Volume 75, Number 26 | November 16 -22, 2005

A position by omission versus no position; more square squabbling

By Lincoln Anderson

It seems hardly a week can go by without at least one new Community Board 2 resolution on the Washington Square Park renovation project being proposed and battled over. This week saw Maria Passannante Derr, the Greenwich Village board’s chairperson, rule one resolution out of order, and Arthur Schwartz, the board’s Parks and Waterfront Committee, then write another resolution that he hopes the full board of C.B. 2 will vote on at its Thurs. Nov. 17 meeting at New York University School of Law, Vanderbilt Hall, 40 Washington Sq. S., Room 220, starting at 6:30 p.m.

At the Nov. 9 Executive Committee meeting of Board 2, Derr ruled that a resolution approved by the Parks and Waterfront Committee on Nov. 7 was out of order. The other members of the Executive Committee — which is composed of the board’s committee chairpersons — voted by 6-2 to sustain Derr’s ruling.

The committee resolution had called for the board to oppose features of the planned, two-year $16 million redesign — including moving the fountain and elevating and reducing the size of the central fountain plaza — and to support a 30-inch height limit for any new fence around the park.

The Nov. 7 committee resolution further accused the Parks Department of waging a “scare campaign” to defeat a prior Oct. 6 Parks and Waterfront Committee resolution — written by Schwartz — that had also called for the board to support not moving the fountain or raising the plaza and capping the fence height at 30 inches. The Nov. 7 resolution also slammed what it called “the secretive nature” of the last-minute substitute resolution by Judy Paul and Shirley Secunda — which had never been presented to the public at a committee meeting — that was approved at the board’s Oct. 20 full board meeting and that kept Schwartz’s resolution from coming up for a vote.

Derr told The Villager she felt the Nov. 7 committee resolution was out of order because its language was inappropriate and it contradicted the board’s earlier position.

“It’s not a proper resolution,” Derr said. “There are pejorative statements there. There’s inflammatory language. This is a document that’s given to elected officials, and I’m not going to give it to them written like this. And the second reason is it’s a resolution in conflict with a resolution previously passed by the board — and that’s ‘Robert’s Rules of Order,’ parliamentary procedure,” Derr said, referring to the rules governing community board protocol.

Derr said the Nov. 7 committee resolution was inconsistent with the board’s April resolution supporting the Parks Department’s plans for the square, noting the former neglected to weigh in on the issue of having a raised performance space or the dog runs’ relocation.

Meanwhile, Derr said, the Secunda/Paul resolution that was passed by the board last month — and which takes no position on the fountain and plaza — “pretty much incorporates substantially the whole [April] resolution.” (Yet, some have pointed out that, as opposed to the board’s April resolution, the Secunda/Paul resolution doesn’t mention restoring the three play mounds.)

“You cannot have resolutions in conflict with prior resolutions. You can’t have resolutions flip-flopping back and forth,” Derr said. “People can go to the Art Commission if they have concerns about the fountain. I think the community board has spoken on phase one” of the renovation project, she said.

The Art Commission has yet to vote on Parks’ plan to move the fountain two-dozen feet to the east to align it with the arch and to bring the square’s signature theater-in-the-round sunken plaza up to ground level.

Even if the Art Commission votes against moving the fountain and raising the plaza, the Parks Department has pledged to go forward with the renovation project — without moving the fountain or raising the plaza — under the conditions of an Oct. 6 agreement reached by City Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Christine Quinn with Parks.

“I’m comfortable with the Gerson/Quinn/Parks agreement — and leave it up to the Art Commission and Landmarks [Preservation Commission],” Derr said. Under the Gerson/Quinn agreement, a task force will also be set up to meet with Parks to discuss project design details.

Doris Diether, one of two Executive Committee members who voted against sustaining Derr’s ruling that the Nov. 7 committee resolution was out of order, confirmed that Derr was upset at its language.

“She was saying the resolution was kind of out of line because it used words like ‘scare tactics,’ ‘secretive nature,’ ‘misinformed.’ She thought it was inflammatory,” Diether said. “They said you can’t put in a resolution that goes against a prior resolution — but they already did that: They didn’t make the argument before” against Schwartz’s Oct. 6 committee resolution that was bumped from being voted on when the Secunda/Paul resolution won approval, Diether noted.

Rosemary McGrath, the other Executive Committee member who voted not to sustain Derr’s out-of-order ruling on the Nov. 7 committee resolution — of which she was one of the main authors — was beside herself at the turn of events.

“I was in shock. I don’t ever remember this happening before,” said McGrath, a C.B. 2 member since 1978. “What disturbs me is that month after month the community turns out in mass to oppose the renovation project — and they’re confused and upset. And I’m as confused and upset as they are. I read ‘Robert’s Rules’ and it says we’re supposed to represent the community. I don’t understand how we’re going against the community like this, as if they don’t exist. The last time I saw as much passion was — remember the prison barges?” McGrath said, referring to the city’s plan in the 1980s to moor floating jails off the Christopher St. Pier and Pier 40.

There is still a way the Nov. 7 committee resolution could come up for a vote at Thursday’s full board meeting, according to Schwartz. Schwartz said a board member who voted for the Secunda/Paul resolution would have to make a motion from the floor to call the committee resolution up for vote.

However, Schwartz called the chances of this happening “unlikely.”

Schwartz noted he didn’t write the Nov. 7 resolution — “It was given to me at the meeting — Rosemary’s name was signed on top.”

Brad Hoylman, an Executive Committee member who voted to sustain Derr’s ruling, said of the Nov. 7 committee resolution, “I agreed with parts of it — but it seemed more symbolic than anything. Given the composition of the board and the vote last month, it seemed unlikely it would pass. At this point, whether you’re for or against the plans for the park, it’s time to move this debate on to the elected officials.” Hoylman called the Gerson/ Quinn agreement with Parks a “roadmap” that should be followed.

“I don’t think activists should be discouraged,” Hoylman said. “The community board does not have a monopoly on public opinion. There are other important voices — and I believe that our elected officials will listen to them and make this known to Parks about the issue.”

Schwartz says he will probably now offer another resolution for the board to vote on at the Nov. 17 meeting. This resolution will ask the board to take no position on the moving of the fountain and the raising of the plaza. The board’s April resolution generally approving the project, rather than expressing no opinion on the fountain and plaza, actually supports the Parks plans to move and raise them, according to Schwartz.

“If you’re enough of a lawyer, if you read the board’s April resolution, it’s an endorsement of the Parks plan,” Schwartz, an attorney, said on Tuesday. Stating he feels there’s confusion among board members on the issue, Schwartz said, “I’m going to probably make a resolution to clarify the board’s position. I think when a lot of people on the board voted for Shirley’s resolution, they thought they were taking no position on the fountain,” he noted. Of members’ understanding of the board’s position on the fountain and plaza, Schwartz described it as “confused at best and possibly bordering on evenly divided.”

Schwartz said he mentioned his plan to Derr, and that she hadn’t gotten back to him yet on whether she would support it. He said he won’t push for a vote on McGrath’s resolution, though would vote for it if it’s allowed to come to the floor.

“I respect the process,” Schwartz said. “I would prefer if Rosemary’s resolution was debated and voted on, but I’m certainly not going to challenge the chairperson on that. But if it doesn’t get [to a vote], at least I would prefer that the board have no position” on moving the fountain and raising the plaza. “At least the Community Board 2 position will reflect there’s fairly even division on the question.” Schwartz said this, in turn, could influence the Art Commission’s vote.

Derr, however, who is also an attorney, said she told Schwartz she didn’t support his latest resolution and that she was under the impression he would not try to introduce it.

She said she hasn’t decided whether she’ll rule Schwartz’s motion out of order or “let the process unfold — see what happens.”

“To take no position in this resolution on the fountain and plaza is, I think, incorrect,” Derr said. “The board has clearly taken a position by nature of the April resolution, that they support phase one going through, and in the October [Secunda/ Paul] resolution by endorsing the Gerson/Quinn agreement.

“Why is there confusion? There’s been discussion of this for two years, now,” Derr added. “It’s time to move on and have Parks put this project out to bid for construction and move ahead. That’s what the community wants.”

Despite the fact that public meetings on the project have been overwhelmingly dominated by community members strongly against aspects of the plan — most notably moving the fountain, raising the plaza and adding a fence — Derr said broader community sentiment is for the project.

Echoed Art Strickler, the board’s district manager, “There are 100,000 people in Community Board 2. Just because 20 people come out and scream doesn’t mean their opinion is right.”

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