Volume 75, Number 9 | July 20- 26, 2005

Letters to the editor

Zoning, yes, and landmarking

To The Editor:
Strolling through the historic Far West Village, the neighborhood’s unique sense of place and its connection to a vital part of the city’s history is clear. Equally clear is the failure of newer developments, such as the Meier towers, to interact with their historic surroundings. While appropriate zoning is needed to protect the character of the Far West Village from such intrusions, it is only through a combination of zoning and landmarking that preserving the neighborhood can be achieved. Zoning alone simply does not do enough to preserve the neighborhood. Landmarking highlights the historical importance of neighborhoods, protecting them from overdevelopment and inappropriate changes in ways that even the strictest zoning cannot.

Unfortunately, the plans presented by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the Far West Village are deeply disappointing. First, the proposal is extremely limited and does not include enough of the neighborhood’s historical treasures to adequately protect the overall character of the neighborhood. Second, L.P.C. sadly failed to take into account the mixed-use character of the neighborhood, which includes some of the last traces of New York’s maritime/industrial history. Most notably, L.P.C.’s proposal excludes the endangered Superior Ink factory and Whitehall Storage building, in addition to many other blocks and specific structures that are of indisputable historic value. Furthermore, with the exception of the tiny Weehawken St. District and the few blocks between Washington and Greenwich Sts. that are slated to be added to the Greenwich Village Historic District, only individual structures are scheduled for landmarking. While structures such as the Westbeth Artists Residence and the Devoe Paint Factory are each historically important, spot-zoning fails to appropriately protect the overall historic fabric of the neighborhood that creates the context for these structures.

While rezoning is important in protecting the neighborhood from out-of-scale development, landmarking is the only means through which to ensure that the overall appearance of new development fits into the character of the neighborhood. Therefore, we must unite in demanding that L.P.C. immediately designate a truly comprehensive Far West Village historic district.

Deborah J. Glick
Glick is assemblymember for the 66th District

The march of the mini-Meiers

To The Editor:
Re “West Village plan isn’t perfect, but it’s in the zone” (talking point, by Andrew Berman, July 6):

Andrew Berman’s talking point makes the case that with a few improvements the city’s zoning and landmarking proposals will protect the Far West Village. He claims my vision of “mini-Meiers” dotting the neighborhood is exaggerated — that even though there’s an eight-story height limit, because of the nature of existing lots, the most developers will be able to build are six-story buildings. Andrew believes developers will have little incentive to build such small buildings.

Unfortunately, the Far West Village is the hottest real estate market in the city and nothing short of a nuclear power plant would discourage developers. As I write this, two all-glass buildings are going up, one on Charles St. and one on West St. They’re built on tiny lots, the width of a Federal townhouse, and will be half the height of the Meier buildings. Yet, the developers were willing and eager to shell out many millions for these properties because they’re so close to Hudson River Park. If we allow them, they will build.

Whether they’re five, six or eight stories, glass-and-steel structures destroy the character of our historic neighborhood. The new zoning proposals will allow one or more mini-Meiers on Christopher St., West St., Charles St., Perry St., 11th St. and 12th St. Add the block-wide (will it be largely glass?) building on 10th St. planned for the Whitehall site and the block-wide glass building on Bethune St. planned for Superior Ink site (whatever their heights) and the transformation of the Far West Village will be complete.

I’ve been working for a decade to preserve the waterfront and others have been working even longer. In the last year and a half, Andrew Berman has contributed his considerable intelligence, energy and organizing ability to the effort. I would like nothing better than to congratulate him and say, “We did it!” But that’s simply not the fact.

Allowing for shorter, but still absurdly out-of-context buildings will not preserve the character of the Far West Village, no matter how much we might wish it. Only the creation of a historic district from Christopher to Horatio Sts. can accomplish that. Anything less is wishful thinking.

Stuart Waldman

Publisher: I’m no homophobe

To The Editor:
“Newspaper publisher becomes the story before debate” (news article, July 13):

A while ago I wrote that the politicization of sexuality in our culture is chipping away at our intimacy, our ability to publicly display affection and the healthy eroticism which is such a crucial component of our psyches. I pointed a finger at several groups which are in the business of turning the personal into the political, churning out slogans to curb serious, deep discussion. As a result I was called a homophobe by your paper.

That the name-calling is ridiculous goes without saying. I’m on the record as supporting gay marriage and gay adoptions. The choice of The Villager to name-call me based on an anonymous e-mail attests to your quality as a news organization. But the insanity which drove this bizarre attack is pervasive in the culture, and we must be aware of the harm it’s causing.

The compulsion to define a man as “moderate” or “extremist,” “right” or “left,” etc., is born by a society too impatient to actually find out what he may think about any given subject. Reporters are the worst offenders. The reporter who interviewed me for The Villager actually thought she did a balanced job. And you know something? Compared to some other jobs I’ve experienced this was pretty balanced. Provided, of course, that you have the attention span of a 10-year-old.

Incidentally, the reason I support gay marriage has nothing to do with what I feel about homosexual behavior. My Jewish tradition has taught me that there’s no such thing as a homosexual person, only homosexual acts. All of us experience the full range of erotic feelings throughout our lives; our sexuality is a continuum, not a yes-no quiz.

My Jewish tradition also teaches me that there are some homosexual behaviors which are forbidden, some which are questionable and some which are no problem at all. In my own life I live under those rules. I don’t make it a habit to judge other people’s sexual preferences.

But there are two connected areas where I support wholeheartedly the “gay agenda:” When it comes to leading a monogamous life and adopting children.

Perhaps the only area where the general culture has been universally critical of the homosexual lifestyle is the sense of perpetual adolescence stereotypical gay culture is projecting: self-involved, rife with body-image anxiety.

Never mind that these are just cartoon stereotypes, but here come gay people who want to live in sane, caring, long-lasting relationships, pay taxes together, take out health insurance together, sign for each other’s medical treatment in an emergency, all the normal, needed and productive things married couples take for granted — and those things the culture wants to deny them? Are we crazy?

Next, when a gay couple or individual wants to shoulder the burden of bringing up the next generation, embrace unwanted children, turn tragedy into optimism — we’re going to prevent them? Are we so rich with parental resources that we can discard responsible grownups wishing to shoulder the load?

It’s difficult to pack this information into a phone interview, especially when you’ve just been sucker-punched by some anonymous enemy. But I did. And a lot of good it did me….

Yori Yanover
Yanover is editor and publisher, The Grand Street News

Stop ‘N.Y.U. machine’

To The Editor:
Each and every act of reconstruction of Washington Square Park is a step-by-step plan to satisfy the greed of New York University.

Many years ago, I had a discussion with Ray Viola, the then head of real estate at N.Y.U. He flat out told me that the university was trying to convince the Parks Department to build a fence around the park, similar to the one surrounding Gramercy Park. The fence would have locked gates and the park would service a certain area of the Village — probably from 14th St. down to Houston St. Their goal was to privatize the park for the benefit of the university. At that time the Parks Department was not open to the idea…but times have changed!

N.Y.U. has gobbled up Greenwich Village, parts of the East Village and other parts of the city. N.Y.U. is one of the leading realtors in New York City. Along with real estate holdings comes extensive power and persuasion.

Anyone familiar with the “aesthetic” taste of N.Y.U. will surely have noticed that everything they touch is industrial, boring and in direct conflict with any sense of feng shui or aesthetic passion. If you want something made as ugly as is humanly possible, turn it over to N.Y.U. architects! N.Y.U. has ruined the charm and antiquity of Greenwich Village and especially the land that surrounds Washington Square Park. Is it any wonder that they want to industrialize the interior of the park to match the visual profanity of everything else they have put their hand to?

Moving the fountain to line up with the arch, grassing over the performing area around the fountain and then fencing them off to human traffic, as well as squaring round corners and leveling the terrain to an almost Oklahoma landscape is par for the N.Y.U. course in aesthetic design. In other words, dehumanizing everything they touch is their goal. How else could they commit the emotional atrocities that they have against residents of Greenwich Village if not to function like a machine without heart, soul or content?

Times have changed and when it comes to revisionism of Greenwich Village it’s very heart, Washington Square Park, is being plucked out by the “new deal” between the Parks Department and N.Y.U.!

Shelley Davis
Fireworks were hazardous

To The Editor:
Re: “Park blotter” (Scoopy’s notebook, June 29):

On Chris Martin’s comment in Scoopy’s notebook: In case you didn’t notice, Segment 4 of the Hudson River Park is lined with trees and the West Side Highway is lined with tall buildings. Signs clearly said the park would remain open until 11 p.m. for the Heritage of Pride celebration, and the fireworks display started at 10:30 p.m. There was an enormously large police presence, and parks enforcement personnel as well.

There is nothing more peaceful than a crowd watching a fireworks display, and nothing more potentially violent than trying to keep a mob from viewing it. If anyone had been shooting Roman candles into the crowd, the police would have arrested them pronto. The West Village, site of Stonewall, was effectively barred from viewing the yearly fireworks display, which many residents, including myself, specifically come to see each year.

Thanks for endangering my safety by forcing me to attempt to watch the fireworks from amongst a crowd crushed into the West Side Highway divider. I’m so glad my park was kept safe instead.

Barry Drogin

The war on drinks, part six

To The Editor:
Re “The war on drinks, continued” (letter, by Allen Bortnick, July 6):

In response to Mr. Bortnick’s letter, all I have to say is, there he goes again. Mr. Bortnick states in his letter, “The issue is not bars but the proliferation of bars.” So, Mr. Bortnick, I have to ask you, how many bars would be acceptable to you? My guess is none if you feel that bars are just substitutes for heroin and coke dealers.

Make no mistake folks; this kind of rhetoric is nothing more than the rumblings of the prohibitionist mind. Mr. Bortnick can try and confuse the issue all he wants with twisted references to Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford, but the fact remains: He (Bortnick) equates alcohol with the evils in this society and if that isn’t the ramblings of a prohibitionist then I’ll turn in my liquor license.

Mr. Bortnick writes: “Calling bars a hospitality industry and safe haven that add ‘vitality’ within the community is desperation personified, by your very own choice of words.” I have news for Mr. Bortnick: the name of the industry of which I am a member is the hospitality industry. It applies to businesses like hotels, cabarets, bars and any other type of establishment that caters to the needs of its guests. As for a safe haven, let me ask Mr. Bortnick this: what would be the better scenario, walking down a dark street at 3 a.m. with no open businesses, or the same street with well-lit open businesses? I fear that if Mr. Bortnick had his way the streets of New York City would dark and desolate.

“Harold Kramer provides toys for tots but sells his neighbors alcohol instead of drugs. Saint or sinner?” Mr.Bortnick, you’re damn right. I sell alcohol, a well-regulated, licensed and, might I add, legal substance to my neighbors instead of drugs.

My wife and I have long since set a policy that drug dealing would not be tolerated in our bar.

As I stated in my previous letter, before we opened Raven, the stores that occupied that space were drug-dealing bodegas.

Now, if Mr. Bortnick cannot see the difference between the two, he needs to ask members of the E. 12th St. Block Association which they prefer. In their own words on my behalf at Community Board 3’s State Liquor Authority Committee meetings: “Walking past the corner of E. 12th St. and Avenue A was walking a gauntlet of drug dealers and gang members.”

As for the toys for tots, once again Mr. Bortnick, what have you done for underprivileged children lately?

Mr. Bortnick has been making a lot of noise lately about councilmembers and candidates who take money from bar owners.

Yet in the July 6 Villager article “Shots are traded, but not counted, in East Village political bar brawl,” we see that Mr. Bortnick had no problem asking bar owner Dave McWater for a contribution to a candidate of his (Bortnick’s) own choosing.

Hello, does the word “hypocrite” come to mind? I guess that only candidates that Mr. Bortnick supports deserve contributions from bar owners.

You know what, Mr. Bortnick? Bar owners pay a lot of taxes and deserve representation. They should be able to contribute to candidates as they see fit without hypocritical fanatics like you making an issue over it. Maybe we need to look at the contributions that your candidates have accepted.

And in closing let me just say.... What is that loud noise? I can’t think with all that racket. Uh oh, it’s the sound of Mr. Bortnick sharpening his axes again!
Harold Kramer
Kramer is co-owner, Raven Bar 

Deeds, shmeeds

To The Editor:
Re “Shades of Prohibition” (letter, by Harold Kramer, June 22):

The contorted rationalization of the bar problems in this city by Harold Kramer, co-owner of Raven Bar, reads like something from someone who might want to reevaluate the brain cell damage of too much drinking.

It warms my heart to know that our educational system may be underwritten, like a PBS show, by the Raven Bar. In all seriousness, a bar owner may do good deeds, but to use that as a platform to justify everything else is downright despicable.

Stop with the smoking law B.S. Never has a group used such a red herring to justify whatever happens and to engender unwarranted sympathy. Many of these places never exhibited crowd control in the first place and congregating en masse didn’t just start.

Robert Weitz

Youths are harassers

To The Editor:
Re “Gay youth complain of police harassment in Village” (news article, July 6):

On June 29 I attended the Sixth Precinct Community Council meeting. Merchants and residents both gay and minority expressed their concern for the increasing numbers of youth who disregard our quality of life. Not one attendee voiced any negative feelings with the execution and performance of Deputy Inspector Shortell and the officers of the Sixth Precinct. In fact, all were united in trying to problem-solve the difficult issues raised.

In addition, community outrage was expressed toward our elected and government officials in regard to their lack of commitment in helping to solve this overwhelming problem that is destroying our neighborhood.

Dave Poster, president of the Christopher Street Patrol, publicly stated that in 15 years of patrolling the West Village neither he nor his patrollers have ever witnessed the Sixth Precinct harassing any youth on the street. In fact, they have often observed the opposite.

These unruly youths have to be accountable for their actions and neither they nor anyone else should be above the law. Being minority or gay cannot be used as an excuse for anything-goes behavior.

In my opinion, this attitude of “let them be” is the ultimate of prejudice. Life on the street 24/7 is absolutely a dead-end life.

Elaine Goldman
Goldman is president, Christopher St. Block and Merchants Association

He’d take Koch in foxhole

To The Editor:
Re “I’m not going anywhere” (letter, by Ed Koch, June 15):

Ed is a great old guy. Why old? — because like Ed, I was in WWII but am a wee bit younger but not by much. I read his response to the letter he received from a Ms. Carolyn Meinhardt (“Boycotts Villager because of Koch,” June 1) and it was right on target. For a Democrat, he has his head screwed on just about right. I appreciate his views on various subjects of importance to our country. He served honorably in our armed forces during the Big One, as I did. Never knew this, but one learns something every day, and he is and should be proud of this service to his country. G-d bless Ed and hope he keeps giving us his excellent advice.

Sumner Thompson

Festival has the power

To The Editor:
Re “Let’s come together to fix up Washington Sq. Park” (talking point, by Matt Bardin, June 29):

Bravo to Matt Bardin and the Washington Square Park Council for organizing a fall workshop for “stakeholders” in Washington Square to get more meaningful public opinion. I look forward to it.

A point of information, however. In his talking point, Bardin refers to the Teen Plaza as serving “as a makeshift stage, even though it lacks basic necessities like electricity.” It actually has its own circuit box, in front of the bandstand with enough amperage to run our lights and sound. The Washington Square Music Festival donated funds to the Parks Department to construct this box in the ’70s renovation. The cover is bolted down, since it cannot be casually used because of the voltage. Our technical people are qualified to work with electricity.

We are grateful to our major sponsor, the Washington Square Park Council, and invite all to attend the last of our three concerts on July 26 at 8 p.m. Rain space is provided through the generosity of New York University in the Frederick Loewe Theatre, 35 W. Fourth St.

Peggy Friedman
Friedman is executive director, Washington Square Music Festival

CERTain about that?

To The Editor:
Re “Biding his time” (Scoopy’s Notebook, June 29):

The item in The Villager concerning Pete Gleason refers to him as being co-president of the Battery Park City CERT. Pete Gleason is not affiliated with our organization. He is involved in trying to establish a Tribeca CERT. As of now, our Community Emergency Response Team in Battery Park City has 161 trained members and is the largest in New York City — and possibly the state. We were also the first FEMA-certified team in New York City.

Sid Baumgarten
Baumgarten is team chief, Battery Park City CERT

Plaint doesn’t wash

To The Editor:
Re “Soap seller drained by worries of vendor cleanup” (news article, July 6):

I was astonished to read your piece about the vendor who is selling soap at Union Square while stating that it is fine art. Bogus claims of First Amendment protection such as this are quite harmful to artists because these sorts of displays take up large areas of valuable public space that should be used for the display of fine art. I was also stunned by the advice of “arts advocate” Robert Lederman who suggested that this vendor sculpt her handmade soap into various shapes to get around the laws protecting artists. What a ruse.

I have absolute empathy for a widow selling her hand-created soaps in public to make a living. I believe that this person should have access to our economy in the public marketplace, and the city must find ways for people such as her to do so. However, please — not as an artist. She is clearly a vendor, and her goods are in no way, form or manner art. To say otherwise is simply incredible.

The courts in the Bery decision state that painting, sculpture, photography and printmaking are the only forms of art that are qualified for First Amendment protection. Not soaps, brooms or any other cleaning product no matter how artfully done. Frankly, it is just this sort of obfuscation of the lines between groups that has caused much of the overcrowding in public space that has driven real artists out by the score. This is a great loss for us all.

If Ms. Dantoni were a working public artist she would be just as upset about the massive usurping of public space by vendors posing as real artists as we are. Everyone has a right to make a living, but not at the expense of others. By posing as a public artist that is just what Ms. Dantoni is doing. If Ms. Dantoni wishes to sell in public as an artist, she must do what the rest of us do: create art. However, now she is simply harming artists by posing as one.

I and other members of our group would be glad to work with Ms. Dantoni to create more space for vendors and more licenses for the selling of her kind of special product. That makes sense. However, Ms. Dantoni’s posing as an artist is harmful to actual pubic artists and that is absolutely unacceptable. A real arts advocate would tell her that, not attempt to advise her on how to get around the law protecting artists.

Lawrence White
White is a member, Soho International Artists Co-op

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