Volume 80, Number 42 | March 17 - 23, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Aline Reynolds

Activists worry that the trees on Washington St., at right, will be chopped down for the strongly opposed garage project.

Fear mega-garage work will trash ‘old-growth’ trees

By Aline Reynolds

Residents who live near the proposed three-district Department of Sanitation garage planned for Hudson Square are continuing to battle the city in court.

The 400,000-square-foot facility is slated to stretch northward from Spring St. for about two blocks up Washington St. and would accommodate Manhattan Sanitation Districts 1, 2 and 5. The price tag is an estimated $500 million. Construction of the project is supposed to begin next month, with an expected completion date in summer 2014, according to Kathy Dawkins, a Department of Sanitation spokesperson.

Earlier this year, the St. John’s Center building, adjacent to the northern border of the garage site, requested a restraining order against Sanitation to temporarily halt the garage’s construction until the boundary separating the building property and the garage site could be reassessed.

The restraining order was granted late last month, but it has since been lifted for judiciary administrative reasons, according to Michael Kramer, a lobbyist for St. John’s Center.

A Supreme Court justice instructed the city not to engage in major construction activities that would permanently alter the boundary prior to a hearing scheduled for March 29, when a different judge will consider the injunction.

The city, meanwhile, will begin setting up the staging site for construction on March 21, according to various sources. Sanitation, however, could not confirm this date at press time.

“We don’t understand why the city is so intent on beginning construction if there are still legal impediments hanging over its head,” said a community plaintiff who requested anonymity due to the pending litigation.

And local residents fear that, before the court can issue a ruling supporting or opposing the garage, the city will fell the fully grown trees along Washington St. to pave the way for construction.

A source acquainted with the project confirmed plans for the trees’ removal, though Sanitation did not by press time.

“The bottom line is, these beautiful old-growth trees that have been there for 40 years will be destroyed and really cannot be replaced,” said Marc Ameruso, a member of Community Board 1’s Tribeca Committee. He said he plans to rally the neighborhood around the effort to salvage the trees in the coming days.

“We’re worried the city will show up one day and cut them down,” Ameruso said.

He and other neighbors believe the trees should be incorporated into the city’s overall design plan of the garage.

“I think it’s unfortunate when older trees with a canopy, girth and height are taken down,” said Richard Barrett, a member of the Tribeca Community Association board and president of the Canal Park Conservancy.

This concern is one of many that community members have raised about the project in recent years. Some dozen local community groups and property owners have legally disputed the city’s proposed design of the facility since 2009, arguing that its environmental impact statement did not adequately assess the environmental consequences to the neighborhood.

The community has also contested the Bloomberg administration’s plan to mass three districts’ worth of garbage trucks at one location.

“The idea was how to come out of this without the streets being junked with traffic, and to come up with the best solution for the community,” Kramer said. “Our goal is for the project to be stopped and rethought.”

State Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city in January 2010. The community’s appeal of the decision is scheduled for March 24.

The city’s plan is to erect a five-story structure that will house more than 100 pieces of Department of Sanitation equipment, including garbage- and recycling-collection trucks, snow removal devices and employee vehicles. The structure will also have a maintenance area for equipment repairs, office space and employee locker rooms.

“The location on a major truck route facilitates the department’s provision of services while avoiding impacts to the residential neighborhoods, as noted in the project’s environmental impact statement,” said Dawkins.

The garage will also allow the city to vacate the Gansevoort Peninsula — located on the Hudson River to the west of the Meatpacking District — the current site of Sanitation Districts 2 and 5, so that the peninsula can be transformed into part of the Hudson River Park, per state legislation and a related court order.

The city, Barrett said, never seriously considered Hudson Rise, the community’s alternative plan for the Washington and Spring Sts. site. Hudson Rise proposed a 75-foot-high, two-district Sanitation facility covered by a 2½-acre rooftop of landscaped terrain with playgrounds, botanical gardens, a swimming pool and other community amenities.

This “green” design, Barrett noted, was the recipient of the 2009 American Institute of Architects award, and would have been millions of dollars cheaper than the city’s current plan.

“The whole thing was about political expedience and pitted neighborhoods against each other,” Barrett said of the administration’s actions. The process by which the city decided on the plan, he said, was a “sham” and “strictly pro forma. It’s absurd.”

And, unlike Hudson Rise, Barrett charged, the three-district “mega-garage” gives nothing back to the community.

UPS, which owns and currently occupies the open-air parking lot where the Sanitation facility will be located, and uses it to prepare and dispatch 160 delivery trucks throughout Lower Manhattan, will be required to vacate the site immediately once the city begins to prepare for construction in a few weeks time.

UPS plans to relocate its tractor-trailers to the roof of its package-sorting hub across Washington St. from the site of the future garage, while the garage is being built.

During this period, its employees, who normally park on the roof of the hub, will temporarily park their cars at Pier 40, according to Norman Black, a UPS spokesperson.

Once the Department of Sanitation’s garage is up and running, UPS will move its trucks back to the new facility’s ground floor, and its employee vehicles will move back to the Washington St. hub’s rooftop.

“As long as the city protected our ability to operate this hub, we would acquiesce and go along with whatever project the city got approved,” Black said.

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