Volume 77 / Number 35 Jan. 30 - Feb. 05, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Letters to the Editor

Many affordable housing options

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s gets operating; Plans are filed at Landmarks” (news article, Jan. 9):

The Landmarks Preservation Commission’s approval process for the redevelopment of St. Vincent’s Hospital is rightly noted as “only the first official step” in a series of planning decisions that will determine what becomes of the new hospital and residential development.

As the community, the city and developers anticipate an extensive planning and approval process, the Village Independent Democrats club reached out to us with an inquiry regarding the possibility of creating affordable housing in the new development. Indeed, the St. Vincent’s site presents an exciting opportunity to create long-term, affordable housing for working-class New Yorkers who are being priced out of the West Village.

As long-term residents, healthcare and social service workers, artists, civil servants and the independently employed are no longer able to pay the market rate to live in the community in which they may have been raised, St. Vincent’s has an opportunity to help its community — while also helping itself — by including 20 percent to 30 percent affordable units in the new residential development.

The developer may say it is not financially feasible to build affordable housing; however, this is simply untrue. Public subsidies are available to make the inclusion of at least 20 percent affordable units work on this site for any developer — while still paying several hundred million dollars to St. Vincent’s for the site.

There are numerous ways to include affordable housing while respecting the context of the surrounding community and still generate several hundred million dollars for the St. Vincent’s hospital development. With publicly supported programs, such as low-income housing tax credits, tax-exempt bonds, Battery Park City Revenues, a 421-a property tax exemption, private financing through union pensions and the new $400 million Housing Opportunity Fund announced by Governor Spitzer just last week, this site can be a source for desperately needed housing in New York.

These programs can be used to guarantee permanent affordability, so that the units are not lost in just 20 years. What’s more, city, state and federal elected officials fully support a proposal that maximizes affordable housing, and any of the above programs can also give priority to income-eligible residents of Community Board 2.

The real question is whether St. Vincent’s believes that creation of affordable housing is a priority. Including affordable units might modestly decrease the sales price from the $300 million the hospital is reportedly expecting to receive. But since the hospital redevelopment is expected to cost $700 million, St. Vincent’s is already looking to a capital campaign and debt. If it wants to balance the hospital’s redevelopment needs, the preservation goals of the surrounding community and the opportunity to create affordable housing, St. Vincent’s can take a modest amount less in acquisition price, slightly increase its capital campaign and debt financing, and still create a building that enables longtime residents to continue to call this neighborhood home.
Brad Lander and Harvey Epstein
Lander is a member, Pratt Center for Community Development; Epstein is a member, Urban Justice Center, Community Development Program

Let’s develop new schools

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s gets operating; Plans are filed at Landmarks” (news article, Jan. 9):

Concerning the St. Vincent’s/Rudin redevelopment, there needs to be more responsible planning before there is any additional residential development in the Village. Unless there is a guaranteed mechanism in place to create public school seats to keep pace with the explosive growth of residential buildings, there will be nowhere for these families to send their children to school in the neighborhood — and worse, class size will become unmanageable. The loss of such things as libraries, art rooms and more will become the norm.

With the projected 18 percent projected increase in school-age children — without these new buildings even being factored in — over the next 10 years, you are talking about hundreds of children being added to an area whose public schools are already overcapacity. Local children already are being given remedial help sitting on hallway floors, while area private schools are overwhelmed with applicants.

The Department of Education has publicly stated that one of the biggest obstacles to school construction in our area is the scarcity and expense of

available real estate in our neighborhood.

As a responsible community we cannot “give away” sites that are to be redeveloped without requiring that schools be built. Developers should not profit from the destruction of our neighborhood’s livability.
Irene Kaufman
Kaufman is a member, Public School Political Action Committee

Green behind People’s Pier

To The Editor:
We have been dismayed by recent articles and editorials in The Villager claiming that the Hudson River Park Trust considers The People’s Pier “financially unviable” and “no longer...under consideration because of its financial uncertainty.” According to the Trust, they never said any such thing.

In fact, we believe The People’s Pier is the only financially viable solution available for Pier 40. It is an environmentally friendly, low-impact plan that enhances the structure and benefits the community. Under our plan approximately 85 percent of the pier’s activity would be made up of community amenities and public/nonprofit spaces. Our plan would qualify for tax-exempt bond financing, minimizing any exposure to the crisis in the private credit markets. Additionally, our developer equity is documented, in writing, to the Trust. Our most recent submission to the Trust includes a revised construction budget with an additional $50 million that includes a substantial contingency fund.

Our project will fix the pier, generate rent and PILOT payments for the Trust, pay for all the expenses of maintaining the pier and return a profit to our investors, all while providing free use of educational and recreational space for thousands of New York City children. Our project does not require any public funds and, although we will actively seek an extended lease, is viable with a 30-year lease term. There is no question that our proposal is a low-impact, community-oriented plan, more modest in its uses, construction and finances. But moderation is not a bad thing, especially given today’s economic environment. Finally, as a formal proposal in response to the R.F.P., our plan can be enacted upon designation, limiting any construction escalations or uncertainties.

Misinformation and rumor have been a part of the Pier 40 process from the beginning. We have asked the Trust if they made any official comments on our financial viability, and their answer was a categorical “no.” If you have other information, we would like the chance to see it and respond.

If, however, it is just rumor, we urge you to set the record straight. We would welcome the chance to answer any questions you might have. The future of Pier 40 is at hand. The best way forward can only be reached by separating fact from fiction, so that choices can be made based on real information. With a readership so invested in the pier’s future, we ask that you be a part of that process.
Mark Benerofe and Jai Nanda
Benerofe is director of business development for CampGroup, and Nanda is founder and executive director of Urban Dove. CampGroup and Urban Dove are the team behind The People’s Pier proposal for Pier 40.

Editor’s note: The Villager has reported what was being widely discussed regarding the Trust’s earlier assessment of The People’s Pier plan’s lack of financial viability. More recently, The Villager reported that at a Jan. 16 public meeting of Community Board 2’s Waterfront Committee attended by more than 80 people, Arthur Schwartz, the committee’s chairperson, asked Jai Nanda point blank to respond to the Hudson River Park Trust’s claim that The People’s Pier proposal was not financially viable. Noreen Doyle, the Trust’s vice president, who was at the meeting, interjected that The People’s Pier team had subsequently submitted an updated financial plan — but she did not state one way or the other if the Trust now considers the plan financially viable. Doyle did not in any way contradict or deny Schwartz’s statement that the Trust, at least at one point, had found The People’s Pier plan to be financially unviable.

Cyclists gone wild

To The Editor:
Re “Cyclists say city must shift gears on street safety in ’08” (news article, Jan. 9):

This article presents a very sympathetic account of city cyclists’ difficulties and dangers. I know these things and believe they should be rectified. But your article omits mention of cyclists’ epidemic failure to obey vehicle and traffic laws to which they are subject. This lawlessness by the vast majority of them startles, terrifies, brushes back or knocks down and often injures us pedestrians. One need only walk out and look around to know the truth. There are few records to testify to this lawlessness because the victimized pedestrians realize the pointlessness of making police complaints.

Cyclists regularly run lights, weaving through pedestrians using crosswalks or, when unable to continue through, stopping in the crosswalks amidst and blocking the crossers. The practice of traveling the wrong way on one-way streets can be seen everywhere, all the time.

Worst of all to this elder is the growing practice of adult cyclists using sidewalks, facilitated by the curb ramps. The construction of curb ramps throughout the city was welcomed by the lame, disabled and elderly, whom these ramps were meant to serve. But now these people are threatened and terrified by cyclists who take these ramps to be for their convenience.

Why do we not hear any of the cyclists’ lobbies addressing these things?

Helmets will protect them — but what will protect us from them?
August Matzdorf

Renovation or ruination?

To The Editor:
Re “Renovation is long overdue” (letter, by Roberta Bayley, Jan. 9):

In a recent letter to your paper, the writer asserted that the renovation of Washington Square Park is long overdue, and that the improvements to Tompkins Square Park have made it a beautiful city space.

I had the opportunity to pass through Tompkins Square Park recently and found miles and miles of nightmarish, shoulder-high fences. The only lawn space I saw being used was a paltry dog run; all else was deserted on a warm, dry, early evening before 7 p.m. There were a few small clusters of people in dark corners that I suspect were engaged in a commerce that would appall that particular letter writer.

Our Washington Square Park, by contrast, is an open and welcoming space in which people from around the world and the neighborhood have always enjoyed and felt safe.

New pavements, even more flowers in the summer: That’s all we need.

Sadly, I’m afraid, the park with its gracious, wide pathways, venerable trees and quiet nooks will be a thing of memory very soon.
Paul Linfante

Bedbug info seminars

To The Editor:
Amidst the myriad predictions of the new year, only one seems sure to come true: New York’s bedbug population will continue exploding, and uncounted

thousands of residents and tourists will be victimized anew in 2008. In Fiscal

Year 2007 alone, the city’s 311 hotline received nearly 7,000 bedbug-related

complaints and housing inspectors with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development issued more than 2,000 violations to building owners all across the city.

And equally certain, it seemed, as the new year began was that the city would continue to stand idly by while these nasty critters spread their misery from the humblest abode to luxurious high-rises, childcare centers, movie theaters, schools and, yes, Manhattan’s priciest hotels.

It’s often difficult to pinpoint the origins of a bedbug infestation, but sometimes we unknowingly welcome the little creatures directly into our homes. Many New Yorkers have crowed with delight upon finding an abandoned portrait, engraved cabinet doors or set of chairs curbside, sure to be a lovely or edgy addition to their decor — following a little cleaner and D.I.Y. ingenuity. And yet these items can harbor undetected bedbugs and their eggs, lying in wait for transport to our homes and to those of our neighbors.

None of this need be. One of the first steps is arming New Yorkers with

information. Last week, I joined H.P.D. to announce the launch of a series of bedbug public education seminars, starting in the neighborhoods that have received the highest numbers of 311 bedbug complaints. These seminars, in English and Spanish, will address bedbug identification, these insects’ reproductive cycles, bedbug prevention and elimination and landlord responsibility in addressing the problem.

The first seminar is scheduled to take place on Mon., Jan. 28, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Russ Berrie Pavilion, first-floor conference room, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, 1150 St. Nicholas Ave. at 168th St., in Manhattan.

The second seminar is scheduled to take place on Tues., Feb. 5, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Ricardo’s Catering Hall, 21-01 24th Ave., in Astoria, Queens.

The final seminar is scheduled to take place on Wed., March 12, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Hope Gardens Senior Center, 195 Linden St., in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

New Yorkers can call 311 to request seminars in their own neighborhoods, as well. This is a good start but still unsatisfactory. In a letter I received from a neighborhood superintendent the other day, he spoke of disposing of more than 50 large black bags full of bedbug-exposed materials only to find their contents strewn along the street the following morning. Items from infested spaces should be clearly marked or placed in specially colored bags before being left outside for removal.

We are also working together with the mayor and Council Speaker’s Office to develop a Good Housekeeping-like seal of approval for city exterminators who have undergone bedbug training. And we are looking into protecting new mattresses from becoming infested with bedbugs in the trucks that deliver them to our homes.

The city must also address the overwhelming mental health toll that living with bedbugs exacts on every aspect of New Yorkers’ day — and night. It’s great that we’re not smoking as much and great that we’re not eating trans fats, but we need to focus on bedbugs in the same aggressive manner.
Gale A. Brewer
Brewer is city councilmember for the Sixth District, representing Clinton and the Upper West Side up to 96th St.

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