Volume 74, Number 3 | June 8- 14, 2005

Still unhappy with Wash. Sq. plan, Gerson may pull funds

By Albert Amateau

City Councilmember Alan Jay Gerson is not quite ready to pull the plug on his $1.5 million discretionary fund appropriation for the reconstruction of Washington Sq. Park, but he’s getting ready. The city budget deadline is only weeks away and the Department of Parks has not satisfied Gerson’s objections to the design.

He said on Monday that unless there was an agreement before the adoption of the new budget, he would be ready to put off his appropriation for the Washington Sq. Park project until 2007.

“I’m still concerned about several issues,” Gerson told The Villager, “the fence, expanded play space for older kids including the mounds, improvements to the dog runs, a cap on the number of amplification permits, keeping nooks and alcoves free of planters and keeping an elevated area for concerts.”

Gerson said he has been talking to the Department of Parks and Recreation, but there is no agreement yet on those issues.

“I remain optimistic but I’m concerned that the budget is supposed to come to the City Council for approval around the middle of June. I very much want to go ahead with the project this year but I want to do it in the right way,” he said.

Bill Castro, Parks borough commissioner for Manhattan, will meet again with Gerson later this week on those issues, according to Warner Johnston, a Parks spokesperson.

Gerson’s concerns about the redesign reflect the objections that many neighbors living around Washington Sq. have expressed over the past year, particularly the proposal to put a new fence around the park. The current design, approved last month by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, calls for a 4-foot, 4-inch fence that includes a 6-inch granite curb.

Castro told the Landmarks Preservation Commission last month that the height of the fence could be adjusted somewhat. But Gerson on Monday insisted on “a low fence or no fence.” Currently, the park is surrounded by a 21/2-foot-high pipe-rail fence with a turkey-wire fence behind it.

At its May meeting, Community Board 2 wrestled with the issue of fence height but arrived at no specific conclusion. Sean Sweeney, C.B. 2 Landmarks Committee head, submitted a recommendation by the committee for a 6-foot-tall iron fence like the one that surrounded the park in 1827. But the board declined to follow the committee resolution and voted it down. Sweeney then asked the board to support a 2-foot-high fence, also voted down. Then Arthur Schwartz, a park activist on the board, suggested a 3-foot fence and that too failed. So, the board’s position on the fence in its previous Parks Committee resolution stands: that if there is to be any fence at all, it should be under 4 feet tall.

Gerson on Monday denounced the Parks Department decision last month to drop plans for gates that could be locked at night and to replace them with 4-foot-high moveable aluminum barriers to secure the park. “Those ugly, noisy barriers are the worst possible outcome,” he said.

The proposal to move the fountain 23 feet east to align it with the center of the Washington Sq. Arch has been another controversial aspect of the plan, but it was not an issue that Gerson mentioned as a concern and the community board last month declined to make a recommendation. The board’s Landmarks Committee had recommended not moving the fountain from its historic spot, but, again, the full board voted against the committee’s resolution; as a result, the board’s previous Parks Committee resolution, which takes no position on the relocation of the fountain, stands.

Jim Smith, C.B. 2 chairperson, said even though the Landmarks Preservation Commission had already approved the Washington Sq. renovation plan the week before on May 17, it was not moot for C.B. 2 to be voting on its Landmarks Committee resolution — especially since it did not jibe on some issues with the board’s Parks Committee resolution. Board 2 faced the prospect of having two conflicting positions on the park project. Smith noted that L.P.C. has not approved a definite height for the proposed fence, and that it is still important for C.B. 2 to keep weighing in on the fence and the rest of the ongoing and developing plan.

Board 2 also passed a resolution calling for a bronze statue on a granite base of Philip Hone, New York City mayor from 1826-’27, who is known as the Father of Washington Sq. The board resolution called for the Hone statue, about equal to the heroic size of Garibaldi monument on the east side of the park, to be included in the current reconstruction plan.

The cost of the two-phase project is estimated at $16 million plus $4 million for an endowment to maintain the park in the future.

Current public funding includes $1,035,000 assigned for this year by Gerson, who said on Monday that he would allocate another $500,000 if design issues are settled. The funding includes $1 million in the mayoral budget and $500,000 each from Councilmember Margarita Lopez and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields.

Private funding includes $1 million from New York University, $100,000 from the Village Alliance Business Improvement District, $20,000 from the Washington Sq. Association and $250,000 from the Washington Sq. Park Council.

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