New leadership, new challenges and also a new home

David Gruber — keeping things cool on the waterfront.

David Gruber — keeping things cool on the waterfront.

BY DAVID GRUBER  |  This past year we have seen many changes at Community Board 2.

In June our then Chairperson Brad Hoylman chose not to stand for a second term and instead run for the vacated state Senate seat of Tom Duane, which he did successfully.

BOARD TWO

I was honored to be elected chairperson after that.

I said to folks before I became chairperson, that one of my main goals was to prepare Board 2 for a new generation of leadership moving forward, and we are on our way. More than 25 percent of the current board members have been on C.B. 2 less than 18 months.

All but two of our committees have new chairpersons or co-chairpersons. Two newly created task forces have brought other faces into leadership positions.

We are truly a battle-tested, experienced board, having gone through the massive St. Vincent’s/Rudin, N.Y.U. and Hudson Square ULURPs in the past 18 months — more than some neighborhoods do in years and years, or forever for that matter.

We have learned much about both the technical and political processes of large, complex zoning and land-use projects.

I cannot say that much of our community was happy with the New York University outcomes, but it was a great learning experience on how the process really works in the final, endgame stages.

What has happened is that many, many board members have stepped forward and become more active and involved. All boards tend to have just a handful of its members run it, but we have really worked hard to open spaces up for others to be more fully engaged in the issues facing our board.

Of course, that also means that the experienced veterans need to be in place to mentor the new board appointees — by having them write resolutions and then critiquing them, by bringing a wider base of the board to meetings with community groups and elected officials, so they are exposed to the inner workings of the planning and decision-making process.

Two committees — Parks and Waterfront, along with Sidewalks and Street Activities/Film Permits —have been created by merging committees, so that we have fuller agendas throughout the year, rather than seasonal peak periods, and thus a more meaningful experience for our members.

We have created two very effective and focused task forces, including the 75 Morton Street Task Force, jointly run with Community Education Council District 2, which combines appointed and public members to ensure that our promised new school at the currently state-owned facility doesn’t get stalled by bureaucratic delays and inertia. This task force has reached out to a cross-section of stakeholders for creative ideas and suggestions on what kind of school we should have there.

We are a battle-tested board, having gone through three massive ULURPs in the past 18 months.

The other task force concentrates on beaming a spotlight on our nonprofit theaters and performing-arts organizations in the district. Many theater companies and actual brick-and-mortar theaters have had to fold their tents the past few years due to rising rents, as well as the general economic downturn.

Last year we had a variation of a pub crawl: We opened four local theaters and had owners, directors, actors, stage designers and lighting experts on hand to explain how plays are produced and staged. About 100 people went from theater to theater, weaving through West Village and Soho streets, accompanied by local tour guides who spoke about interesting buildings and Village folklore.

We are currently at the final stages of the massive Hudson Square rezoning. This special zoning will transform the character of much of our district’s southwestern section. We are fighting hard to make sure that the proper amenities, such as sufficient open, active-recreation space, required by law are, in fact, created to accommodate the expected increase of 7,000 to 8,000 new residents in a formerly manufacturing zone.

This will be our third major land-use project in C.B. 2 in under two years and it is the last one that is in the pipeline for the foreseeable future.

So we turn our attention to the Hudson River Park, and our beloved Pier 40, the main open space and active recreational center for our community. Both the pier and park are in desperate need of an immediate influx of cash, not only for ongoing operations, but for basic structural maintenance and repairs, most urgently, for Pier 40’s aging support piles, which are quickly coming to the end of their useful life. This requires a massive amount of capital.

Everybody agrees that something needs to be done quickly and the debate of just what course of action is best for the long-term health of this precious resource is being hotly discussed, with many different approaches being put on the table. The active financial involvement of the city and state is fundamental to this process, and all of our elected officials are truly engaged in the process.

We are looking forward to and very excited about the opening in the next few years of the new Whitney Museum, now under construction in the Gansevoort Historic District (Meatpacking District). Many feel that the Whitney will be a neighborhood-changing building, with other, smaller museums, galleries and art-related businesses to follow.

After St. Vincent’s — where we used to meet —— closed we were kind of a nomadic community board, moving from one gracious host to another for the last two years. Finally, Scholastic has generously allowed us to use their state-of-the-art, large, comfortable auditorium for our monthly full board meeting. This has been a real lifesaver for us and, as I have said repeatedly, we do important work for our community and we need a space commensurate with that work.

So we have had a full, overflowing plate this year, but this board has met the challenges and will continue to do so moving forward.

–  Gruber is chairperson, Community Board 2

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