Volume 76, Number 4 | June 14 - 20 2006

Letters to the editor

Before NEST came to roost

To The Editor:
Re “NEST is hardly empty, parents and students protest” (news article, June 7):

Not being an expert in the allocation of educational resources, logistics or administrative law, I write solely of my experience as a lifelong resident and pupil on the Lower East Side.

I write of the story of a shy Puerto Rican kid who went to the school nearest to his home back in the 1970s and was blessed with a school filled with professionals who put the interests of the child before all other considerations. As a scrawny 11-year-old, I entered the school at 111 Columbia St. (then known as Gustave Straubenmuller J.H.S. 22) with a great thirst for learning. I was welcomed there…without my parents writing essays or undergoing lengthy interviews (not that they spoke much English), without my being examined by a psychologist and without proving my merit to join the top percentile. The building was built for no higher purpose than to provide children with a quality education without regard to race, color or creed.

In the halls of that building, my life changed for the better, as teachers handed me books that changed my life forever: “The Good Earth,” “The Red Badge of Courage” and the diary of Anne Frank. It was in that building that I learned that the greatest praise comes not from others, but from within your own heart and soul, and that I did not have to measure my personal worth by my score on a test or by my grade-point average.

Let us return to a time of civility, inclusion and a spirit of community. A place where those who have advanced in society turn around and “help the least of these,” rather than entrench themselves in a position of abundance. In that spacious place, I flourished. It was a place where the most qualified teachers (with names likes Kocela, Ravitz and Herrera) actually served the children with the greatest need for improvement. A place where kids and parents were embraced as partners, not manipulated as pawns in a fight for position and power. I walked through the open doors at 111 Columbia St. and excelled. I was skipped a grade and went on to the other great public educational institutions of the city, completing my undergraduate studies at Hunter College and my graduate studies at Baruch College.

Thankfully, the Ross Global Academy Charter School has emerged and is offering my daughters, ages 5 and 10 (yet two more shy Puerto Rican kids), just such a chance. Give them a chance to blossom. Don’t shut the door in their face.

Elias Rodriguez


Hispanics flew the NEST

To The Editor:
Re “NEST is hardly empty, parents and students protest” (news article, June 7):

Several years ago, former Councilmember Margarita Lopez warned that NEST would exclude community children, who were mostly Hispanic. I did not share this concern at that time, since NEST was made up mostly of Hispanic students. However, during my children’s time at NEST, the school began to change and my Hispanic children, as well as other children, were made to feel that they were not worthy to be in the school, were continually put down by Principal Chevere and her administration and eventually had to be taken out.

It was basically an “our way or the highway” mentality, which is what NEST is trying to do with the Ross Global Academy and the Department of Education. It is ironic that NEST boasts that it has a partnership with New York University, while the Ross Global Academy was developed in collaboration with N.Y.U. NEST does not represent the community and the NEST administration should remember that it is a public school first — one that is supposed to be dedicated to teaching all students to strive to be the best that they can be.
 
Vicki Diaz


Eager to help revive W. 8th

To The Editor:
Re “W. Eighth St. finds itself behind the eight ball” (news article, May 24):

Just a few weeks before the above article was printed I noticed all the available spaces for rent on W. Eighth St. Your article answered a lot of my questions.

I am a native Manhattanite from Ninth St. and spent countless hours on Eighth St. throughout the years. My aunt owned a restaurant at 35 W. Eighth St. in the ’70s. Anyway, I have been looking at retail spaces to launch my own business — specifically, an intimate, live-music venue/listening room. My business would not resemble anything that’s going on in the Lower East Side right now. I have been in the music business for 15 years and just left Sony Music to start my business.

This all leads to my question of who I can contact regarding available spaces on Eighth St. From the article, it seems as if Buchbinder & Warren would be the right people to contact but there are no listings for spaces on Eighth St. on their Web site. There is also no contact information for Mr. Norman Buchbinder.

I called The Village Alliance and spoke with Honi Klein, who is mentioned in the article. She gave me the contact information for the old Sam Goody space on Sixth Ave. but told me that there were no spaces on Eighth St. that would be the right size for my business (even though I did not mention what size space I was looking for).
Can you please refer me to someone or pass this e-mail along to someone who might be able to show me spaces on Eighth St.? To be quite honest, I never thought of opening my business on Eighth St. until I read about the changes that will hopefully take place. I really miss the Eighth St. of my youth where the street was closed on Sundays, there were places to eat — Shakespeare’s, The Up-And-Down pizza parlor, etc. — and places to shop. I bought my first record and my first stereo system on Eighth St.
 
Tamara Miller


Park focus is fine for BID

To The Editor:
The article “W. Eighth St. finds itself behind the eight ball” (news article, May 24) was nothing short of a hatchet job on Honi Klein, and I found it incredibly offensive. I frequently walk on W. Eighth St., as well as shop there, and I disagree that the street is “virtually a retail ghost town.” Honi’s efforts to revive the street, which include a massive streetscape renovation and hiring a retail consultant, are positive things and totally consistent with her obligations as executive director of the Village Alliance business improvement district.

However, most mind-boggling was the article’s criticism of Honi’s efforts to raise money to renovate Washington Square Park. Since the park is immediately south of Eighth St. and sorely in need of renovation, an annual fundraiser to benefit the park is totally appropriate and reasonable.

As everyone remembers, W. Eighth St. used to be a graffiti-ridden, tawdry street and since the Village Alliance came into existence, the street is cleaner, safer and more attractive. In conclusion, the current vacancy situation could very well be an opportunity to attract tenants that are more compatible to the residents and visitors to the area.

Aubrey Lees


Honi does a sweet job

To The Editor:
Re “W. Eighth St. finds itself behind the eight ball” (news article, May 24):

I want to sing the praises Honi Klein, executive director of the Village Alliance. She has done wonderful things for our neighborhood. She is not only business smart but skillful at handling the many sensitivities that exist in such a rich multiethnic area. Anyone who has criticism for her usually just lacks the complex information that she must juggle. These critics tend to see things only from their own narrow perspective, not from the multiple angles of information that Honi handles so well, with great sensitivity and wise judgment.

Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
Seeman is professor emeritus, City University of New York


Will labyrinth be lost?

To The Editor:
An urgent note in response to your May 31 special supplement, “A Salute to Union Square”:

Believe it or not, plans to refurbish Union Square’s north end don’t include one of its major current attractions — a labyrinth.

Actually, there are three labyrinths on the north-end pavement now. I designed and painted them in 1999 as a volunteer. I have refreshed them several times since then.

Plans for renovating the north end have been discussed at least since 1998. During that time, I’ve spoken and consulted extensively with the Parks Department and Union Square community groups, seeking consensus for a permanent labyrinth at the north end. There has been strong local support for my proposal. But at the moment, the chances don’t look good.

It would be a major mistake to lose this important feature of Union Square that has attracted so much positive public attention, so much press coverage (in The Villager, among other places) and so much good use by local people and visitors alike.

My hope is that the new co-chairpersons of the Union Square Partnership, Danny Meyer and Eric Seiler, will understand what many admirers of Union Square have told me repeatedly over the years: Labyrinths belong in Union Square. A labyrinth should be part of the new north-end design.

It is not too late.

Diana Carulli
Carulli is a labyrinth maker


Jurassic tree survives

To The Editor:
In your article “For rent: Apartments with garden (and redwood) view” (June 7) the dawn redwood (metasequoia glyptostroboides) mentioned was planted in 1975 by Liz Christy and John English. It is currently over 100 feet tall, with the standard height for such trees being between 100 feet and 120 feet tall.

Metasequoia was first described as a fossil from the Mesozoic Era, but in 1941 a small stand of an unidentified tree was discovered in China; due to World War II, these were not studied further until 1944 and only finally described as a new living species of metasequoia in 1948. In 1948, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent an expedition to collect seeds and, soon after, seedling trees were distributed to various universities and arboreta worldwide for growth trials.

AvalonBay has met with Liz Christy Garden members many times over the last two years to try to resolve issues and protect the Liz Christy Garden from damage related to the construction. Both Fred Harris and Maria Masi of AvalonBay have been available to meet with us when issues came up that impacted the garden. The protection of the blue Atlas cedar came about in a meeting with AvalonBay when a gardener suggested AvalonBay curve its foundation just a little to protect the roots of the blue Atlas cedar. The typical developer-versus-community garden conflict did not happen in our case because senior Parks Department staff, including Greenthumb Director Edie Stone and Assistant Commissioner Jack Linn worked with us to come up with a solution that would allow the construction with minimal impact on the garden.

The Liz Christy Garden is lush with plants and looking forward to many new visitors and old friends stopping by over the summer to enjoy the birds, flowers and just relax.
 
Donald Loggins
Loggins has been a Liz Christy Garden member for 33 years


Acting in good faith?

To The Editor:
Re “Despite Chelsea seminary’s statements, unbelievers persist” (news article, May 31):

The reason Chelsea residents do not believe that General Theological Seminary’s proposal for a 17-story tower is dead is because at the moment it is merely inert. The application to the Landmarks Preservation Commission could be reactivated at any time, and the companion request to exceed the zoning height limit of 75 feet could be moved along as well. Until the seminary formally withdraws both from consideration by city agencies, they are alive — and a threat to the integrity of the Chelsea Historic District and its protective zoning.
Another reason for residents’ disbelief arises from a May 9 private meeting not reported by The Villager. I was not invited to that meeting but have talked with two people who did attend. A disturbing disclosure at that meeting was that the onetime payment of $15 million or $20 million the seminary is to receive from the Brodsky Organization to restore other buildings is dependent on the square footage and height of the new building: “The lower the number of floors in the tower, the less money the seminary gets,” Robert Trentlyon reported. “The discussion of the possible building on the tennis court that would be used to reduce the height of [a new building at] Sherrill Hall met opposition because Brodsky could make more money with a higher tower.”

The block’s zoning height limit of 75 feet would permit a seven-story building, 10 stories less than the only proposal the seminary has made public. That height limit is the law. Within the past decade, developers of two new apartment buildings — 401 W. 22nd St. and 460 W. 20th St. — have found it possible to comply with the zoning. Why is the seminary even considering not doing so?

The reason cited is the $15 million or $20 million the Brodsky Organization would give the seminary for restoration of its other buildings. Under the exemption to the zoning law that the seminary is pursuing, a contract would bind it to use the money for that purpose. The payment expected — which fluctuates from presentation to presentation — would cover only a fraction of the minimum of $60 million that the seminary estimates it needs for restoration projects. Brodsky’s profits on the deal, according to independent estimates, will be at least $100 million, plus ongoing parking garage fees and retail revenues.

To deal in good faith with the Chelsea community, the seminary should act on its word that the proposal for the 17-story tower is off the table by officially withdrawing it from consideration.

Hilda Regier


75 feet plus or bust, says dean

To The Editor:
Re “Seminary’s pushing envelope” (letter, by Bill Borock, June 7):

While extending my respect and good wishes to all the neighbors of the General Theological Seminary who participate in the Council of Chelsea Block Associations, I must point out that the council’s president, Bill Borock, perpetuates at least two serious misunderstandings in his recent letter to The Villager.

It is factually untrue to state, as Mr. Borock does, that our proposal to build higher than the 75-foot limit must be, in and of itself, a violation of the Chelsea Historic District. A provision in the current landmarks preservation law clearly states that institutions such as the seminary may receive height variances to fund preservation work — and preservation of our campus’s existing historic buildings is the purpose of the seminary’s project.

Moreover, your readers might like to know that when the historic district was established, the Landmarks Preservation Commission stipulated “that the needs of the General Theological Seminary in the Chelsea Historic District may change in the years ahead,” noted that the designation report “is not intended to freeze the properties of the seminary in their present state for all time” and stated that the commission “recognizes that the General Theological Seminary may want to erect new buildings on its grounds in the future.” An acknowledgment that the needs of the seminary must be considered is therefore explicitly incorporated into the founding document of the Chelsea Historic District. Of course, this does not mean that our every proposal must be rubber-stamped. It does mean that when the seminary applies for an exception to the 75-foot height limit — as it is allowed to do — the reasons for that application must be judged on their merits. They may not simply be rejected out of hand.

The seminary has repeatedly explained its reasons, in widely distributed written materials, in public forums, in countless face-to-face conversations and in meetings with community leaders. We must use our development rights and build a facility taller than 75 feet, or our century-old Gothic-revival buildings, the very heart of the Chelsea Historic District, will literally crumble for lack of funds. Contrary to Mr. Borock’s assertion, this is the choice we face. We have backed up this assertion with audited financial statements and with the report of our preservation consultant, the nation’s most respected firm in architectural preservation and restoration. When asked by leaders of Community Board 4 for independent verification of our conclusions, we submitted our preservation plan to the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which fully agreed with our assessment of the status of our historic buildings and the projected costs of saving them.

We want our neighbors to know that the seminary’s needs, in regard to preserving its historic campus, are no longer open to question, if the New York Landmarks Conservancy can be believed. We want people to know that for five years, we have exhaustively studied all possibilities for meeting those needs, and over the last few months have invited community leaders to study them with us. The only viable option is to partner with a developer on a mixed-use project, which will need to go above 75 feet. Finally, we want our community to understand that the seminary is acting within the letter and the spirit of current preservation law by asking the Landmarks Preservation Commission to support and City Planning to approve a height variance.

We are making every effort to ensure that our new building is sensitive to its surroundings. We want it to add to people’s enjoyment of our beautiful neighborhood. We ask all people of goodwill in the community to weigh carefully the information we have made available, and to work with us to make our project an enhancement of both the seminary and Chelsea.

Ward B. Ewing
Ewing is president and dean, General Theological Seminary



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