Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005

Villager file photo

Landscape architect George Vellonakis, seen here at a recent public hearing on the Washington Sq. Park refurbishment plan, will be in the park’s maintenance building every Wednesday to discuss the design with local community members.

Committee to vote on square plan this time, really

By Lincoln Anderson

Although comments made by the Community Board 2 chairperson last month raised an alarm among some park advocates that the board’s Parks Committee would not be voting on a resolution on the Washington Sq. Park refurbishment plan, it now appears a resolution will likely be voted on — and perhaps passed — at the committee’s April meeting.

At least that’s the hope of Aubrey Lees, the Parks Committee’s chairperson, who said she expects the committee to pass a resolution in favor of phase one of the refurbishment plan at the committee’s April 6 meeting, to be held at N.Y.U.’s Silver Building, 32 Waverly Pl., Room 408, starting at 6:30 p.m.

“I’m hoping — but only related to phase one,” Lees said. “I’ve talked to most of the committee members and I think that most of them will be ready to vote in favor of phase one, which includes the park’s northwest corner and the fountain. I don’t think it’ll be unanimous, but I think it will pass. I’d love it to be unanimous. I’m sure it will be a majority.”

The committee includes a number public members, who are allowed to vote on the resolution along with the board members and some of whom are notably outspoken opponents of the plan.

Phase two of the Washington Sq. project is planned to include the eastern and southern parts of the park, encompassing the relocation of the dog runs and the renovation of the play mounds area.

Comments by Jim Smith, the board’s chairperson, at the March 24 full board meeting — when Lees was away on vacation — caused a stir among those who oppose the plan either in part or almost in its entirety. Smith had seemed to indicate that maybe C.B. 2 wouldn’t vote on a resolution on the hotly debated project. He noted that two or three years ago, the board did approve, in concept, the general renovation plan as presented by landscape architect George Vellonakis.

“At what point can we say, the community board has had its say?” Smith asked, as if to say the board perhaps had had its say.

Word of the chairperson’s remarks quickly spread afterwards and The Villager received several phone calls from concerned residents outraged at the idea of the committee not weighing in on the impassioned issue.

Leonie Haimson, a leading mounds advocate, noted she’s still concerned the mounds haven’t being drawn into plans the community has been shown at recent meetings.

“They can try to make fun of us, but if you live in this neighborhood, you know that the mounds are an important issue,” Haimson said. “If Tony Dapolito were still head of the Parks Committee this would not go through,” she declared, referring to the late, longtime chairperson of the C.B. 2 Parks Committee, known as “Mr. Parks.”

“Why bother to have a community board at all?” Haimson protested of the possibility that the board might shirk its voting duty. “Washington Sq. Park is the heart and soul of Greenwich Village — to not have a vote, I find that unacceptable.”

“I’m quite disturbed by that,” echoed Suzanne Dickerson of the idea of the committee taking a pass.

However, Smith subsequently e-mailed The Villager, indicating a vote would likely happen after all:

“The Parks Committee should and will issue a resolution,” Smith said. “Whether that will be in April or May, I leave to it to the Parks Committee. And the Parks Department, too, wants a resolution beyond the general expression of favor we gave some time ago. But I believe that the Parks Department’s main responsibility before proceeding was to air its plans to the public and to consider the public’s response. This they have certainly done. Of all the city agencies, Parks cares more about the opinion of the public and the board than any other agency we deal with.”

Several recent public hearings on the $16 million, two-year plan have seen community members angrily attack aspects of the design, from the moving of the fountain slightly to the east to align it with Fifth Ave. to the relocating of the two centrally located dog runs to the park’s periphery to a failure to commit to rebuilding and restoring the three mounds to their current size and shape.

Yet, Lees said, “I think more people like the plan than not.” Lees is co-chairperson of the Washington Sq. Park Task Force along with Michael Haberman, director of government and community affairs for New York University.

Lees says, as opposed to June, she’s now hearing the project is set to start by mid-summer or the end of the summer.

“I don’t think that the mounds as they are now will be duplicated,” Lees said, asked about the plans for the signature hillocks. “That’s what I’ve heard [Manhattan Parks Commissioner] Bill Castro say — but that there will be moundlike things there, with play equipment.”

However, Lees said the second part of the construction is “a year and a half away” during which “we’d be meeting with Bill to [work on] phase two and deal with the more controversial stuff in that area.”

As for the idea of a fence, which some are opposing on aesthetic grounds or even see as a step toward privatization, Lees said, “It would be hard to believe that there won’t be some sort of enclosed thing around Washington Sq. Park.”

She added that she’s “really happy about the dog runs” and that when the new ones are built they’ll be better than the existing ones.

Of the committee’s recent meetings’ erupting in protests from those against the plan and ending without votes, Lees said, “It helped to have those meetings, not only for the committee, but also for the public. People can come and say what they have to say — but I think a lot of the committee wants to vote.”

Doris Diether, a C.B. 2 member, noted that at last Wednesday’s meeting by Councilmember Alan Gerson on N.Y.U.-related issues on the east side of the square, she noticed Susan Goren urging people to turn out in force on April 6 to voice their opposition.

In related news, Vellonakis will be in Washington Sq. Park at the park maintenance building every Wednesday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. to discuss the refurbishment design with community members. He has already done this the last three Wednesdays.

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