Volume 78 / Number 13, August 27 - September 2, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Letters to the Editor 

We’re losing our stores

To The Editor:
Re “Bleecker St. chain reaction” (Mixed Use, Aug. 21):

The rapid proliferation of chain stores on Bleecker St., in the heart of the South Village, speaks to the urgent need for measures to prevent the destruction of the character of this distinctive neighborhood.

There is a long-standing proposal to enact a South Village Historic District, which would not only prevent the demolition of historic buildings in the area and out-of-scale new construction, but would prevent chain stores from erecting inappropriate signage or making other alterations to buildings that are inconsistent with the neighborhood’s historic character. The city has promised to consider this proposal; the time to act upon it is now, before more is lost from this neighborhood.

The city must also take a serious look at what can be done to help preserve small businesses in our neighborhoods and prevent the proliferation of chain stores where they do not belong. Earlier this summer, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the East Village Community Coalition and the Neighborhood Preservation Center, among others, hosted a forum and lecture to discuss the problem of our disappearing small businesses and to look at potential solutions that have been tried in other cities and which have been proposed but not enacted here in New York City. The event was widely attended and reflected a strong desire to see the preservation of the small businesses that have for so long characterized our neighborhoods. As of yet, however, the city has not taken any formal action to stem the loss of small businesses in our neighborhoods.

Whether it’s Bleecker St. or any other commercial street, small businesses form the heart of our neighborhoods, providing the services, distinct products and personal connections that make our communities the places we choose to live in. The loss of these shops brings us one step closer to our neighborhoods losing their identities and livability. I hope that readers will join us in working toward measures to help ensure these small businesses’ preservation.
Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

Juan gone wrong on rezoning

To The Editor: 
On July 16, the New York Daily News ran an editorial column by Juan Gonzalez entitled “Lower East Side rezone plan another Mike Bloomberg boondoggle,” basically slamming Mayor Bloomberg for being the force behind current City Planning efforts, along with a “handful of well-connected developers and big box stores,” to rezone a large section of the Lower East Side. Gonzalez’s entire piece was based on this scenario of the real estate interests against the Lower East Side community.

I wrote Juan a personal letter out of deep respect for his writing and for his being a reporter who knows many of the Lower East Side housing activists and organizations, such as GOLES, the Cooper Square Committee, Lower East Side People’s Mutual Housing Association and Cooper Square M.H.A. He also reported favorably in the past about our anti-gentrification fight and affordable housing development. I indicated that I could not understand why he did not seek our viewpoint regarding the current rezoning plan that a majority of Lower East housing groups is critically supporting. I felt that that he had taken the limited opposition’s viewpoint as the gospel truth and, perhaps, failed to fully check their facts.

I also sent him three pieces on the proposed rezoning, two from recent issues of The Villager and one a fact sheet prepared by Community Board 3, bringing to his attention some of the facts presented by those who, instead, supported the rezoning.

As to the arguments put forth by Chinese Staff and Workers, I would have liked Juan Gonzalez to have asked them several questions.

First, why are they counting the area’s New York City Housing Authority projects that are excluded from the rezoning plan — i.e. the area east of Avenue D — knowing full well that NYCHA housing legally is federally owned property under NYCHA jurisdiction and cannot be rezoned by the community board plan? Is it to “cook the numbers” to be able to falsely make their argument that a majority of the minority population is at risk of displacement?

Second, when we first started discussing a zoning plan at the community board level, and C.B. 3 mounted a major outreach effort to all the community stakeholders, why did they not participate?

Third, if they are insisting that the “whole community” be included, why are they not working with all relevant stakeholders in Chinatown to achieve a consensus; and why are they not insisting that all of Chinatown, including the parts of Chinatown in the C.B. 2 and C.B. 1 districts, be included, as well? Is it because they have even less support in the rest of the “whole community” of Chinatown? Recent meetings held in the Chinatown community seem to fully support my statement. 

Perhaps, as I told Juan Gonzalez, it is just a lot easier to beat up on the most progressive Community Board (C.B. 3) in Lower Manhattan and disrupt its meetings, rather than try to organize the “whole community.” 

Time is ultimately a major consideration. The ULUPRP, or uniform land use review procedure, has a mandated timeline and cannot be stopped. While they want us to scrap our plan and begin anew — a process that would take years — new high-rise, luxury buildings and hotels are being erected. By the time a new plan for the entire district, an unlikely prospect, could be drafted, there would be nothing left to talk about!

Cooper Square M.H.A., along with many other housing organizations, including AAFE from Chinatown, tenant advocates and settlement houses, strongly support the Department of City Planning rezoning proposal, along with C.B. 3’s 11 points calling for an increase in the percentage of affordable housing and tenant protections. It is not a perfect plan. It will not put an end to the development of luxury housing and hotels in our community. But it will help curb the outrageous Wild West development fever we are experiencing. Perhaps, by providing some limited zoning bonus opportunities to developers of affordable housing, it may even lessen development pressures in Chinatown. And, yes, it is a hell of a lot better zoning than what we currently have.

I requested a meeting with Juan and a group of Lower East Side community activists to allow us to more fully explain our position. I recently spoke to Juan — who apologized for not getting back to me sooner — and he indicated he would be glad to meet with me and other members of the Lower East Side Coalition for Accountable Zoning. I am writing our de facto newspaper of record, The Villager, to once again present these basic facts to the public. 
 Valerio Orselli
Orselli is executive director, Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association

Our white elephant

To The Editor:
Re “Our knack for defeating ‘absolutely necessary’ projects” (talking point, by Gary Tomei, July 23):

Here we Villagers are again, fighting the same battle, development versus preservation. Mr. Tomei’s piece was eloquent and touched on several salient points.

I’m in agreement on the St. Vincent’s project, and feel that a huge, state-of-the-art, urban hospital center would be far better placed along the West Side, with efficient highway access, not on Seventh Ave. in Greenwich Village surrounded by many, crooked, little streets!

Let’s face it, St. Vincent’s has outgrown the Village and must move elsewhere for its new home. It’s modeling its behavior on N.Y.U., trying to shoehorn its elephant feet into ballet slippers.

They might be able to do it, but they’ll never dance again.
Joanne Milazzo

Wrong PEP priorities

To The Editor:
I’m hoping that if there is any belt-tightening at the Hudson River Park to be done during this economic downturn, it might include whittling down the number of Park Enforcement Patrol officers policing the Hudson River Park. They are a ubiquitous, watchful presence along the river in the Village. Honestly, it’s rather pleasant to bike uptown and escape the relentless ticket-writing and petty harassment. Upper West Siders, you don’t know how good you have it!

On a recent beautiful Saturday evening, I strolled up the river after going to a movie with my son. About a dozen of these PEP’s were directing traffic for the party/gambling boat docked at Pier 40 when it came back to port. I was very annoyed that my tax dollars are paying for traffic control for a private enterprise. The boat should provide its own parking staff.

Here’s the best part: Just yards away from where the multiple PEP’s were directing me to get out of the way of the exiting gamblers were scores of youth partaking in an open-air drug bazaar. As the drug deals were going down, the PEP’s, all of them as far as the eye could see, were busy directing traffic. Not one PEP officer was to be seen anywhere near the hundreds of partying kids. If something happened to any of those kids, I think the park would be liable, since no one was monitoring the standing Saturday night party at Christopher St.

I might not be so annoyed with the PEP’s when I visit the park if I thought they were actually keeping the park safe. That is not the case.
Beth Conard

New square: I’m there

To The Editor:
When I was a student at New York University many years ago, I remember my parents warning me about Union Square Park. “Never go there,” I was told. “It is dangerous. You could be mugged, robbed or even worse.” I think they would sing a different tune if they were around today.

Thanks to the dedication and hard work of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the Union Square Partnership and many supporters, Union Square Park will be an oasis amidst all the steel, glass and construction encountered every day in the neighborhood, where buildings are springing up like mushrooms.

How delightful it will be to have a space where one can see some green, smell the roses, relax, walk around — a people-friendly area where one can read a book, eat lunch, perhaps see entertainment. Though the space is small, I am so glad that the Greenmarket will thrive, the playground will be enlarged, and an affordable restaurant will be available with restrooms and other amenities.

How wonderful to know that there is an escape hatch — Union Square Park. What I like most is that all populations from toddlers to seniors have been considered. I am so thankful to the dedicated park staff and those who put in so much time and effort to make this possible. Thank you so much for this gift to our community and city, and if any volunteers are needed, I am available.
Lillian Libertoff

E-mail letters, not longer than 250 words in length, to news@thevillager.com or fax to 212-229-2790 or mail to The Villager, Letters to the Editor, 145 Sixth Ave., ground floor, NY, NY 10013. Please include phone number for confirmation purposes. The Villager reserves the right to edit letters for space, grammar, clarity and libel.

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