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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It was an application for a small cart, selling small dessert-like delicacies, plus coffee and beverages. But the problem was that it was slated for a very small park in Nolita. The result was that local outrage was enormous, multiplied proportionally to the nth degree.
Nolita neighbors protested that the Parks Department’s idea to put a food cart in Petrosino Square was wildly inappropriate and would also create a safety hazard. The park is only .15 percent of an acre and represents pretty much the only open space in the neighborhood where adults can hang out. Nearby DeSalvio Playground is restricted for children, plus used by teens playing basketball.
Minerva Durham, who owns Spring Studios, a live figure drawing salon, right to the west of the square on Spring St., said the area already has plenty of places dispensing coffee, from Starbucks to Ceci Cela, D & D Deli and Balthazar. As evidence, she brought a bagful of more than 100 takeout coffee cups that she pulled from her studios’ trash can over a one-week period. Plus, the area simply needs open space that provides “peace and quiet,” unencumbered by food carts, she stressed. She lives on the opposite side of the square from her art studio.
“I’m not against commercial uses in big parks,” she said at C.B. 2’s full board meeting last Thursday evening. “It’s a small park and there’s no need for it, it’s absurd.”
Durham said if the concession were granted, she would definitely use the cups in some sort of protest action, though she wasn’t exactly sure what.
“It would take the form of uninvited cup art,” she said. “I wish I had a good idea of how to be civilly disobedient in the park with cups and be arrested.”
Parks put out a request for proposals for a food cart concession in the tiny park and it was won by Céline Legros, whose specialty is canelé — Bordeaux-style mini-pastries made with crepe batter that have a caramelized crust and moist center. Her proposal was to sell small boxes of five of the treats for $5.
Georgette Fleischer, founder of the Friends of Petrosino Square, told the C.B. 2 meeting, “Our neighborhood is the second most park-starved neighborhood in New York. We have 11 eating and drinking establishments on the rim of this park — all of them with takeout — and Esquina has a lot of takeout.”
In short, Legros’s canelés could push the small park past the tipping point, Fleischer indicated.
“There should never be a food cart in this sliver of tranquility,” she added.
Where Parks wanted to put the cart was at the triangle plaza’s northern apex, which is its narrowest point, which opponents said would create a dangerous situation with car traffic swirling around the park.
Lora Tenenbaum had crunched the numbers, and presented her eye-opening calculations to the board to demonstrate the impact of just one cart on Petrosino, proportionally speaking, that is.
“Washington Square Park has 9.7 acres,” she explained. “If you put the same equivalent of carts there, there would be 194. … It’s ridiculous,” she said. “This neighborhood needs its tiny oasis.
However, the C.B. 2 Parks and Waterfront Committee never even took a resolution on the matter, so there was no vote at last week’s full board meeting.
Rich Caccappolo, the committee’s chairperson, said — because of how Sandy played havoc with the community board’s November meeting schedule for its various committees — he held a special meeting on Dec. 7 with neighbors to discuss the Petrosino food cart issue. He felt neighbors had aired their views thoroughly at that meeting, but he chose not to do a resolution on the issue.
“I think we’ve done our job,” he said of his committee, speaking last week. Caccappolo did say that he told the attendees at the special meeting that Parks seemed to have picked a pretty good applicant and that the department certainly “could have done worse.” He said Legros manufactures her confections in the Bronx, employing a group of women who appreciate the jobs.
However, as it turns out, there will be no unauthorized, guerilla cup art actions after all, no cries of alarm that Legros’s packaging is cluttering Petrosino Square the way that Magnolia’s messes up the Bleecker seating area, no more cart-ratio computations or even coffee-consumption cafe comparisons.
Last Friday, Matt Viggiano, Councilmember Margaret Chin’s director of land use planning, sent out an e-mail to C.B. 2 members and Nolita-area residents announcing the Petrosino food cart plan had been pulled.
“Based on the urging of Councilmember Chin,” he said, “the Department of Parks has agreed to find an alternative location for this concession.”