a Russian cathedral and sang a profane song, calling for the Virgin Mary to rid the country of Putin. Hizzoner said he doesn’t see the issue as one of free speech, but rather as Pussy Riot perpetrating a “hate crime” against the Russian Church. Plus, he says, it’s bad politically for the U.S. right now to support the young punkers at a critical moment when we need to enlist Putin and Russia’s help in the fight against terrorism. Madonna, at a concert in Russia, recently called for Pussy Riot’s release, and a Russian deputy prime minister subsequently tweeted she was a “whore.” Koch said while Madonna, as an artist, is “always testing the limits of decency,” he doesn’t defer to her on political matters like this one. “I do not believe the issue is properly one of freedom of expression,” Koch wrote. “The right to free expression is not unlimited and does not mean one can say anything anywhere and at anytime. Further, Russia and most countries do not have embedded in their law the constitutional protection of the First Amendment that we do. I for one am delighted they now punish religious hatred. Aren’t you?” Umm…nah…Free Pussy Riot!
SCHOOL OF TOMPKINS: “Ai Wei Wei:
Never Sorry,” the new documentary film on the well-known Chinese dissident artist, shows a few of his photos of protests in Tompkins Square Park from the 1980s, and notes that his covering those events was an important education for him about democracy and protest movements. The inspiring movie, playing at the IFC Center on Sixth Ave., tells the story of how the embattled artist has been trying to tweet China to democracy.
WELCOME TO THE ’HOOD!
Speaking of Chinese dissidents, we hear that Chen Guangcheng’s apartment in Washington Square Village overlooks N.Y.U.’s Coles gym, which will see the first project in the university’s superblocks mega-development plan. Coles is to be replaced by the enormous “Zipper Building,” which will incorporate a new gym in its lower level.
PIER 40 RESIDENTIAL USE — RATS!
As if Pier 40 doesn’t have enough problems, an online commenter who goes by the handle “Pier Parker” recently posted: “Watch out for the rats behind the ramp in the southeast corner of the playing field next to the boarded-up stairway. There must be a huge colony judging by the dozens of holes they’ve burrowed there. Big suckers. They feed from the trash cans.” Apparently, Pier 40 isn’t completely kaput just yet, or these critters would be making “like rats off a sinking ship” and skedaddling.