Volume 77 / Number 28 - December 12 - 18, 2007
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Trash trucks, not trapezes, is latest idea for Pier 40

By Josh Rogers

If you think community activists would be leading the opposition to a plan to put garbage trucks in a waterfront park, guess again. Some of them have begun to float the idea of moving trucks to Pier 40 to drive off a proposed entertainment center to be built near the pier’s playing fields.

“Sports uses can live with sanitation if it is done properly,” said Tobi Bergman, who runs youth programs on Pier 40 as the head of the Pier Park & Playground Association.

“There is no advantage to having [commercial] activity on the waterfront,” said Bergman, also a member of Community Board 2. “The waterfront should be for recreation. Sixty trucks are better than 1,000 cars coming to an entertainment complex.”

Bergman, like others who look favorably on the idea, said it needs further study. He said the plan could solve several problems. The city’s Department of Sanitation is moving forward with its plan to build a 140-foot-tall garage for three Sanitation Districts on the UPS-owned parking lot at Spring and Washington Sts. The garage tower has generated strong community opposition, although probably not as much as The Related Companies’ Pier 40 plan for Cirque du Soleil, a multiplex cinema, restaurants, a banquet hall and retail shops. Related would retain the current field space and car parking on the pier.

The 14-acre W. Houston St. pier needs an estimated $25 million to $30 million in repairs, and the Hudson River Park Trust, a state-city public authority, is anxious to find a developer to secure the pier’s as well as the park’s long-term future. Much of the pier building is vacant and would need a large investment to open. In an interview in the spring, Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, estimated it would cost about $80 to $100 per square foot to bring about 175,000 square feet of currently unused space on the pier up to code — as much as $17.5 million, according to the estimate.

During his regular report to the Trust’s board of directors two weeks ago, Marc Ameruso, a Community Board 1 member and the chairperson of the Hudson River Park’s Advisory Council, said the sanitation idea is worth exploring. When he said the Sanitation Department was planning to invest $400 million in new Downtown facilities and that that money could go to the park, Diana Taylor, the Trust’s chairperson, appeared to be keenly interested in the idea as she started nodding her head in agreement repeatedly.

Taylor did not return a call for comment.

Julie Nadel, a member of the Trust’s board and C.B. 1, said the subject did not come up when the Trust board went into executive session after the meeting, but she thinks it is worth considering.

“I think it’s an extremely interesting idea,” she said. “It could solve a lot of problems.”

Sanitation garages also have washing and refueling stations and it is unclear whether a Pier 40 sanitation facility could receive the necessary environmental approvals. 

The 1998 state law that created the Hudson River Park forbids municipal uses on Pier 40, but Nadel said the law would not be a “deal-breaker.” Nadel cut her political teeth working for Assemblymember Richard Gottfried — who later co-wrote the park act — and she said if there is a consensus in the community and among Downtown assemblymembers, it would not be hard to amend the law.

That consensus, if possible, will take some time. Assemblymember Deborah Glick, whose district includes Hudson Square, Tribeca and the West Village, said two weeks ago that the Pier 40 sanitation idea is an old notion that unfortunately has resurfaced.

“I don’t think it’s a great idea,” Glick said in an interview with The Villager’s editorial staff. “I have spent more time looking at Related, which is a dreadful idea — which everybody is clear on is a dreadful idea — and I suspect that if there was a little more floating of the garbage truck idea on Pier 40, people would be just as disturbed.”

Glick, who is fighting the city’s plan to build a Department of Sanitation marine waste transfer station on the park’s Gansevoort Peninsula, said Spring St. is an appropriate place for one or perhaps two sanitation districts. She and others who oppose the Gansevoort marine transfer station and a three-district garage on Spring St., have suggested alternatives in Clinton.

The Sanitation Department currently parks trucks on Gansevoort, but the city has to move them off by 2012 as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Friends of Hudson River Park. The city has just begun the approval process to move the Gansevoort trucks to the new garage to be built on the UPS lot on Spring St. The Gansevoort marine transfer station, which would include a recycling education center, would not require garbage truck parking on the peninsula; but like parking garbage trucks on Pier 40, having municipal uses on the peninsula would nevertheless violate the Hudson River Park law.

Assemblymember Gottfried, who is allied with Glick against the Gansevoort marine transfer station, had not heard about the idea of putting garbage trucks on Pier, but said he would be reluctant to take a position now since the pier is out of his district.

“On issues of Pier 40, as I have done in the past, I would be largely guided by what the local community wanted,” he said in a telephone interview Monday.

Glick said she would be willing to talk to the city and the Trust about the broader sanitation and park money needs and ideas, but that so far the city has not been an “honest broker.” She said when she presented Sanitation officials with a report recommending the Pier 76 tow pound at W. 36th St. as a marine transfer alternative, one official took a few seconds to thumb through the report quickly, then declared it would cost $400 million to build.

Glick also wants to see the recommendation of the Pier 40 Partnership, a high-powered group of local parents who have told the Trust they can raise between $10 million to $30 million to pay for the Pier 40 repairs in order to block the Related plan.

The Partnership’s Rich Caccappolo, who helped start iVillage Inc. and is also president of the Greenwich Village Little League, said his group had not considered sanitation for the pier because it is not permitted under the park act and because it had not been suggested by any community group. But “if the community embraces the Department of Sanitation garage plan, we would be happy to work with that idea as well,” Caccappolo said.

Bergman said in addition to overrunning the park with traffic, the Related Pier 40 plan and Spring St. sanitation plan would both slow the residential growth of Hudson Square and create pressure to transform the neighborhood into a hotel-and-entertainment center.

Richard Forte, director of real estate operations for Eugene M. Grant & Co., which owns the St. John’s Center building across the street from Pier 40, told The Villager several weeks ago that if the Related plan is approved, he would be inclined to build a 300,000-square-foot hotel tower on top of the building. But if Related’s plan fails, he said, the Grant firm would be more likely to build condominiums on top of the massive building, which spans the end of W. Houston St.

UPS had been considering developing its lot residentially, with a plan to keep its own trucking uses on the ground floor of any future development on the site. But when the city made an eminent domain threat, UPS entered into talks to retain parking in the city’s proposed sanitation garage.

The Trust hopes to pick a Pier 40 group in January. But Bergman said with so much happening in the neighborhood, the Trust and city should take the time to consider whether sanitation on the pier might be the best solution.

“Hudson Square has been off the beaten track until now. But what happens there is going to have a huge impact on Soho, the Village and Tribeca and there shouldn’t be a rush into it,” he said. “It’s never too late to do something that’s right.”

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