Volume 78 - Number 42 / March 25 -31, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by J.B. Nicholas

Actress Jennifer Connelly with her husband, Paul Bettany, at the Hudson Rise event, above. Lou Reed addressed the crowd, below.

Stars add glitz to garbage garage and roof-park plan

By Josh Rogers

Maybe you can call it garbage chic.

Billed as a neighborhood “picnic” to rally for a scaled-back version of a proposed 120-foot-tall Sanitation garage on Spring St., a boldface-name event Monday night drew some of the most famous residents of Hudson Square and North Tribeca, who joined about 600 of their neighbors at the party space of one of the world’s most famous ad firms, Saatchi & Saatchi.

“Sopranos” star James Gandolfini, now acting in “God of Carnage” on Broadway, explained to The Villager why he came out on his one night off.

“I live down here,” he said. “I’d rather not have all these trucks that are going to come down here. I don’t think they’re paying attention to what they’re doing down here, Mr. Bloomberg and the rest.”

Mayor Bloomberg “seems like a very nice man,” he said. “I like a lot of what he’s doing for the city. This is a terrible idea. There are many, many better places to put this.”

But Gandolfini, who had received a rave New York Times review that morning, does not plan to bring the subject up with the mayor if their paths should cross again: “No, I don’t know him that well,” he said.

Asked if involving well-to-do celebrities in the neighborhood fight could end up backfiring, Gandolfini, said: “I’ve lived in New York for how long — 24 years. Most of that was before I was a rich celebrity. This is a terrible idea. It’s just going to make living in New York harder as far as I’m concerned, especially down here. It’s already difficult enough, even when you have money.”

Two married celebrity couples also attended — Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany, and Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson — as did Rain Phoenix and Talia Balsam. R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe; Kirsten Dunst; Casey Affleck, Phoenix’s brother-in-law; and John Slattery, Balsam’s husband, did not attend, but they appeared in a Saatchi-produced video of famous and nonfamous residents criticizing the city proposal and talking about what they say is a better plan.

Connelly told The Villager that the community’s alternative plan — called Hudson Rise — would save the city money and provide more park space, as well. The alternative plan has a garage at Spring and Washington Sts. for the two Department of Sanitation districts that cover Community Boards 1 and 2, which include Battery Park City, the South St. Seaport and the Village, in addition to the neighborhoods closer to the facility, but does not make room for Sanitation District 5, which includes Midtown and part of Chelsea.

“They’re asking for a three-district facility, which is more than this neighborhood’s fair share,” Connelly said of the city’s plan. “No one is saying don’t put anything there. We’re just saying we’ll take our fair share — actually a two-district facility is more than our fair share.”

The Canal West Coalition and the Tribeca Community Association, which organized the free event and filed a lawsuit against the city last month, are trying to stop the plan on numerous grounds, including that the city did not follow Fair Share criteria before deciding to locate the facility.

The opponents estimate the Hudson Rise plan would save about $200 million from the city plan, which they put at $519 million. The alternative includes rooftop parks on top of a two-district garage built partially underground, and selling air rights to the St. John’s Center building adjacent to the site, which is currently a UPS parking lot. UPS would continue to have parking in both the city and alternative plan.

Michael Kramer, who represents the St. John’s Center and is one of the leaders in the fight against the city, said the celebrities “bring attention to the local issue.” The effort is already paying dividends as New York 1’s “Inside City Hall” ran a segment on the project last week with Reed, Anderson and Richard Barrett, another opponent leader.

The city has not said much about the project since the lawsuit was filed last month. Previously, Sanitation officials have said the current plan is the most cost-effective alternative and would open up park space on Hudson River Park’s Gansevoort Peninsula, where many of the garbage trucks currently park. But many community leaders and local politicians have said the city has not considered any of the alternative places they have suggested to move the Gansevoort garbage trucks.

The City Council passed the Sanitation garage plan 40-1-1 late last year with the strong support of Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose district includes the garage site. Councilmember Alan Gerson, who represents all of Tribeca and Soho, said one reason he abstained was that the city agreed to consider alternatives, and even if it doesn’t do so, that failure will help the lawsuit. He said abstaining is a “courteous way of voting No,” and that another reason he hesitated is that traditionally councilmembers do not oppose land-use measures supported by their colleague representing the district.

Gerson was the only elected leader to appear at Monday’s event, and for the most part was warmly received. But he was heckled by Sean Sweeney, leader of Downtown Independent Democrats and the Soho Alliance. Jean Grillo, a Democratic district leader and former Gerson supporter, was outraged that Gerson was allowed to address the crowd.

“If I knew they were going to let him speak, I wouldn’t have come,” she said.

Politics was in the air all night long. One of Gerson’s campaign opponents, Pete Gleason, came, as did Maria Passannante Derr, a former C.B. 2 chairperson, who is challenging Quinn this year.

Derr said Quinn is “not listening to the community.”

Andrew Doba, a Quinn spokesperson, said in a prepared statement that the speaker “worked closely with community leaders and the administration to find an equitable solution to the community’s concerns. She has even worked out a proposal with the administration to have [the Sanitation Department] work with C.B. 2 and her office to further explore possible alternative sites for the District 5 garage.” 

The opponents are also challenging a 2005 settlement agreement between Friends of Hudson River Park, the city and the Hudson River Park Trust, which the plaintiffs say violated the Trust’s legal obligation to hold public hearings and submit to a board of trustees vote before being implemented.

The Trust did not respond to a request for comment, but A. J. Pietrantone, executive director of the Friends, said, “We don’t agree with that part of the lawsuit, but we do think they have a valid community concern about the siting of the garage, and we hope that can be worked out.”

Pietrantone said in a phone interview that if Sanitation Department officials requested an extension on the deadline to leave Gansevoort in order to study alternatives, his group would be open to discussing it, but they “never asked us.” The city faces financial penalties if it doesn’t leave Gansevoort by the end of 2012.

The opponents recently hit a setback when the decision on the settlement’s validity went back to Judge Michael Stallman, who presided over the 2005 case. Kramer said they “reluctantly” agreed to the city request to move that part of the suit to Stallman because opposing the move would have risked offending both judges.

Before Phil Mouquinho, a Hudson Square restaurant owner and project opponent, called up the celebrities at the end of the evening, he took one last shot at Bloomberg.

“Mayor Bloomberg, tear down that wall that exists between you and the people,” he said.

Reed then led the actors and musicians to the stage and spoke briefly about Hudson Rise: “We very much endorse this plan. … All of us thank you for coming.”

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