Volume 74, Number 39 | February 2 - 8, 2005

Stealth garbage truck garage on Gansevoort raises a stink

By Albert Amateau

Waterfront watchers and Hudson River Park advocates could hardly believe their eyes last week when they saw the steel superstructure of a two-story building rising on the Gansevoort Peninsula.

The 8-acre remnant of the 19th-century landfill is used by the city Department of Sanitation to store rock salt — for melting ice and snow — and park garbage trucks that serve the Village. The peninsula is supposed to be turned over in the next few years to the Hudson River Park Trust, the state/city agency building the 5-mile long riverfront park between Chambers and 59th Sts.

Indeed, the deadline set by state law for the removal of the salt pile and the truck garage from Gansevoort is more than a year past its Dec. 31, 2003, date, and D.O.S. is mandated by the same law to “make its best efforts” to entirely vacate the peninsula.

But the new 17,000-sq.-ft. structure rising about 50 ft. high on the west side of the existing garage — formerly a garbage incinerator — came as a surprise and does not look like it is going anywhere soon.

“We did not know it was going to be built,” said Chris Martin, spokesperson for the Trust, but he declined to say whether the Trust believes D.O.S. had the right to put it up.

Daniel Klein, director of the D.O.S. office of real estate, said the structure is temporary and will be a garage for garbage trucks that serve the Village or the east side of Midtown while new permanent facilities elsewhere are being built. The structure is to be completed at the end of this year and will serve as a garage for six or seven years, he said.

“I know that ‘temporary’ means different things — to the community it means months, but the department has to think in terms of years,” Klein said. But he insisted that the structure would not in any way make D.O. S. stay on the peninsula any longer than has been contemplated.

Even so, the city is proposing another sort of D.O.S. facility for the peninsula. The city Economic Development Corporation has had two forums in the Village in the past few months calling on Villagers to support a proposal for a D.O.S. marine-transfer station for recyclable metal glass and plastic that would be compatible with the Gansevoort Peninsula when it becomes a park in six or seven years. The transfer station would be built at the same time as the park.

But community advocates are upset about the new steel-frame building rising on what they anticipate as a major section of the park. Some people see the structure as a violation of the state 1998 Hudson River Park Act and many more believe it violates the spirit of the law.

“We’re going to look into the possibility of legal action,” said Albert Butzel, president of the Friends of Hudson River Park, a civic organization that advocates for the park. “We don’t know yet if they have the right to build another structure on the peninsula,” he said. In any case, Butzel said, not notifying the community about the D.O.S. plan to build the garage was “not very wise,” especially while presenting plans for the marine-transfer station.

Don MacPherson, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee, said that notifying the community would have been “a wise gesture even if D.O.S. has the right to build the structure without permits.”

Tobi Bergman, a member of the C.B.2 Waterfront Committee, said he believes the construction is an illegal move that compromises the peninsula — “the best single site in the Hudson River Park.” Bergman said the move indicated the city’s disregard of community wishes. “It’s a small example compared to the Jets stadium monstrosity that threatens the entire borough,” he said, “but for our park-starved community this is still a major setback. This construction is illegal and it breaks the commitment the city and D.O.S. made to use best efforts to vacate Gansevoort and allow the park to be built.”

The section of the Hudson River Park Trust legislation that deals with Gansevoort reads as follows:

“Upon the relocation of any incompatible governmental uses, the Gansevoort Peninsula, or any portion thereof from which such incompatible governmental uses are removed, shall be used solely for park use (of which at least eighty percent shall be passive and active public open space uses), plus the marine company one fireboat station on Pier 53; provided however the city of New York shall use its best efforts for the relocation of the sanitation garage and by December 31, 2003, relocate the salt pile and remove the incinerator.”

In April 2002, D.O.S. demolished the incinerator’s twin smokestacks — the incinerator itself had been converted into a garage years before. The new structure covers the site of the old smokestacks.

Klein, however, said the structure is entirely legal because the “incompatible” government use was not removed. “The garage is still there and you can’t make a park on Gansevoort piece by piece,” he said.

Klein also noted that there have been many conversations over the past two years or so about the necessity to continue using Gansevoort until new places are found and constructed for the garbage trucks and street-sweeping equipment. When the smokestacks were taken down in 2002, D.O.S. told the Trust at that time that the site would be used for a maintenance facility for Sanitation vehicles.

But even back then, while D.O.S. let it be known that the smokestacks would eventually come down, the department did not notify the Trust when the job would begin. Klein said this week that the department had publicly said it would make more intensive use of Gansevoort. “But we may not have mentioned a building,” he said. “If we didn’t mention a building, it was a mistake and I’m sorry for that.”

At least three garages are planned or under construction — at W. 57th St. east of the West Side Highway, E. 73rd St. by the F.D.R. and at W. 30th St. just south of the proposed Jets stadium — that would eventually take all the garbage trucks currently on Gansevoort, including the ones that will be moved into the temporary structure.

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