Volume 75, Number 10 | July 27 - Aug. 2, 2005

Letters to the editor

Where are our elected officials?

To The Editor:
As the ongoing struggle to landmark or downzone as much of the Far West Village as possible continues, neighborhood residents should be proud of their efforts so far. We have, through letter-writing campaigns and attendance at community board meetings, succeeded in challenging some of the development plans by the likes of Related Companies and other real estate giants that would egregiously alter the character of this historic and beloved part of New York. Many of the sites in question — the Superior Ink building at Bethune and West Sts.; the buildings at 387-391 W. 12th St., built in 1856 (formerly stables and a factory, now the Diane von Furstenberg studios, recently sold for development); the two one-story buildings on the northeast corner of Charles and Washington Sts. (139 and 145 Charles Sts.); and plenty of others — will, unless landmarked or downzoned, become monstrous luxury towers reaching up as high as 300 feet into the air. These developments would be disastrously out of scale with the architecture of the neighborhood, overload the schools in the community and generally lead to a decline in the quality of life. That’s not the West Village I have lived in my entire adult life, and it’s not the kind of change I — and a clear majority of my neighbors — want to see.

The community’s response to Related’s plans is united and unambiguous: No way, not now, not ever. But where are the elected officials charged with advocating for the community? People like City Councilmember Christine Quinn and others have been too silent on the matter. When we need them most — when we, their constituents, have expressed our views so clearly — how can our advocates not respond by taking up the cause more aggressively? One has to wonder, and the time has come to do so publicly, whose interests they represent: the residents of the West Village, or Related Companies and the other groups out to profit by destroying the unique character of our home?

Rachel Chanoff

Keep up landmarking fight

To The Editor:
In response to Andrew Berman’s talking point, “West Village Plan isn’t perfect but it’s in the zone,” in the July 6 Villager, Mr. Berman asks us to focus on “the battles that need to be fought immediately — like trying to improve the city’s rezoning plan….”

It’s the immediacy of this zoning plan coupled with lack of attention paid to true landmarking that is most troubling. For the past year, the community, including Mr. Berman, has been fighting for a Greenwich Village Waterfront Historic District. Now, instead of giving the community a true landmark district, the city is railroading a zoning plan through — a plan with two major faults — and landmarking a few buildings along the way; though it’s not definite when this landmarking might occur. While we’re busy trying to resolve these faults in the zoning plan (a very worthwhile fight), we should not be content to accept spotty landmarking that does not go far enough in preserving our historic neighborhood. Zoning simply does not preserve the character of a neighborhood — especially a neighborhood as unique and historic as Greenwich Village. As Stuart Waldman, a board member of the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront & Great Port, wrote recently in The Villager concerning the lack of landmarking, “The area west of Washington St. will be full of mini-Meiers four to eight stories tall.”

The waterfront rezoning plan has now been certified. While we must still urge our elected officials to make sure the final plan serves the best interests of our community and not the developers, it’s time to resume the fight for true landmarking. We cannot and should not accept 12 buildings as a historic “district.” Little is accomplished when a community simply accepts what it thinks it can get. The Greenwich Village community knows this all too well. After all, weren’t we told that Westway would happen no matter what, and that Robert Moses was going to roll a superhighway (The Lower Manhattan Expressway) over us?

Emily Farris
Farris is executive director/editor, Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront & Great Port/Our River, Our Streets

Someone has to protect the park

To The Editor:
Re “Butt out of Union Sq., Stringer!” (letter, by Margarita Lopez, July 13):

The proposed seasonal restaurant in Union Square Park is not a public-versus-private issue as Councilmember Lopez asserts. Rather, we are requesting a park alienation review, which occurs when park space is used for nonpark purposes, which a restaurant expansion clearly is. In contrast, the Greenmarket, while privately owned, enhances both the character and vitality of the park.

Furthermore, I was asked by the community groups involved in this project to look into whether alienation should indeed be necessary because of the restaurant expansion taking over prime park space without benefit to the area. The community was undoubtedly concerned that their neighborhood already has the highest concentration of restaurants and lowest concentration of park space in the entire city. The process of park alienation provides an opportunity for the restaurant expansion to be reviewed and commented on by not only the State Legislature but by the City Council, community and other interested parties.

Finally, Lopez’s letter implies that we are somehow trying to give a new power to the State Legislature. In truth, the responsibility to protect park space from usurpation must go through the Legislature currently. We are requesting a review of the restaurant expansion solely to protect our precious park space.

Scott Stringer
Stringer is assemblymember for the 67th District

Lopez’s park position confusing

To The Editor:
Re “Butt out of Union Sq., Stringer!” (letter, by Margarita Lopez, July 13):

In her letter, City Councilmember Lopez says what the opponents of the privatization plan want to hear their elected officials say: that the city must take responsibility for its parks, and that relying on private money opens the doors for the government to neglect its responsibility. But then she goes on to tout the very project that has privatization as its central concept, thanking the Manhattan Parks commissioner for the department’s renovation plan. This is an extremely confusing ideology. Her heart was certainly in the right place when she gave $1.9 million to renovate the children’s playground. Her ideological instincts are certainly in tune with the needs of her constituents. It’s just that her actions are not consistent when it comes to doing the right thing regarding privatization of public parkland in her district. State Assemblyman Scott Stringer is doing the right thing for Union Square Park.

Paula Schaeffer

Lopez wrong on the facts

To The Editor:
Our block association believes that the letter to the editor from Councilmember Margarita Lopez (“Butt out of Union Sq., Stringer!”, July 13) is wrong regarding several amply document facts.

1. Union Square is not under the sole exclusive control of Manhattan’s Second Councilmanic District. It belongs to all New Yorkers, including the growing population in the area immediately west of Union Square, which is being developed with enormous real estate projects without additional local park space.

2. Union Square is a proper concern to New York State, its officials and all its residents as a national historic landmark listed in the New York State Register of Historic Places. The design of the BID and Parks Department, which has still not been shared with the public, interferes with this important public landmark.

3. Union Square is also a proper state concern under New York State’s strong land trust policies that help farmers to preserve their land and survive economically by selling at markets overseen in part by the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, the crown jewel of which is the Union Square Greenmarket of New York City’s Council on the Environment.

4. It is not correct to equate the Luna Park cafe with the Greenmarket. The cafe is a private operation taking away public use of public property in a crowded park. The cafe profits its private owners by serving a relatively small number of patrons who could be similarly served anywhere else nearby. In striking contrast, the Greenmarket is part of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets operating from within the Council on the Environment, which is part of the mayor’s office. The Greenmarket is on public property with no minimum entrance payment required from the public to visit it. It consists of farmers who sell only what they grow, benefiting their families and their communities and counties largely in our state of New York. The Greenmarket serves huge numbers of the public and our city’s tourists with fresher, more healthful food products and it has improved the entire neighborhood.

5. Luna Park cafe is also significantly different from the Greenmarket in that its financial arrangements with the city are unclear in contrast to the Greenmarket’s, which are under public control. For example, the BID claims (“Restaurant offers Union Sq. a serving of right stuff,” talking point, by Karen H. Shaw, June 29) that an “estimated 185,000 customers patronized” the cafe in 2004. And on March 21, 2005, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe wrote the Union Square Community Coalition that “Over the past four years the restaurant concession at Union Square Park has yielded more than $500,000.” If the numbers are credible, that comes out to a yield of $125,000 per year. What a sweet arrangement — only about 68 cents per patron in one of the commercially hottest areas in town!

6. Assemblymember Scott Stringer did not come to this issue late. Our neighborhoods have recently urged him and other officials to support our voices and look into our concerns in the very strange planning by the BID and Parks Department going on at Union Square. We are alarmed by all the official misrepresentations, the withholding of plans from the public and the general disenfranchisement of the larger concerned community. While we depend upon Union Square as a neighborhood public place and a public landmark, Councilmember Lopez has not responded to our communications from outside her district. But Assemblymember Stringer and most other elected officials have responded with strong support.

We applaud Councilmember Lopez’s opposition “ideologically” to the use of public space for private enterprise. And we appreciate the funding that she has secured to expand and improve the children’s playground. But that is not enough help for Union Square and its larger community.

We applaud Stringer’s intention to have a hearing in the Assembly’s Cities Committee about “alienation” at Union Square concerning public property being diverted for private use. It’s wonderful that someone will finally investigate this publicly on behalf of the community’s interest. And we urge all of our concerned officials to support our call for our state and federal elected officials to secure financial support for the proper design improvements of the public’s Union Square, free of secretly brokered, private local agreements.

Stanley Bulbach
Bulbach is a member, the W. 15th St. 200 Block Association

Rein in park ‘sex police’

To The Editor:
Recently, there has been yet another story about extreme law enforcement by the Park Enforcement Patrol officers at Hudson River Park.

The latest incident, on July 17, concerns two men who received summonses and $50 fines from PEP officers for standing and talking in front of traffic signs reading “No Stopping or Standing — Fire Zone.” Our concern is these are both gay men who were exiting a gay tour event held to thank L.G.B.T. Pride volunteers. The fact that both men are involved with Heritage of Pride, the organization that hosts the annual celebration of 1 million queer people in June, is too ironic for words.

While, on the surface, this story seems and sounds absurd, it is Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats’ concern that enforcement toward queer people seems again to be unnecessarily harsh. Jason Eng, one of the men who was ticketed, told the Daily News, “I think if it was a heterosexual couple walking they wouldn’t have even said anything.” Regrettably, given prior incidents with the PEP officers, GLID shares that impression.

In 2003, shortly after the park opened, there were various reports of PEP officers stopping and questioning people about their gender identity before or after they used the restrooms. I and other L.G.B.T. activists and elected officials reached out to the Hudson River Park Trust and to its executive director, then vice president, Ms. Connie Fishman, who apologized and explained that the park was new and the enforcement guidelines were still a work in progress. This was a simple and reasonable explanation and such incidents ceased.

This year, however, there have been reports of PEP officers moving in on same-sex couples and stating that public displays of affection will not be tolerated. While we strongly doubt that police patrols monitor all city and state parks in this fashion, we again ask that the Hudson River Park Enforcement Patrol work in tandem with the gay community in general, or the Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project specifically, and learn about the neighborhood and its history and decide, once and for all, what is appropriate behavior in the parks of Greenwich Village in the 21st century.

While we are thrilled at the record drops of crime in our neighborhoods and our city, we insist that the sex police leave us alone and concentrate on important criminal affairs, such as no smoking in bars.

Melissa Sklarz
Sklarz is president, Gay & Lesbian Independent Democrats

Say youths attacked them

To The Editor:
I have been a resident of the West Village for the past several years and I am appalled at what is happening on Christopher St. this summer. I have been inspired to write this letter because my husband and I were attacked after visiting an ATM at 5 a.m. on the corner of Christopher and Hudson St. Words were exchanged between my husband and a group of youths hanging out on the corner. Approximately 10 of them came at us, surrounded my husband and punched and slashed him in the leg with a blade. One girl, I later learned, 16 years old, kicked me in the back and stole my wallet. I believe we are extremely blessed, because it could have been much worse. The girl who stole my wallet was arrested but not one of the approximately 10 males was arrested. Who would you say is the harassed party? I would like to issue a challenge to the so called “gay advocates” on the community board and our elected officials. Do not stand behind looking the other way as advocating for these kids — that is not advocating, that is simply doing nothing. Do you want to help them in a positive way or help them to live lives of drunks, prostitution, etc.? Giving these kids a green light to hang out on Christopher St. and be violent and disrespectful only hurts them and this community. I am quite certain that the boys who attacked us now feel above the law — so next time how far will they go? How far does this have to go before you actually take action and do something?

Karla Mayol

Best 47 E. 3rd coverage

To The Editor:
Re “Turning tenements into mansions; landlords try to mass-evict tenants” (news article, July 13):

All the residents of 47 E. Third St. fighting to save their homes from our landlord’s “owner occupancy” mass eviction — corporate landlords Catherine and Alistair Economamakis of Granite Management claim they will turn our six-story rent-stabilzied tenement into their private mansion — thank you for The Villager’s incredibly thorough coverage of our battle. We are also grateful for the overwhelming support and empathy we’ve received from everyday people in our community who have heard about our case in The Villager and elsewhere.

I want to let your readers know that we can be reached via e-mail at 47east3rd-street@earthlink.net or on our hotline, 212-330-8783, and that if they leave us some contact information we will inform them of any future rallies and fundraisers, including a benefit stoop sale we are planning for early fall.

It saddens and outrages me that anyone who cannot somehow come up with thousands and thousands of dollars to legally defend themselves would have been quickly displaced from his or her home by this sort of scam. I myself would be long gone were it not for my neighbors in my building who I share this battle with. Together we struggle continually to withstand the stress, uncover all the real facts surrounding our case, attend our court dates and organize with elected officials and other tenants to close the legal loophole and get the word out to the community. We do this while we work extra hours, go perilously into debt and downgrade life plans so we can continue to pay the legal bills, which for our tenant association will soon exceed $100,000. Had we not joined together, none of us could have survived this battle alone. We believe our struggle is worth it not only because we personally love our homes and our community, but because by finally winning our case we will set a clear legal precedent protecting all New York City rent-regulated tenants, so nobody else will have to go through this.

Our battle has been covered by many other newspapers and on several TV stations and so we have talked to a lot reporters. Your reporter Sarah Ferguson stood apart from all the rest. She devoured every piece of information we could give her — court records, city deeds, personal anecdotes — then demanded more. Through her relentless questioning and her checking and rechecking of every piece of information, she made me realize I had misremembered several aspects of our two-year struggle — she helped us know our own story better. The results of her incredible dedication are there in The Villager’s coverage for all to see — her story is packed with information othermedia missed.

Barry Paddock

Village View snafu

To The Editor:
 Re “A view without light?” (Scoopy’s Notebook, July 13):

Scoopy had no scoop when he reported that Con Ed sent a shutoff notice to individual Village View cooperators. The Village View management office has been paying Con Ed bills for over 40 years. How and why the utility made such an inexcusable error is a cause to wonder. Perhaps it is because Village View is home to senior residents, some of whom were scared by the utility’s threat. In fact, since January 2005, we have paid Con Edison roughly $1 million. Con Edison owes the shareholders a major apology for this administrative error.
Ceres Shulman
Shulman is president, Village View board of directors

We love the nightlife

To The Editor:
Re “Signs of the times, as history gets lost in club land” (news article, July 13):

When tourists travel to far-flung places, there’s one item that’s on every checklist, for every country and every city. It’s not a statue. It’s not a museum.

To get a flavor for the culture, every tourist explores the same thing: the city’s nightlife. By soaking in a bar, restaurant or nightclub, the tourist gets a true sense of the people, a sense of the city’s vibe.

Nightlife is community.

It’s a core part of any culture, as telling as the languages spoken or the city skyline. Can you imagine a community without bars? Without a place to blow off steam? Without a place to meet singles, joke with friends or rant about your boss?

Nowhere is this more evident than New York City. With over 2,000 nightlife venues — lounges, clubs, dive bars, restaurants, pubs, pool halls, you name it — the city comes together after sunset. We live at night.

The nightlife business is a $24 billion industry. At Clubplanet, we support that industry and that community.

With over 300,000 registrants in New York alone, and with vibrant billboards that call attention to nightlife, we take pride in stimulating growth in this industry and in this culture.

You can see our billboards in the Meatpacking District, along Houston St. and many other spots around the city. We hope you like them. They’re colorful, bold and dynamic — just like the city we’re proud to call home.

Andrew Fox
Fox is C.E.O., Track Entertainment and Clubplanet.com

Venue barred handicapped

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

In all the brouhaha over whether the organizer of a recent District 2 City Council candidates forum on the Lower East Side was “homophobic,” there was one issue that was left uncovered — that the venue, the Henry Street Settlement Arts for Living Center, does not provide adequate access for persons with disabilities. Thus a reception was held in an area that not only members of the community with mobility impairments could not participate, but even barred one of the candidates, Michael Lopez, who uses a wheelchair.

That is the reason why I sought to bar Community Board 3 from holding meetings there while I served on the board, although I live diagonally across the street. What is outrageous is that, while it has been more than 10 years since I served on the board, the Arts for Living Center continues to be a venue for public meetings. In an era in which persons with disabilities are finally participating in the fabric of the community and the political process, and producing candidates for office, there should be a greater awareness of access issues.
Marvin Wasserman
Wasserman is president, 504 Democratic Club

Thanks for being there

To The Editor:
The National Arts Club very much appreciated your recent coverage of the death of our beloved member Sing-Si Schwartz and the award reception for Cousin Brucie. So many calls to our clubhouse for follow-up details confirm that your publication has a wide audience of art lovers. Both Sing-Si Schwartz and Cousin Brucie have many admirers and the club was most fortunate to have the involvement of these great New Yorkers.

Our 2,000-plus membership is a dedicated group of readers who await your weekly coverage of newsworthy events. Your reporters work hard to get all facts for a memorable story. Thank you for “being there” for the community.

Aldon James
James is president, the National Arts Club

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