Volume 76, Number 10 | July 26 - August 1, 2006

Letters to the editor

Deal was solid — not waste

To The Editor:
The present controversy over the city’s request for proposals to build a marine transfer station on the Gansevoort Peninsula is not a new one. It has all the earmarks of a battle that was already fought — and finally settled last October, when the city agreed to remove all Sanitation facilities from the peninsula by 2012.

So why does the Bloomberg administration’s Solid Waste Management Plan suggest something entirely contrary to the city’s earlier commitment?

Last October’s agreement settled a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Sanitation, in which I and the Friends of Hudson River Park were among the plaintiffs. We, along with the vast majority of the community, felt that Sanitation facilities were not just an inappropriate use of valuable space on the peninsula, but also a clear violation of the Hudson River Park Act. The 2012 stipulation was a priority in our negotiations, and we thought a signed agreement with the city was as good as a guarantee that we would have this much-needed parkland starting in 2013.

It shows bad faith for the city to have signed an agreement pledging to remove Sanitation facilities from Gansevoort Peninsula last year, only to turn around and request proposals for expanded facilities there today.

Who would ever do business with a partner like that again?
Thomas K. Duane
Duane is state senator for the 29th District 

Reservations about hotels

To The Editor:
Thank you to The Villager for its strong editorial against Donald Trump’s “Trojan horse” plan for a “condo-hotel” in Soho (“Trump deals a crooked hand on condo-hotel,” editorial, July 19). It’s critical that we get the city to do the right thing now and disallow any building that would seek to sidestep zoning restrictions with illegal development, such as this plan to sneak unpermitted residential development into areas where it is prohibited. If not, not only will this totally inappropriate development go up, but it will open the door to other similar ones in neighborhoods like Hudson Square, Noho, Soho, the Meatpacking District and the far West Village south of Morton St. where the manufacturing zoning also prohibits them.

However, as was pointed out in another article, on the planned Andre Balazs hotel on W. 13th St. in the Meatpacking District (“Hotel’s on track; Residential projects face backlash,” news article, July 19), hotels with illegal residential uses are not the only hotel problem in our neighborhoods. Even hotels which only allow legal transient uses in the aforementioned manufacturing zones can be a problem too. In fact, hotel development is proliferating at an alarming rate in some of these areas, and in the Meatpacking District it has the potential to entirely transform the neighborhood.

Several years ago, when we first became aware of plans for the Hotel Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District, we raised our concern with the city that large-scale hotel development was not necessarily a good or desirable thing for this neighborhood, and we asked them to consider amending the zoning for the area to restrict hotel development. Unfortunately, our predictions about the negative consequences were correct, but the city did not act. We have since raised the issue again repeatedly, including in relation to the new Balazs hotel project, which — at 340 rooms and 250 feet tall — will have an overwhelming impact upon the neighborhood. Balazs is planning a second hotel just a block to the north, and more hotels are said to be on their way in the Meatpacking District, but the city has yet to take any action.

Because of their zoning, certain neighborhoods like the Meatpacking District and parts of Soho are becoming magnets for intense and in many cases inappropriate hotel development. The city should listen to local communities, and not only stop potentially illegal “condo-hotels” like Mr. Trump’s, but consider zoning changes to prevent neighborhoods such as ours from being transformed almost overnight by a deluge of new high-rise hotels.

Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

Open Seward Park process

To The Editor:
Re “Planning Seward Park sites: Let’s do it right this time” (editorial, July 12):

Your editorial pretty well captures the issues regarding development of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. I think everyone in the community, with the possible exception of those who have parking spaces, would like to see new housing and commercial space in this area.

At the time of the previous fight, I was new to the community. I was pretty surprised that the planning process seemed to take place between various city authorities and an organization called SPARC. This organization included veteran advocates for low-income housing and did not represent the spectrum of viewpoints in the community. In fact, to my neighbors, the plan seemed to come out of the blue.

The discussion at the Community Board 3 meeting quickly degenerated into shouting, with the SPARC representatives actually given the privilege of displaying a huge banner on the stage behind the C.B. 3 representatives. To a bewildered newcomer, the whole thing seemed most unseemly.

Now the issue is coming around again. The community board would do well to involve representatives of all viewpoints in the planning process, rather than stick an accomplished plan in their faces. I believe that Chairman McWater intends to do this. If, on the other hand, he allows Pratt and SPARC to develop the plan and then present it to the rest of us, as seems to be happening, the plan will be in for a troubled response once again.

Thank you for your thorough coverage of this issue.

Linda C. Jones

Don’t broad-brush artists

To The Editor:
Re “Street artists have a brush with police over rules” (news article, July 19):

I just read David Spett’s article on street artists and was absolutely shocked to read comments by First Precinct Community Affairs Officer Rick Lee. I have worked with Mr. Lee on the First Precinct Community Council for several years and can see no reason why he would make such comments. Mr. Lee has met and worked with several artists who display their own artwork in Soho and live in the neighborhood as well. He is familiar with the fact that these artists are not only strong emerging talents; he knows them to be good and active citizens and taxpayers as well. Why he would inaccurately state that we are “rude, urinate in doorways, vulgar, fight and are drunk” is beyond me. Every group has bad apples, but the artists of W. Broadway are a group to be proud of, not to denigrate in this most unfair and grossly biased manner. Shame on Mr. Lee.

However, some of his comments do shine a bright light on the main problem with the perspective of those who have aligned against us. The Bery court decision that gave artists rights to display on the street states that artists are people who create and display their own paintings, photography, sculpture or prints — not trinket or cheap jewelry sales people. Mr. Lee has conveniently lumped us all together so that he can use this confusion to get rid of everyone who uses the sidewalks of Soho to make a living.

I am also very disappointed that Councilmember Alan Gerson would state that rules such as the 20-foot-from-a-door regulation should be enforced, even though they are patently unfair. If this is done now it will create the sort of hostility between groups that will surpass that of the past. I believe that Mr. Gerson is capable of leading us out of this mess, but the method of enforcement he condones in your article is not the way to go.

I would also like to correct a couple of inaccuracies Mr. Spett made in his otherwise very good and revealing article.

First, I am not now nor have I have ever been in favor of permits or licenses for artists. Artists can be identified by the signature on their work (or proof of copyright), their own ID (driver’s license or passport) and their state tax ID (every artist who sells must have one). This system has worked elsewhere and would be very helpful to separate artists from those illegal vendors who hide behind our rights and hog spaces on the sidewalk that legal vendors, veterans, artists and other First Amendment vendors have a legal right to use.

Second, I am not a “leader” of the street artists. I have been very active through the years on this issue, but I do so out of a sense of responsibility, not out of any desire to be a “leader.” I believe that artists must work together as a group of equals in a cooperative manner to be successful in getting their message across. Artists’ leaders in the past have used artists in a manner to elevate their own importance, and financial gain, at the expense of the artists’ group, and I wish to have nothing to do with that self-serving process.

Lawrence White

Within spirit of the law

To The Editor:
In his July 12 letter to The Villager (“Seminary must obey the law”), Robert Trentlyon asks why The General Theological Seminary has “refused to talk to the community” about the impact of its proposed building project. The answer is that the seminary has indeed talked to the community — repeatedly — for the past year. We have come before full meetings and committee meetings of Community Board 4. We have held open houses, at which community residents could see and discuss our proposals. We have even invited a range of community leaders, Mr. Trentlyon included, to engage in hands-on design discussions and to learn in detail about our finances.

Although Mr. Trentlyon claims that the seminary seeks $15 million to “renovate its buildings,” the reality is very different, as we have emphasized in many public forums, and as the New York Landmarks Conservancy has independently verified. We need $15 million in cash for the immediate stabilization of endangered historic buildings, plus the equivalent of $25 million to replace the crumbling Sherrill Hall. That said, can we follow Mr. Trentlyon’s suggestion of building co-op apartments and high-end retail space? No, for two simple reasons. One, we do not have the funds to build anything on our own, and two, we need to replace the office and library space we will lose when Sherrill Hall comes down.

As for Mr. Trentlyon’s allegation that the seminary is trying to break the law, nothing could be further from the truth. The law gives us the right to seek an exemption from the 75-foot-height limit, for purposes of funding the preservation of our historic campus, and we are seeking that exemption, entirely within the letter and the spirit of the law.

Finally, I note with regret that Mr. Trentlyon believes there is “a fight between the Chelsea community and General Theological Seminary.” The seminary is integral to the Chelsea community — we are, in fact, the community’s oldest living member — and so there can be, at the worst, a disagreement within the Chelsea community. I am dismayed that anyone should claim to speak, on his own authority, for the whole community.

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

Artists are all-American

To The Editor:
Re “Street artists have a brush with police over rules” (news article, July 19):

David Spett’s article on the Soho street artists was a sadly narrow-minded and reactionary piece about an important community issue that deserves considerably more depth and insight than he seems willing or able to bring to the table. Using precinct Officer Rick Lee’s shamelessly sophomoric generalizations as the centerpiece of his opening statement is like making sweeping statements about white Americans based on a Klan rally.

While some individuals may behave in this way, there is in fact no “they” in the artists community that act in this manner. A great many of them work seven day weeks all year. Most paint Monday through Friday and then get up at 5 a.m. on the weekends to set up their stands and submit their work to the whims of the marketplace. It’s a great contemporary example of “rugged individualism” and good old Darwinian/American free-market, unregulated capitalism. Come to think of it, isn’t the true spirit of patriotism all about our great American pride of freedom and individualism? As New Yorkers, isn’t one of our greatest prides the vibrancy of our arts and culture?

One of the most distressing and disappointing things about Mr. Spett’s article is how seriously it misrepresents the true character of this wonderful neighborhood that I have lived in for many years. Soho is known as an artistic center of this city, this country and the world. For those few who do complain, a much greater many others would mourn the loss of these artists, whose presence has been a matter of neighborhood identity and cultural pride. The remarks of the local storeowners was particularly telling in this matter. It is well known that a significant amount of the weekend economy of local shops and markets is based on and boosted by the influx of people who come into Soho on the weekends specifically because of the presence of the street artists.

The comment that “this is not 1969” is actually a very sad indictment and commentary about the hardening of the cultural arteries we’ve experienced in the recent years. The measure of a civilization’s greatness is not its rules but its values. A healthy community abandons excessively critical and reactionary stances in favor of more open and flexible modes of co-existence. Our country has long prided itself on being a free society that rewards initiative, hard work, productivity and self-reliance. Jill Stasium, Larry White and the majority of the painters on W. Broadway exemplify these important values.

I thought that the most open and intelligent remark I read in this article was Sweeney’s observation that the Soho Alliance “...had better things to do.” Maybe he, Spett, Officer Lee and this reactionary minority will take Sweeney’s own advice to heart and “give up on this, grow up.”

I’m not a painter but a proud local and lover of the arts in our community.

Tom Reynolds

True believer in plan

To The Editor:
Thank you for your update on The General Theological Seminary’s plans to build a 17-story tower on the Ninth Ave. side of its Chelsea campus (“Chelsea seminary drops 4 stories off its tower plan,” news article, June 28).

As a neighbor of G.T.S. and resident of Chelsea, I continue to believe that G.T.S. should not be permitted to construct a building that exceeds the 75-foot height limitation established by the Chelsea Plan and to which all buildings in the Chelsea Historic District are subject. If G.T.S. is afforded permission to construct a building higher than the 75-foot limit so that its developer-partner can construct luxury cooperatives and make upwards of $100 million, then other nonprofits in Chelsea will likely enter into similar transactions; the almighty dollar will prevail and the sky will be the limit. Such a prospect should not be permitted. The Chelsea Plan should be uniformly applied without exception, since if you make an exception for one nonprofit, then similar exceptions will have to be made for others.

While I do not believe it pertinent, since I believe the Chelsea Plan height limits should be uniformly applied, I do wish to correct the public-relations statements that G.T.S. has been making about it being a longtime supporter of the Chelsea Plan. The fact is that G.T.S. vigorously fought the establishment of the Chelsea Plan, as reported by The New York Times in an April 13, 1966, article entitled “Seminary in Chelsea Fights Historic Designation: Saying Property Won’t Be Restricted, It Invokes Right to Freedom of Religion.” Moreover, by its present actions, G.T.S. demonstrates its continued disdain for the views of its neighbors and the government officials who, after extensive public hearings and discussions, promulgated the 75-foot height limitation for new construction within the Chelsea Historic District.

Steven J. Shore

Connor counterattacks

To The Editor:
I feel compelled to respond to a recent letter published in The Villager by Joe Kopitz, the partner of my opponent, Ken Diamondstone, attacking me and various Democratic clubs and the process they use for endorsing candidates.

I have been fortunate enough to serve in the New York State Senate from the 25th District for 28 years. Approximately 70 percent of my district is in Manhattan and 30 percent is in Brooklyn. I am grateful for the almost unanimous support I am receiving this year for my re-election among Democratic clubs and elected officials in the district.

My supporters include Downtown Independent Democrats, Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, Independent Neighborhood Democrats, Jim Owles Democratic Club, Lower East Side Democratic Club, Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City, Truman Democratic Club, United Democratic Organization of Chinatown and the Village Reform Democratic Club.

Elected officials who have endorsed me include Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Tom Duane, Assembly Members Sylvia Friedman, Deborah Glick and Joan Millman and City Councilmembers Alan Gerson and Rosie Mendez.

There has been no real support in any part of the 25th Senate District for Mr. Diamondstone and he has only received the endorsement of one club in Brooklyn, Lambda, of which he is a member of the board. He has not gotten any support from any elected officials of any note.

Mr. Kopitz alleges that I used undue influence in the endorsement process at Village Independent Democrats and at Coalition for a District Alternative. V.I.D. only has one election district in my Senate district and they have never endorsed a candidate in the district before. Therefore, I questioned why they were getting involved this year. After some investigation, I discovered that the Diamondstone campaign had hired William Stricklin, president of V.I.D., as an employee for $650 per week. After this information surfaced, the V.I.D. membership decided not to endorse in the race.

Regarding CoDA, the members of the organization under the leadership of Councilmember Rosie Mendez and CoDA co-chairperson Michael Farrin make decisions about their bylaws and endorsements. They have chosen to not endorse anyone in this race. Mr. Farrin and Councilmember Mendez have personally endorsed me and I am proud to have their support.

My support in the L.G.B.T. community has also been overwhelming. Both Stonewall Democratic Club and Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, along with L.G.B.T. elected officials Senator Duane, Assemblymember Glick, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Brooklyn District Leader Alan Fleischman have all endorsed my candidacy.

Diamondstone and his friends attack me and the people who support me, but he still has not come up with any reason or rationale for his candidacy. Sadly, every few years, he decides to run for some office, he spends his own money on his campaign and he loses badly. He is a perennial candidate, the Howard Stassen of local politics. I guess he can spend his own money any way he likes, but I can think of many better uses for the more than a quarter of a million dollars he recently gave to his own campaign. Of course, Mayor Bloomberg spent an enormous amount of money on his campaigns for mayor. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, I know Michael Bloomberg, Michael Bloomberg is a friend of mine, and Ken Diamondstone is no Michael Bloomberg.

Martin Connor
Connor is state senator for the 25th District

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