Volume 73, Number 50 | April 21 - 27, 2004

Board 2: Getting agencies to do right thing is our job

By Jim Smith

Community Board 2, like all other community boards, advises city agencies on just about anything that affects our people: waterfront development to placing parking signs. Agencies have to consider what we want. But they aren’t compelled to act as we want.

In fact, the board has little direct power. It is influential and respected because it is a focal point for the discussion of local issues. It is a forcing house of community consensus.

However, when we do make progress on an issue it is because we have been able to persuade agencies to “do the right thing,” often with the added heft of our elected officials and local interest groups on our side.
Community Board 2 is implacable and flexible, conscientious and expedient, set and protean as necessary to get things done for our neighborhoods. But in noting below some board accomplishments in the current term it is understood, if unsaid, that we did it with help.

We played a key role in getting city legislation governing the development of vacant lots in the M1-5A and M1-5B and the historic district sections of Soho and Noho.

Those spaces are now subject to a defined, coherent set of rules for development, instead of unpredictable determinations by the Board of Standards and Appeals.

We won the effort to get a fair break for smaller dogs in Washington Sq. Park. The little yippers now have their own separate run in the park.

We induced the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Center to make its staff more sensitive to its neighbors and more active in getting its patrons to move along after meetings. W. 13th St. residents have been beset by noise from crowds lingering on the street. After frequent meetings with the Center hosted by our Institutions Committee on behalf of the residents, the Center evolved polite but active methods for prodding patrons to continue conversations elsewhere. Results in recent months have been encouraging. The Center’s strategy will get its best test as the weather warms along with folks’ inclination to hang out.

Though the law requires the Hudson River Park Trust to seek and consider the advice of the board on the plans H.R.P.T. may contemplate, the Trust was neglectful in giving the board timely notice when an important issue came up for consideration. With the vocal support of our elected officials and the public, the board woke up H.R.P.T. to its responsibilities. H.R.P.T. now is punctilious in giving the board timely notices, congenial in presenting its proposals and entertains our comments in a positive manner.

The Department of Transportation and the Department of Design and Construction agreed to important changes requested by the board in the reconstruction plans for Houston St.

Also, as part of Councilmember Gerson’s Ad-Hoc Working Group, board members participated in successfully getting agreement by D.O.T./ D.D.C. to take under consideration and/or reconsideration various other suggestions for improvements in the plan.

Most of our success in any year comes not from attention-grabbing breakthroughs but from steady, day-to-day efforts supporting the fight against peace-stealing late-night noise, promoting the rights of our minorities, standing for the interests of our youth and our disadvantaged, celebrating the arts, being a watchdog against inappropriate alterations to our landmarks, protecting our endangered neighborhoods and helping shape the development of our evolving areas. And we ride herd on traffic and public safety issues and threats to our living environment, too.

The unsung heroes in C.B. 2’s work are our committee chairpersons. It is the committee chairperson who usually identifies the issues for attention, gets hold of the agency reps the committee needs to see, develops consensus on the panel, then drafts and manages the committee’s resolutions during final consideration by the board. All of which brings them little thanks except from the few who know how hard their jobs are.

As board chairperson, it is my good fortune to have many capable members who are willing to take on the extra burdens of chairing a committee. The only credit I can claim is for good sense in supporting their efforts as much as possible.

Smith is chairperson of Community Board 2. Board 2’s district includes the area bounded by 14th and Canal Sts., and the Bowery/Fourth Ave. and the Hudson River.

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