The truth will out: Concerns on park renovation mount
On Tuesday, the Appellate Division, First Department, will hear the city’s appeal of State Supreme Court Justice Jane Goodman’s ruling in July that the Parks Department’s renovation plan for Washington Square Park should go back to Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a fresh round of review with full information being provided to those doing the reviewing.
In her ruling, Goodman found that Parks had not provided C.B. 2 with sufficient information about the extent of the reduction of the historic park’s central fountain plaza and the installation of water jets in the fountain itself. Both of these elements would threaten the park’s traditional character as a freewheeling space for creativity, gathering and just plain hanging out, argues the community lawsuit that Goodman supported.
Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration, rather than heeding Goodman’s direction to return the plan to C.B. 2 and restart the process, chose to appeal.
In the interim, more information has emerged, raising more concerns about how upfront Parks was with the community on fundamental details of the renovation. For example, the Open Washington Square Park Coalition, via YouTube, has posted on its Web site a damning video clip taken at a May 2005 C.B. 2 meeting at which George Vellonakis, the landscape designer responsible for the renovation, is shown being questioned about the reduction of the central fountain plaza. “There’s a slight reduction the plaza’s huge,” Vellonakis answers. Prodded further, asked exactly how much the plaza’s size will be reduced, he answers, “5 percent.”
As it turns out, the city’s attorneys in response to the lawsuit, stated the reduction would actually be 23 percent. The coalition contends the reduction is, in fact, even more, 33 percent.
Parks recently completed an environmental assessment statement for the project. Again, it has not been easy to acquire this document. Yet, it states about three dozen trees will be cut down for the renovation greater than the number Vellonakis stated at C.B. 2 meetings. Also, buried in this document is the fact that Parks intends to fund the renovated square through a conservancy, certainly a hot-button topic in Greenwich Village. Yet, throughout the public review, the conservancy issue was repeatedly sidestepped by Parks.
This process was duplicitous, with a glaring lack of critical information. Goodman recognized that in her strong, solid ruling. We sincerely hope the Appellate Division, First Department, upholds her verdict. Parks duped the public throughout this process. By necessity, it’s left to the judiciary to be the referee and keep this public agency in check and responsible to the public.