Volume 78 - Number 25 / NOVEMBER 19 - 25, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Letters to the Editor

Eviction doesn’t add up

To The Editor:
Some squatters are more illegal than others, according to the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. For seven years Alfredo Barreto has lived at 7½ Second Ave., a squatter building the city sold for $1 to the tenants. But UHAB, a nonprofit group that organizes and assists residents in co-op conversions, decided that Alfredo’s seven years of occupancy didn’t count. Perhaps because Alfredo, himself, can’t count — not that well, actually.

Alfredo is 47 years old and mentally handicapped. He has been living quietly at No. 7½ with his cats. His sole visitor is his mother Carmen, who stops by every day to check up on him and give him his spending money from the Supplemental Security Income check he receives every month. According to city psychiatrists, Alfredo’s deficiency is chiefly computational; his apartment is “immaculate,” his personal hygiene is “good.” Because of a 10-year-old dispute between Alfredo’s brother, who brought the apartment from someone who owed the building money, Alfredo, who wasn’t even living there at that time, is being punished. Therefore, on Nov. 21, Alfredo will be evicted into homelessness while his neighbors will own their newly renovated apartments. Thus it is for those unable to fight for themselves.

This June, after his mother asked for my help, I became Alfredo’s court-appointed guardian. There is nothing the city will do for him but assist in his removal to a shelter. Ray Cline, community resource and West Village icon, joined the struggle and together we kept the sheriff at bay. Now we have used up all our legal options. I asked UHAB, if they must evict Alfredo to make renovations, why not place him in one of the buildings they manage? Their lawyers replied “…UHAB would not [emphasis theirs] consider providing Defendant with an apartment in lieu of eviction under any circumstance.”

I moved to E. First St. some 30-odd years ago. At that time, First St. was an open-air drug market. I was a misfit moving into a misbegotten neighborhood who found he fit right in. Today I share the blame for Alfredo’s eviction because in my efforts and your efforts to make the East Village a family-friendly community something went wrong. What began with the best of intentions — neighbors helping neighbors — has created a giant cash register for real estate moguls. If there is no longer a place for the Alfredo Barretos, we all lose. And I can’t help but wonder that after 7½ Second Ave. is completely renovated, who will get the apartment where Alfredo used to live? 
Howard Hemsley

Stop Bloomberg and Quinn!

To The Editor:
We have a government of the politicians, for the politicians and by the politicians under Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Quinn! They have failed to represent the people and have violated our trust in order to pursue their own selfish interests.

We, the people, can do only one thing — vote them out! 

When November 2009 rolls around, please
remember that Bloomberg defied city regulations to allow Donald Trump to illegally construct his Soho monstrosity (and remember all the violations and death involved); went along with New York University’s destruction of Washington Square Park and sanctioned N.Y.U.’s overdevelopment everywhere — destroying Village landmarks in the process; sided with big business — Rudin and St. Vincent’s Hospital — to endorse the destruction of historic buildings in the West Village in order to construct two more monstrosities that do not belong in the Village, and that we all know can easily be constructed elsewhere; failed to protect countless historic buildings in Greenwich Village by failing to zone and landmark; sanctioned a garbage-processing center in Greenwich Village when there are other placement options; strove to impose congestion pricing, and tried hard to bring in an ill-fitting stadium to Manhattan.

When November 2009 rolls around, also remember that Quinn sided with Bloomberg on most if not all of the above issues; bullied city councilmembers to vote with her to extend term limits, and failed to govern responsibly by allowing slush funds.

Many residents throughout the city voiced their stand against these initiatives; but Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn turned a deaf ear because their own inner voices of personal greed were too loud. With the help of Bloomberg and Quinn, residents of the city, and especially the Village and Soho, continue to lose their battles with big business. Meanwhile, our neighborhoods are being drained of their history, character and quality of life. Let’s stop Bloomberg and Quinn in 2009! Restore democracy! 
Barbara Baluta

Article was in the zone

To The Editor:
Re “Brainstorm no-brainer: No more Trump hotels” (news article, Nov. 12):

Thank you to The Villager for its coverage of this long-neglected topic — the desperate need to change the zoning in the M1-6 district south of Houston St. on the West Side, which currently encourages an enormous and completely inappropriate scale of development. Unfortunately, in the two and a half years since the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation began calling for a rezoning of this area, about a half-dozen completely out-of-scale new buildings have gone up or are underway, including the 43-story Trump Soho “Condo-Hotel”
— which should have been blocked by the city due to its illegal residential-hotel uses — and a new 36-story hotel under construction on Charlton St.

While the new discussions about a possible rezoning of the area do present some potentially very important opportunities, it is unfortunate that this rezoning is only being contemplated when a developer — in this case Trinity Real Estate — has pursued it, rather than in response to the many calls by community groups over the last several years.

Finally, I would like to correct a mischaracterization of a comment I made at the forum. This M1-6 zone currently does not allow new residential uses; experience has shown that when manufacturing zones such as this are rezoned to allow new residential uses, typically all other uses are eventually replaced by residences. While I urged that we be aware of this dynamic, neither I nor G.V.S.H.P. have come to any final conclusions about rezoning all or part of this area to allow new residential uses.
 Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

Battle of Verrazano St.

To The Editor: 
Edith Evans Asbury, who died on Oct. 30 at age 98, not only was a prizewinning reporter for The New York Times, she was also a Village resident who had a major impact on both physical and political developments in Greenwich Village.

On Aug. 1, 1960, a page-one article in the Times revealed the story of Verrazano St., which had been mapped in 1949 but not yet built. Extending between Sixth and Seventh Aves., the street, as shown on the map, cut a diagonal swath through Bedford, Downing, Carmine and Varick Sts. Asbury pointed out that when the area was condemned, there were 149 families and 14 commercial tenants in the buildings taken over by the city. If constructed, the street would have required partial or total demolition of 20 buildings. A decade later, even though many families had been intimidated and moved out, 53 families, including 160 people, still remained, living in deteriorating conditions. Asbury’s article made the point that while the city was “bearing down” on slumlords, it was itself guilty of countless violations, including “inadequate heating and water closets and broken plaster and peeling paint.”

This story aroused the then-insurgent Village Independent Democrats club, and we mobilized to set an example to the city. At least a dozen of us converged on an apartment at 44 Downing St., armed with brushes, rollers and paint. What we lacked in professionalism, we made up in enthusiasm. As we crowded into one small room, I was reminded of the famous stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers film “A Night at the Opera.” I also recall another Downing St. building where a resident took me into an empty apartment — empty except that the erstwhile living room was piled high with coal the tenants were using to provide heat for themselves. 

Edith Evans Asbury put Verrazano St. on the map, and the aftermath of her article put V.I.D. on the map. In 1961, a big election year, we persuaded Mayor Wagner to tour the area, and eventually the street was demapped. Oh yes, that year Wagner won, and V.I.D. won the district leadership…with 500 more votes in the Village than the mayor got! 

Edith’s obituary in the Times included accounts of many prizewinning accomplishments of her 29-year career at the paper. What was not mentioned was the impact she had on the South Village. But Villagers should know that, in addition to our defeating the more celebrated Broome St. Expressway and the roadway through Washington Square Park, we also kept Verrazano St. from happening, thanks in large part to Ms. Asbury.
Carol Greitzer

Take me to the river

To The Editor:
Mike Davis, who sadly recently passed away from a stroke, was a good friend as well as a strong waterfront advocate and founder of Floating the Apple. He was hardworking, unselfish, unassuming, enthusiastic and one of the most productive waterfront and water-use advocates in New York City.

I met Mike many years ago — around 1993, I think — when I, along with numerous other drafted volunteers, worked on the first 25-foot Whitehall rowing gigs in a storefront on 42nd St. near Eighth Ave. People would gaze in wonderment as they looked in the window and saw rowboats being built in Midtown Manhattan — and Mike would immediately drag them in to help. We eventually launched the first boat from a makeshift mast and boom at Pier 84, which was, at the time, largely deserted and derelict.

A common theme with Mike over all these years was his insistence on remaining out of the limelight, letting others set direction by consensus, giving credit to others, providing leadership by example rather than by orders, and stepping back to watch others enjoy the fruits of his genius and enthusiasm. If there were five places available on a boat, and Mike was in a group of six, you can be sure he’d insist that the other five went rowing while he cast off the dock line.

In addition to Floating the Apple, Mike was a charter member of the Friends of Pier 84 and on the original board of directors of the Friends of Hudson River Park. Friends of Pier 84 successfully saved Pier 84, at W. 44th St., from becoming the home of what would have been the world’s largest floating heliport.

However, Mike was among a small number of waterfront pioneers who were introducing people to the waters of New York long before these and other organizations even existed.

The program imagined by Mike, and realized by the army of volunteers that he brought together, was to build from scratch hardy rowing gigs modeled after the work boats that were prevalent in New York Harbor in the age of sail. High school classes, fire and police departments and ordinary citizens, many of whom had no idea of what a boat looked like up close, were suddenly becoming boat builders, rowers and coxswains, taking their own creations out on the waters of the harbor.

This program eventually spawned others, and today the program has touched literally thousands of people of all ages, but especially younger folks, who would have had no other opportunity to learn about the wonders and magic of being out on the water, learning about water safety and teamwork, and the importance of keeping our waterways clean and beautiful. From time to time, I’d ask Mike how many boats had been built — and he never seemed to know — nor did it seem to matter to him. But the fact is, his legacy will continue to grow, and his contribution to the education and involvement of citizens in reclaiming their waterfront and waterways will never be forgotten.
John Doswell,
Doswell is past president, Friends of Pier 84; founding chairperson and
director, Friends of Hudson River Park; and co-chairperson, Waterfront and Parks Committee, Community Board 4

St. Vincent’s vote a joke

To The Editor:
Re “St. Vincent’s gets approval to demolish landmark site” (news article, Oct. 29):

Commissioner Tierney and five of his commissioners got it all wrong in finding hardship in St. Vincent’s quest to demolish historic O’Toole and build an out-of-context, inappropriate monolith in its place. Tierney maintained that St. Vincent’s is the only level-one trauma center in a historic district and, therefore, the hospital must be allowed to do what no other applicant could dream of.

St. Vincent’s location is not the point — but, at the same time, is exactly the point. No institution is above the mandate of the Landmarks Law, and no for-profit developer, such as Rudin, should be allowed to get a free ride on St. Vincent’s coattails. St. Vincent’s indeed is in the Greenwich Village Historic District, and it purchased the O’Toole Building, also in the historic district, knowing full well that it was protected, and continues to use the building as it had intended.

To hear St. Vincent’s say at the recent Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing that it never believed the landmarks restrictions would apply to it is incredulous and downright insulting to the Greenwich Village community the hospital claims to serve and respect.

O’Toole is not the hardship; if anything, St. Vincent’s east campus is its problem. Yet, the law that six of 10 L.P.C. commissioners chose to ignore in their political decision in finding for St. Vincent’s states that it is the building in question that has to be the source of the hardship — not, as in this case, merely the convenient solution to the hardship across the street.

We are confident that judicial precedent will overturn an ill-advised and politically motivated L.P.C. finding.

Hats off to the four L.P.C. commissioners who understood and properly applied the law in their eloquent and cogent finding against the hardship. Bravo.
David R. Marcus
Marcus is a board member and officer, The Cambridge Owners Corp.; member, St. Vincent’s Community Working Group; and charter member, Protect the Village Historic District

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