Volume 75, Number 30 | December 14 - 20, 2005

Villager photos by Elisabeth Robert

Village residents, in foreground, and members of the gay youth group FIERCE!, holding signs in background, disagree on the closing time for the Hudson River Park’s Village section.

Queer youth and residents still at odds on park use

By Albert Amateau

West Village residents and queer youth who use the Christopher St. Pier in Hudson River Park confronted each other again last week at a Community Board 2 Waterfront and Parks Committee meeting to consider solutions to their long-standing conflict.

The Dec. 6 meeting, which attracted more than 400 people, was intended to determine which of two new proposals would give West Village residents the chance to sleep at night and still allow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth their traditional Village waterfront sanctuary.

The two proposals, drafted by a group of Community Board 2 and Hudson River Park Trust officials, were intended as starting points leading to an eventual solution.

But most speakers at the three-hour meeting showed little interest in either of the proposals. Instead, members of FIERCE!, made up of the youth who consider Pier 45 (the Christopher St. Pier), to be their own safe haven, and West Village residents and business owners on Christopher St. repeated their old arguments.

FIERCE! members protested the 1 a.m. closing of Pier 45 — calling it a curfew — and insisted on their right to public spaces. Members of the Christopher St. Patrol, a Village volunteer anticrime patrol led by Dave Poster, urged the pier be closed as early as 11 p.m. and no later than midnight in order to preserve residents’ “right to sleep.”

Nevertheless, Arthur Schwartz, the committee chairperson who conducted the meeting, said later that he found enough support for the proposals to make him believe that a possible solution could be developed and presented to Community Board 2 by February.

“We really don’t know what will work until we try it, but I hope to have more meetings and get other ideas,” he said. “We could use one plan or another, or elements from both, to come up with a pilot project.”

Nicole Knight, 25, who said she is bisexual, with her baby Amurielle, 3 months, said she’s been coming to the pier for a long time and that there’s “nowhere else to go” because the homeless shelters are too dangerous.

The group that drafted the two plans included Schwartz; Maria Derr, chairperson of Community Board 2; Arthur Strickler, C.B. 2 district manager; Julie Nadel, a member of the Hudson River Park Trust board of directors; and Connie Fishman, president of the Trust. Schwartz told the Dec. 6 meeting that the committee would not vote on which plan to recommend pending further meetings.

One plan to prevent noisy crowds of Pier 45 youth — some with antisocial behavior — from flooding Christopher St. during the early morning hours, calls for closing the pier itself at 1 a.m. but keeping the plaza in front of the pier open no later than 4 a.m. The plan also calls for closing the esplanade at 1 a.m. but leaving the bikeway-walkway open to encourage people to exit the park north and south of Christopher St.

The second plan calls for closing Pier 45 at 1 a.m., but on weekends leaving Pier 54 at 13th St. open until 4 a.m., while leaving the bikeway-walkway open to allow people to move from Pier 45 to Pier 54. This last alternative would also allow vendors onto Pier 54 — to entice the youth to go there — and would also include portable toilets on Pier 54. The plan would create a new gathering area for L.G.B.T. youth on Pier 54, opposite the Gansevoort Market District and away from the residential area of the Village, Schwartz said later.

The two options were developed after a suggestion six weeks ago by Connie Fishman to put up barricades at the Christopher St. exit at 1 a.m. when Pier 45 closes raised a storm of objections. Fishman last month acknowledged the plan to keep the youth from exiting the park onto Christopher St. would not work.

Rickke Mananzala, FIERCE! campaign coordinator, told the Dec. 6 meeting that he was glad the barricades plan had been dropped and that there would be no vote on the new proposals. He rejected both new proposals but said they were a start in what could be a dialogue that could bring peace between residents and the L.G.B.T. youth on the Village waterfront.

While most residents and business owners — both straight and gay — who spoke at the Dec. 6 meeting demanded measures to curb the noise and antisocial behavior on Christopher St., a few were in sympathy with the queer kids — many of whom are homeless and have been rejected by their own families and by the neighborhoods where they live — who come to Pier 45.

Florent Morellet, longtime owner of a 24-hour restaurant in the Gansevoort Market District north of Christopher St., said he found the trouble “was not the people from the piers but from the middle class who have a sense of entitlement when they’re drunk or drugged.”

Melissa Sklarz, a transsexual and a co-chairperson of the Community Board 2 L.G.B.T. Committee, said the option to create a new safe space for queer youth on Pier 54 was worth thinking about and developing. “Thank you for coming up with something new,” she said, paying tribute to the group that drafted the two proposals.

But Terry Howell, a Christopher St. Patrol regular, said, “I don’t care who is at fault. Whether it’s the rich kids or the queer kids, we want our peace and quiet,” adding that gangs have also moved into the Christopher St. area. “We’ve had Bloods and Crips fighting here,” she said.

John Stanley, a Christopher St. resident for 51 years who has written in defense of Two Potato, a gay bar formerly on Christopher St., took issue with one speaker’s doubt that the “right to sleep” was a legitimate civil right. “I can assure you that it is,” said Stanley.

Darleen Rubin protested that the crowds and violence on Christopher St. are “an army of occupation in our own neighborhood,” and that “prostitutes and their enforcers” are a common problem. Rubin called for increased police patrols on Christopher St. from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and a closing of Pier 45 at 11 p.m.

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