Volume 75, Number 11 | August 3 - 9, 2005

Letters to the editor

Quinn defends effort on zoning

To The Editor:
Re “West Village rezoning still doesn’t make grade” (editorial, July 13):

I was quite surprised by the recent editorial regarding the rezoning of the Far West Village. First, it claims that some local elected officials were not active enough in advocating for changes on behalf of the community during the pre-certification phase of the ULURP (uniform land use review procedure, the city’s standardized procedure whereby applications affecting the land use of the city are publicly reviewed) process. Disappointingly, The Villager has not made any inquiries to either myself or my office as to the specifics of my pre-certification advocacy efforts. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to share some of what I have done with you.

As you may know, the ULURP process does not require that the plan be presented at the community board prior to certification or that community input or reaction be considered. Given the tremendous importance of this plan, I urged that, before certification, City Planning Chairperson Burden and the Department of City Planning share the plan with both the community board and local preservation groups. They willingly accepted this suggestion and did both in order to hear community feedback and criticism.

Between this point and the time of certification, my office arranged four meetings with City Planning, local elected officials and/or their representatives and community representatives. These meetings each provided the opportunity for me, other elected officials’ offices and various community members to directly urge City Planning to make changes. It is a rare and significant accomplishment, at this very early stage of the rezoning process, to have had this level of community involvement and input into a
City Planning application for rezoning. Also, I spoke many times with Chairperson Burden regarding issues and problems with the rezoning proposal and, similarly, my staff was in regular contact with City Planning staff regarding community concerns with the proposed rezoning.

Additionally, as you may remember, the plan was originally intended to be certified a couple of weeks sooner. I added my voice to the community’s and other elected officials’ push for certification to be postponed to allow for more time for the community’s voice to be heard with regard to the necessary changes. Then, once again, I continued in advocating for changes with additional calls to the chairperson and her staff, and my office facilitated another meeting with City Planning and the community.

Now that the plan has been certified, the ULURP process officially begins. The recent Villager editorial points to a common misconception that the rezoning proposal cannot be changed after certification. While I do agree that the need to remain within scope places restrictions on the ability to make changes post certification, there is no doubt that changes can be made and that we can work together to address our shared concerns with this rezoning.

I will continue to work vigorously towards a result that includes a comprehensive downzoning that is mindful of the need to preserve our neighborhood’s context and character and that addresses as many community concerns as possible. I applaud the hard work, activism and tremendous leadership that the community has shown to this point and look forward to passing a rezoning that protects the Village from inappropriate development.

Christine C. Quinn
Quinn is city councilmember for the Third District

Have been and will be involved

To The Editor:
Re “West Village rezoning still doesn’t make grade” (editorial, July 13):

I am puzzled by the recent statement in your editorial stating that “some of our local elected officials were not very active” regarding the West Village rezoning. My staff and I, as well as other elected officials and their staffs, had many formal and informal conversations with neighborhood residents, community board members and neighborhood activists, ranging from George Capsis of the Charles St. Block Association to Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, among many others too numerous to list.

In addition, my staff and I had many conversations with the chairperson and staff of the City Planning Commission, as well as the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Since the beginning of this process, my office, as well as the offices of my colleagues Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Councilmember Christine Quinn, has worked to facilitate meetings with these important agencies and other interested parties about these proposals to ask important and necessary questions and provide critical input.

While after all of the above occurred, certification on the rezoning was made July 11, 2005, and, at that point, the formal uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) began. Much more will be said on this matter and more positions will be put forward for consideration as this process goes forward. As always on land use issues, and indeed all issues, my colleagues and I will continue to monitor the community board hearings on the rezoning and the negotiations surrounding the formation and summation of the board’s position. The process will then move to the borough president’s office (where the borough president has the discretion and power to hold a public hearing); back to the City Planning Commission, which holds a public hearing before potentially modifying its original plan; then to the City Council Land Use Subcommittee on Zoning for another public hearing; then to the full Land Use Committee; then to the full City Council for the final land use action as mandated by the 1989 New York City Charter. While there has been much activity on everyone’s part up to this point, there will be many other formal and informal opportunities for community members and neighborhood activists to go on the record regarding the rezoning. The landmarking process for the West Village, which I and other local elected officials strongly favor, will also provide many opportunities for testimony and negotiation.

While it’s no secret that you could never keep me and other elected officials and our staffs from being involved in virtually all West Village issues from beginning to end, I can assure The Villager and its readers that our involvement began many months ago and it will continue, as always, until the process is completed.

Thomas K. Duane
Duane is state senator for the 29th District

Preservation through pragmatism

To The Editor:
Re “Keep up the landmarking fight” (letter, by Emily Farris, July 27); “Zoning, yes, and landmarking” (letter, by Deborah Glick, July 20); and “The march of the mini-Meiers” (letter, by Stuart Waldman, July 20):

The worst thing we could do right now for the Far West Village would be to either delay the downzoning plan — which in many areas will make high-rise development impossible and much other new development impractical — or do nothing but demand the entire Far West Village be designated an historic district immediately. As I said at a recent community board meeting, that would be like demanding world peace or an immediate end to hunger — noble goals, but incredibly unlikely to happen anytime soon. And certainly not before we lose more of our most vulnerable buildings to more high-rise development.

Instead, since the city issued its landmarking plan, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation has been pushing to expand it to include the most vulnerable and endangered buildings now, like Superior Ink, the 1856 former factory/stable at 387 W. 12th St. (the current Diane von Furstenberg studios) and the two low-rise buildings at 139-143 Charles/687 Washington Sts. — all slated as or suspected to be sites for new development. Why? Because the Landmarks Preservation Commission virtually never makes large additions to historic districts between the time they propose and vote on them, and they have made clear they do not feel they have the resources or the inclination to do so in this case. Should it be this way? Absolutely not. Should we continue to criticize the city for its much too narrow and limited approach to landmarking? Absolutely. But none of this means we should sacrifice any chance at further progress for the Far West Village for something with little or virtually no realistic chance of happening.

Plus, the city’s current plan for designation of about 50 buildings in the Far West Village (not 12, as one letter said) — about half of all those we asked for — is currently not supposed to be voted upon until next spring, at which point many of these buildings could be torn down and replaced with new high-rises. That’s why we’re also pushing L.P.C. to move up the timetable for designation, and have been urging residents and elected officials to do the same. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation is also pushing to get the proposed Far West Village downzonings enacted as soon as possible, so the myriad high-rises currently slated for development do not get built before the new zoning is enacted and can prevent them. We are also working to find ways to reduce or eliminate the proposed developments on the Superior Ink and Whitehall storage sites, which the city refused to downzone. To help with this, please go to www.gvshp.org/FWVletters.htm for sample letters you can write in support of making these changes to the city’s plans.

We must not only save our history, but learn from it. The all-or-nothing approach has consistently failed our neighborhood, whereas fighting our most urgent battles first and using approaches that reflect the realities we face has paid off. It helped lead to a Gansevoort Market Historic District, stopped a 500-foot-tall high-rise at Washington and 13th Sts. (twice!), and reversed a city ruling that would have allowed similar towers throughout the Far West Village and Noho, among many other successes. Now this approach has gotten the city to propose a downzoning and landmarking plan for the Far West Village that, warts and all, will offer some protections to almost 90 percent of the vulnerable areas. Rather than damning the darkness, we are pushing to make the plans better and ensure that their provisions are enacted before it is too late for them to help us.
Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

‘Torch’ burns democracy

To The Editor:
In reference to “Friedlander and Lopez pass the torch to Mendez” by Lincoln Anderson in the July 20 issue of The Villager:

While Rosie Mendez is the supposed golden candidate for City Council in District 2, I find her tactics to throw six of the 11 challengers off the ballot quite appalling and undemocratic. She is using a heavy-handed legalistic approach against other candidates of color.

The 10 other candidates who are trying to get on the ballot for City Council in my district have hit the pavement day in and day out during one of the hottest summers in this city’s history gathering over 2,000 signatures for each candidate. Volunteers give time and energy to take part in campaigns and a process that affects their community. I made a tough choice to volunteer myself, since there are several good alternatives to the Mendez status quo. Mendez is taking advantage of arcane election laws rigged to favor the power structure. To suggest the illegitimacy of grassroots efforts of volunteers is to belittle the process of much-needed reform in city government.

Mendez’s mission to strip the ballot of half the Democratic competition (most of whom are people of color) is reminiscent of Bush v. Gore in which the Republicans fought to stop the Florida votes from getting counted. The crux behind New York City campaign finance reform and the matching-funds program is to even the playing the field and allow those who have been kept off the ballot for decades to enter the political arena. I volunteered with NYPIRG to get those ballot initiatives passed, and it is a shame that the insulated incumbents’ successors are still gaming the system to block democracy.

When Farrin of CoDa states, in reference to others seeking a place on the ballot, “You let these people sneak in and get public [matching] funds…and it clutters the field,” “those people” are citizens and their volunteers exercising their rights for candidates to run for office in a democracy to represent their community. What is the Mendez machine so afraid of? Farrin also is reported to have said that having so many candidates on the ballot can result in voters — not all of whom are so informed about the candidates — making choices based, for example, on just a name. This does not just insult the voters’ intelligence but it smacks of racial and ethnic politics.

Perhaps it would behoove Mendez to further educate citizens, rather than to impede the democratic process. But don’t hold your breath. As former chief of staff to Margarita Lopez, Mendez is directly responsible for one of the worst-run constituent services operations in New York City government. This is widely known. It is clear that Mendez and Lopez don’t care about what people in their district think or need; they only care about what they care about and need.

The person that Mendez should kick off the ballot is herself. She should use her connections to find an office at NYCHA or another bureaucracy to run, and let the real democratic process play out. The Villager should continue educating the community on the candidates and the issues, auditing their levels of public service and helping our democracy have true freedom of choice in the voting booth.

Jared Goldstein

What a load of CoDA

To The Editor:
I have become the focal point for attacks by “special interests” (and that includes the politicians) in the Lower East Side. The “bars” issue is being fought in letters to the editor. Now, the elected officials have chimed in.

To extol Rosie as the anointed replacement to the council, after nearly eight years of failures by the current member, begs the question — but then again, politicians, like sardines in a can, are used to spreading the oil they are packed in. Sadly, they actually believe some of the things they say for publication.

For example, Michael Farrin of CoDA, since he did not challenge the four candidates “with lots of signatures,” chose to throw rocks at one of them for hiring me to help him get on the ballot. Smear tactics are typical for frightened political hacks when they feel they will lose a race. Since when has being paid to do a job well become a crime? And I no longer work for any candidate.

I remind Farrin that his group has hired as the lawyer in this campaign Martin Connor, a state senator who has fallen into such disrepute with his own party that he was defrocked in Albany and lost his seat as Democratic minority leader in the State Senate.

Of the 12 volumes filed for Rosie, there are a ton of signatures that are out of district or not registered. For someone in politics to pull a stunt like that, trying to show great support by including her name in volumes that he knows will not count as voters for her, is typical camel dung that CoDA is famous for. Worse yet, he further states, “You let these people sneak in and get public [matching] funds.… And it clutters the field.” Once again, Farrin, you amaze me by showing such total disrespect for voters in the district. Do you really think they are that stupid? Your words will surely come back to haunt you in the primary.

No matter how hard I’ve tried, I cannot understand why elected officials try to keep people off the ballot as “unfit candidates.” Michael, saying you should hang your head in shame is nowhere near what I really want to say to you. If I did, The Villager would burn up before it could hit the streets and the mailboxes of its readers.

Allen Bortnick

Blocks made for Druids

To The Editor:
Re “These blocks were made for walkin’, a writer says” (news article, July 20):

The article about Robert Kaufman in your issue of July 20 issue was most interesting to those of us who walk or used to walk around the city.

Ellen Keohane’s article bears out the contention of visitors from around the country that New York is the “walkingest” big city in the nation.

But there is a sour note, which the article does not address.

The function of sidewalks is presumably to facilitate pedestrian traffic, a function that they served well until the last half of the 20th century and which most still do.

Enter the latter-day Druids, who believe that a sidewalk is not an ascetic experience unless it is home to a tree. The trees are not objectionable, but unfortunately some decided that, to protect the tree from dog urine, it would be best to surround each tree with a cute little garden, most of them about 24 inches to 30 inches in size.

The result is that in some places pedestrian traffic is impeded so that walkers must advance single file. (Waverly Pl. between MacDougal St. and Sixth Ave. is a case in point, as are a few blocks in the East Village.)

The solution? It is clearly not to remove the tree, but there is every reason to eliminate the little “gardens” so that walkers can walk.

Stewart Benedict

Terrible ‘twin towers’

To The Editor:
Several years ago the Port Authority built its PATH ventilation/evacuation system “aboveground” on our waterfront. The Village community had urged an “underground” construction, similar to the one built by the Port Authority on their Herald Square site. Had they cared more about the future use of our waterfront and less about their costing process, today we would have a waterfront sightline free of industrial encumbrances.

During the process, we were assured by the P.A. that the “towers would be of high architectural value.” We were told they would be maintained “to the highest standards” and they would soon be the pride of this community. Today, the towers are a “sight for sore eyes.” Graffiti remains unattended to, mortar has eroded between the stonework causing them to sag and the evacuation doors are rotting at their base. The last touchup paint job used two different shaded of black paint, one flat and one glossier. The greenery at the towers is not being attended to properly. The shrubbery has become a jungle of unkempt greenery.

Greenwich Village has a right to expect better. It’s time for the Port Authority to clean up its act. A lesson in “good housekeeping” appears to be in order.

Kathryn Donaldson
Donaldson is president, Bedford-Barrow- Commerce Block Association, Inc.

Gay youth gone wild

To The Editor:
I live on Christopher St. I am a longtime resident of Greenwich Village and I am gay. That being said, I believe the group FIERCE! is unaware of, or is turning a blind eye to, the volatile current situation in Greenwich Village and, specifically, on Christopher St. The people FIERCE! claims to want to help would be better served if they learned how to co-exist peacefully as good neighbors with all the diverse people who live in the West Village rather than try to claim it solely for their own.

If, in the name of cultural individuality, they believe that bad manners, foul language and aggressive attitudes will endear them to this community, they are sadly mistaken. The West Village has long been a haven for gay people and lifestyles that would receive a hostile reaction elsewhere. That is why “trans and queer people of color” congregate here rather than in the neighborhoods where they actually live.

We have always had a safe neighborhood and we wish to keep it that way. That means that being outdoors in the park and doing drugs and having sex publicly is far from “safe” for them or anyone else. While during the ’70s and ’80s the neighborhood had a reputation for clandestine consensual sex, times and circumstances have radically changed. Most important, there is an AIDS epidemic. Also, the overhead West Side Highway is gone, the Hudson River Park has replaced it and the population has grown to embrace people of all sexual persuasions. It would be a shame to see it deteriorate into an atmosphere of conspicuous prostitution — or “sex workers” as you refer to them — and blatant drug dealing. These are illegal activities and you are not “helping” these youths, you are merely enabling them.

Most of us living in the West Village have compassion for any person who does not feel safe. However, the young people whom FIERCE! wants to help, unfortunately, harass those of us who live here. It is impossible to walk these streets at any hour of the day or night without being verbally abused and persistently harassed by these young people who, ironically, seek us out because of our permissive attitudes.

The Park closes at 1 a.m. It closes for us and it closes for them. And yet they are still there until the early morning hours. They have sex on lighted streets, and use them as public toilets. They scream epithets at each other all night long and sleep in vacant doorways. They do not frequent the businesses and paying establishments in the neighborhood, and they discourage the people who might do so.

There is a Gay Center and gay-friendly churches all over New York City who will gladly receive them if they are well behaved. Perhaps your outreach might include positive socialization and a course in good manners. It takes less work to get along with each other than to be actively hostile in the name of rebellion.

Jay Jeffries

Getting on same page

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

Our members are heartened by Assemblymember Scott Stringer’s concern about Union Square Park’s renovation plan. Our campaign alerted the public, city councilmembers and state legislators to the issue of privatization in the Union Square Partnership’s and the Parks Department’s plans for a restaurant in our national historic landmark park. The need to preserve and protect our limited free and open space for use by the public is increasingly being challenged by tempting offers for commercial ventures, such as in our park.

To his credit, as chairperson of the state Assembly’s Cities Committee, Assemblymember Stringer recognized the need for the Legislature to exercise proper oversight of the privatization and alienation issues raised by the proposed plan. State hearings on the alienation issue are the right thing to do for the public and the city. Such hearings would be held to ensure the appropriate oversight, according to the law, occurs in deciding whether public land should be used for private purposes. Such hearings are not, as Councilmember Lopez argues, to rid parks of all private business, such as the thriving Union Square Greenmarket. Commercial activity outside of the park itself is not subject to oversight by the Legislature.

Councilmember Lopez, whose constituents include those who use and need the park, has time and again declared her opposition to privatization. She should welcome such hearings on behalf of her constituents. Until these important issues are sorted out and settled, we hope that she will not allow the Parks Department to use this important legislative process to jeopardize, or further delay, renovation and expansion of the playgrounds for which she so generously donated $1.9 million about seven years ago. We will be with her when she vigorously opposes privatization by way of a restaurant in the park and we will be with her when she again speaks out for our children’s needs by calling for the immediate start of the playground’s renovation and expansion.

Eadie Shanker
Shanker is coordinator, Campaign to Save Union Square Park

Pavilion politics

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

Margarita Lopez’s convoluted attack against Assemblymember Scott Stringer for his position of protecting Union Square’s pavilion from privatization is stunning. As the place of the first Labor Day parade on Sept. 5, 1882, Union Square plaza, with a pavilion as its bandstand, has been a gathering place for New Yorkers to express their outrage about labor practices, war policies and other pivotal local issues for more than a century. That communal element eventually secured the park national landmark status in November 1997.

Mr. Stringer would use the state’s power to protect the status of this historical landmark as a public square to assemble, and he has a shared interest with the general public to save the pavilion from privatization. Ms. Lopez has twisted logic to imply that because Mr. Stringer supports state rules that protect our parks, he also supports state laws that are killing rent regulations and harming our city schools. Ms. Lopez even suggests that Assemblymember Stringer’s support for restoring the pavilion for public use would challenge the existence of the Greenmarket run by private interests. This is unfounded.

Councilmember Lopez questions why it’s taken Stringer so long to object to the restaurant, which she points out has been around for 12 years — however, she failed to mention that the restaurant she refers to has always been just a temporary, outdoor installation, not a permanent establishment, which is now being planned to inhabit the pavilion. And as far as her accusation that Mr. Stringer has taken too long to take action, I’d like to remind your readers, Ms. Lopez acquired the $1.9 million grant allocation for the playground about eight years ago; and our community is still waiting to see the final plan she’s touting, which apparently only the BID has had the privilege to review. Finally, Margarita Lopez’s suggestion that Scott Stringer’s position to save the pavilion through state procedural action is “politicking at its worst” is, in itself, politicking at her worst.

L.L. Meyer

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