Volume 75, Number 25 | November 09 -15, 2005

Letters to the editor

Fine points of federation letter

To The Editor:
Re “Parks must yield on fountain, fence and plaza plans” (editorial, Oct. 12):

As the debate on the merits of the Washington Square Park redesign rages ever higher, I would like to correct some of the implications of your recent editorial:

The Fine Arts Federation letter to the Art Commission was balanced and generally praised many aspects of the Parks Department’s new plan.

The letter was specifically critical of only three issues: We are opposed to the relocation of the fountain; we are opposed to the demolition of the mounds; and we generally regret the overly historicist design aesthetic.

Lastly, while it is true that the members of the Art Commission must be selected from a list of candidates that we provide the mayor, the commission is under no obligation to consider our editorial comments. The implication that the Art Commission would likely reject the Parks Department plan because of our letter is purely speculative.

Tomas Rossant
Rossant is chairperson, Planning and Urban Design Committee, The Fine Arts Federation of New York

For Christopher crowd control

To The Editor:
Re “Gate may be closed to gays in park’s crowd-control plan” (news article, Nov. 2):

Hip, hip, hooray! The Hudson River Park Trust has finally realized they have destroyed the quality of life for residents around Pier 45 at the end of Christopher Street. In order to sleep nights, I invested $800 in 2-inch soundproofing material to go over the bedroom windows facing Christopher Street. And the Sixth Precinct could care less. They park a squad car in front of the PATH station and go for coffee. Seems they are short of manpower.

As for Melissa Sklarz, co-chairperson of the Community Board 2 L.G.B.T. Committee, shall we point out that the Village cares not a whit about her lifestyle? But would she please do it at 4 a.m. outside her own bedroom window. Not ours.

Of course we would like to have the park shut down earlier, as is Washington Square Park, but we’ll take whatever crumbs we can get.

So, thank you, thank you, thank you, Hudson River Park Trust. Just please do it soon.
Thomas Hoover

Tussle’ was almost a riot

To The Editor:
Re “Halloween incidents” (police blotter, Nov. 2):

I am deeply disturbed that The Villager’s reporting of a stabbing incident and near riot that occurred on Halloween evening was downplayed as “a tussle.” The truth is that the West Village has become a far more dangerous neighborhood and the police who patrol it have had their hands tied by our esteemed representatives like Christine Quinn and Tom Duane, who mistakenly feel they are defending the gay community. What they are defending are prostitutes, drug dealers and gang members who feed on the gay community. Allowing these predators to roam unchecked 24/7 is unconscionable and, while it contains them from invading other neighborhoods with a heavier voting population, only contributes to the further deterioration of a neighborhood that was once considered the safest in the city.
Jay Jeffries

Editor’s note: The Villager asked Detective Mike Singer, Sixth Police Precinct community affairs officer, if there had been a stabbing on Christopher Street around 12:40 a.m. Tuesday morning after the Halloween parade. A resident who watched the scene from above on her balcony had told The Villager she observed someone who was on their feet being led into an ambulance. However, Singer said there was no stabbing. The word “tussle” was used by Singer and referred not to the overall incident with the crowd but possibly to the way in which an officer may have lost his badge. According to Singer, it turned out the badge had not been lost on Christopher Street, but had been left in the officer’s locker.

Maybe library should leave

To The Editor:
The Jefferson Market Library is the signature building in Greenwich Village. Its preservation and adaptive reuse was the catalyst for the creation of the Greenwich Village Historic District. While we appreciate that the New York Public Library houses a branch here, it is the structure that occupies a unique place in our affections.

Several years ago, a problem with the exterior masonry developed and unsightly scaffolding was erected. Residents naively supposed that the N.Y.P.L. would locate funding for repairs expeditiously. We were mistaken. The “shroud” of scaffolding stands and the building continues to deteriorate. Repairing the library’s “bricks and mortar” should be a priority rather than initiating an unsolicited interior redesign. Unless the N.Y.P.L. can promise a future free from rain, snow and other inclement weather, it seems cavalier to institute interior alterations when the worsening exterior may negatively impact them. At a recent meeting attended by more than 250 residents, N.Y.P.L. representatives coolly informed attendees that it intended to forge ahead and may close the library for extended periods.

Some time ago, a group of Villagers met in a “planning for needs” session to assist the N.Y.P.L. to serve us. Greenwich Village has more history per square foot than any other neighborhood in the United States; we are a tourist mecca for visitors from all over the globe. At the “planning for needs” session, participants suggested that the library expand its reference section and include ephemera and memorabilia documenting our storied past. The Jefferson Market Library should reflect the community surrounding it so that researchers can explore our history, when possible, from primary sources.

The controversial “teen center” is unnecessary in whatever form and whatever size the N.Y.P.L. intends to make it. It is unclear as to how the N.Y.P.L. would create an area to meet the varying needs of a divergent group of young people from 12 to 18 years of age.

In the mill valleys of Western Pennsylvania, Andrew Carnegie once built libraries “as expiation for his sins.” Including auditoriums, swimming pools and gymnasiums, they were welcome in mill towns that had few cultural resources. Because the N.Y.P.L. is located in one of the world’s great cities, it has no such mission.

A child growing up in New York City has numerous prospects for diversion and cultural improvement. A New York City teenager is typically able to converse and interact comfortably with adults. There is no need to segregate them or to isolate the general population from them; a “teen ghetto” in the library is a frivolous use of public space. On the contrary, in the “general needs” planning session, participants wanted to encourage interaction between adults and teenagers. Villagers are educated, informed, talented and skilled. We suggested that the N.Y.P.L. create a database of residents available to tutor/mentor students.

The N.Y.P.L. appears to be suffering from severe misapprehensions about Greenwich Village. While the N.Y.P.L. is the current guardian of our cherished Venetian gothic building, the structure belongs to us. Specific elements of the renovation scheme may be worth consideration, but the N.Y.P.L. must consult with the community in a transparent, respectful manner. Villagers will not countenance squandering public funds for an unendorsed project and will not embrace what may be passing fashion. Unfortunately, it appears that Community Board 2 may not be up to the task of leading the discussion. Reportedly, at a recent committee meeting, both N.Y.P.L. representatives and C.B. 2 members treated residents’ concerns with disdain and derision.

If the N.Y.P.L. determines that it can no longer efficiently use the Jefferson Market building without altering its interior in a manner consistent with the community’s wishes and needs and if it cannot guarantee maintenance of its “bricks and mortar,” Villagers must regretfully consider other uses for the building. If the N.Y.P.L. intends to serve the residents of Greenwich Village, it must understand and respect us. And if it cannot serve the residents of Greenwich Village, it should begin the task of examining itself.

Marilyn Dorato
Dorato is secretary and presiding officer of the Greenwich Village Block Associations

Throws the book at board

To The Editor:
I question the relevance of community boards. “Community” is a misnomer. They do not represent the community but instead function as a mouthpiece for pockets of self-interest. They are advisory and have no power to effect change.

This was no more evident than at a recent hearing of the Institutions Committee of Community Board 2 at the Jefferson Market Library.

The topic was the threatened closing of the library for two years during interior renovation. Sixty-plus people attended the poorly announced meeting. To a person, no one supported the closing of the library for two years. The committee chairperson, Robert Rinaolo, who never introduced the committee or its members and who was loath to give his name, was belligerent and defensive. He kept repeating, “I don’t want this meeting to drag on. I want to go home.” His insensitivity was monumental. His audience consisted largely of the elderly and disabled who came because their library was being threatened.

The message that Mr. Rinaolo missed is this: This library is not for sale.

Melvyn T. Stevens
Nonartists lead smear campaign

To The Editor:
Thank you for presenting both sides of the story in “A.G. looking into conflicts complaint at Westbeth” by Al Amateau (news article, Oct. 19).

The Westbeth Artists Committee represents many of the actual artists at Westbeth who were not given a voice in the hiring of an attorney by a small group of Westbeth residents. We find it unfortunate that this group has launched an attack against our hard-working volunteer board of directors. They have chosen to malign the board and its president in the court of public opinion for reasons that have nothing to do with the mission of Westbeth.

In letters to the editor of Oct. 26, May Gamble and Joya Staack, current and former members, respectively, of the Westbeth Artists Residents Council, state, “We are writing to share with you our own reasons for contributing to the legal fund set up to finance the appeal to the attorney general that requests a complete examination of the actions of the Westbeth board of directors.”

We, the Westbeth Artists Committee, completely agree and welcome the attorney general’s office to conduct a “full and thorough investigation” into the board’s operation. We feel an investigation will expose this smear campaign for what it is.

Since the investigation that this group called for is currently in the hands of the A.G., we find it puzzling that members of the Residents Council, past or present, formally or informally are used to solicit monies from low- and moderate-income artists to pay a very expensive lawyer to contact the attorney general with unfounded claims. In their most recent appeal this group asked residents for more contributions to reach their goal of $20,000. If their real mission is for an investigation by the attorney general, let the A.G.’s office do its job.

We believe it is extremely costly and unproductive when the board’s time is routinely wasted responding to trumped-up allegations. We can’t help but note the irony behind their complaint that the board is spending too much on legal fees, when the response to their allegations continues to be a significant cause of legal expense.

The real issue is we have a problem with a contingent threatening the mission of Westbeth, which is to provide working and living space to low- and middle-income artists. We are being asked to fund a complaint we have never seen, by a group that endangers Westbeth by significantly increasing legal fees, and simultaneously making it extremely difficult to raise money. 

The stress of living with this petty behavior on a daily basis is not at all conducive to creativity. But since the key persons who launched this campaign are not working artists, that concern is not on their radar.
Stewart Brisby, Ed Eichel and Kate Walter
Brisby, Eichel and Walter are group representatives of the Westbeth Artists Committee

Yes to Blutreich; no to guns

To The Editor:
Week after week I enjoy Ira Blutreich’s cartoons plus captions on your editorial page. In addition to his artistic drawing talent, he is often pungently humorous. His topic on Oct. 12, the Hudson River Park PEP (Park Enforcement Patrol) officers, struck a chord inside me.

As a bicycle rider along the Hudson River bicycle path, I experienced one PEP officer who seemed a bit carried away with his own power and importance. I mean, we’re not talking about ax murderers here. Occasionally, someone rides his bicycle where he’s not supposed to. O.K. Enforcement is good. But he seemed eager to pounce on me if I stepped one inch out of line.

The suggestion “…PEP officers should start carrying guns…” in the article “Trust is peppered with questions about park PEP’s” on Page 4 of the same issue — I say, no!

Michael Gottlieb

17-story tower would be a sin

To The Editor:
The willful decision of General Theological Seminary to cash in on the present real estate boom in Chelsea by erecting a 17-story building, devoted primarily to luxury housing, will have dire consequences for the thousands of people who live in the Chelsea Historic District. The historic district, consisting of eight blocks, is the heart of Chelsea. It is the repository of our history: the waves of immigrants who swept through Chelsea, the wealthy merchants from Lower Manhattan who built homes here, the longshoremen and seamen who lived in tenements and rooming houses and walked down to the Chelsea Piers, not to exercise, but to unload freighters or to go out to sea.

The historic district, which is situated between Eighth and 10th Avenues, between 19th and 23rd Streets, covers much of the estate of Clement Clarke Moore, professor of biblical languages, best known as the author of “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Professor Moore gave General Theological Seminary the block between Ninth and 10th Avenues and 20th and 21st Streets in 1819, and its first building, East Hall, was completed in 1827. The rest of the block was empty and gently sloped down to the Hudson River at 10th Avenue. Later Moore, with the assistance of James N. Wells, a local carpenter, measured off lots and sold them to prospective buyers. Over the years G.T.S. has built more buildings and has successfully walled itself off, both physically and mentally, from its neighbors. Episcopalians practically invented urban ministry, but its official seminary, G.T.S., has disdained involvement in the very serious social and economic problems the Chelsea community has had to deal with.

The idea of creating a Chelsea Historic District originated with Don Horton, a former homeowner on West 22nd Street and a professor at Bank Street College. He, with much assistance from neighbors, painstakingly identified the buildings to be included in the district. The district was approved by Landmarks in 1970, and an addition was approved in 1980. Under the City Charter, there is a proviso that allows local communities to propose their own zoning plan. Over a period of years, a plan for residential Chelsea was created called the Chelsea 197-a Plan. One of its mandates was to protect the historic district. The executive summary of the plan states: “The historic core between Tenth Avenue and the Eighth Avenue corridor is zoned at a protective level of a maximum street wall of 60 feet (R7B), with buffer strips at somewhat higher scale.” City Planning has accepted the Chelsea 197-a Plan as it concerns the Historic District. The area in the historic district was protected with strong height limitations, and the block where the seminary is located is limited to a height of 75 feet, which translates into 7.5 stories.

Over time, developers have tried to get variances to build to the height of some buildings that were built before the Chelsea Historic District existed. These efforts were defeated. One developer settled for seven stories, another for eight stories. This year City Planning, in a move for which we will always be grateful, recognized the importance of our district by limiting the height on the west side of Tenth Avenue, across from the historic district, to eight stories. Now we are engaged in a more serious threat, a religious institution that has joined forces with a developer to remove the four-story administrative building that covers the entire block front on Ninth Avenue and replace it with a new administrative building and 13 stories of luxury housing on top of it.

There is no doubt in my mind that if a 17-story structure is approved, every developer in town will try to get the same height. As a member of Community Board 4, I am aware that we cannot hold the line at 7.5 stories if we give the seminary 17 stories. The 200-year-old community that has its own character, that has fostered tolerance, that has preserved hundreds or maybe thousands of units of housing for people of limited means, will be swept away. Why should it be destroyed so that the seminary and the developer can rack up what could be a $200 million bonanza?

Robert Trentlyon
Florent’s je ne sais quoi

To The Editor:
Re “Restaurant Florent at 20!” (supplement, Oct. 19):

I was privileged to feast on Monsieur Florent’s mussels long before they reached the public domain. As a summer houseguest of my friend Philip Pierce, Florent, fresh from France, wowed us all with his culinary magic, upbeat spirit and big dreams of creating a new-style eatery. While others slobbered over the Hamptons’ boring lobster rolls, Florent, whom I believe, had bicycled from Manhattan, gave us all a scrumptious weekend to remember. Then, years later, when an out-of-work friend from the backwoods of Oz wanted to waitress, he kindly gave her a job at his counter, where in no time, she too became part of the cognoscenti. Congratulations, maestro!
Nancy (cohen) Koan

Is Mendez more of same?

To The Editor:
Re “After winning big, Mendez gears up for City Council” (news article, Sept. 21):

A few points about Rosie Mendez’s political victory in the Democratic primary and what it means for our community in response to your coverage and sometimes lack of coverage, and Mendez’s calling people who put up anonymous fliers against her “cowards”:

Rosie Mendez did not win big in the primary. Most of the district voted against her, by a two-to-one margin! Considering that she was a chief of staff to the incumbent and the local Democratic district leader, this can be seen as a cautionary lesson to Mendez, who might see the same fate as her mentor Margarita Lopez who lost the borough president primary and did not get much local support after she was term-limited out of her Council seat. Why not? Lack of competent constituent services and lack of consensus building.

Lopez probably had one of the worst constituent services operations in New York City. The goal of Lopez’s staff seemed to be to get the caller off the phone as quickly as possible while committing to do as little as possible.

We know that Lopez cares much more about big-picture advocacy issues than solving taxpayers’ and constituents’ problems with local government, but Mendez as her chief of staff was responsible for making sure that constituents’ needs for government action were addressed. Mendez could not prevail upon one councilmember to make local government work for the people who paid her salary; now imagine Mendez trying to get the city government to work for our district while she competes with 50 other councilmembers!

Mendez’s primary victory came because she was connected to a local political machine that knocked out female candidates and candidates with Latino names, smacking of ethnic and identity politics. The next-highest vote getters, three white male chief of staff types — two of whom formerly worked for politicians in other districts — got 50 percent of the combined vote compared with Mendez’s 33 percent. Their political mistake was that they all ran. If two of these guys had dropped out, or if they had collected a few hundred signatures for Michael Lopez’s campaign, we’d be seeing a much different political outcome today.

I call upon The Villager and the future constituents of Rosie Mendez to regularly monitor her office’s provision of constituent services come January.

Mendez and her staff should be held accountable for their service provision in a way that Lopez and her staff were not held accountable. Next time there is a primary, I hope that The Villager will be able to do some advance polling so that citizens can strategically back candidates and ask some to bow out.

Enzo Titolo

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