Conservancy concerns


This Thursday evening June 20, Community Board 2 may — or may not — vote on whether or not to recommend approval of a new conservancy for Washington Square Park.

We have no issues with a private, nonprofit group raising funds for the park. Indeed, there are already groups that do so, such as the Friends of Washington Square Park, which is the Washington Square Association’s fundraising arm.

However, this new conservancy seems somehow different — and this raises questions and concerns.

The main issue is whether a conservancy — if not initially, but eventually — would assume control of policy and activities in the park.

In general, as sincerely well-meaning as this new group may be, there has been a lack of transparency about this effort.

We have tried to set up a meeting with the four women who are the conservancy’s founders, but so far, due to scheduling issues, have not done so. We look forward to meeting with them soon.

However, it’s unclear why Sarah Neilson, Washington Square Park’s new administrator, would also be the director of this new Washington Square Park Conservancy. This seems to blur the boundaries uncomfortably, in our view.

In addition, if all that this group wants to do (at least, for now) is raise funds for a horticulturalist for the newly renovated park’s plantings, and ensure the park is kept clean, then we don’t see why they can’t just move forward as an independent, nonprofit entity, with no Parks Department connection.

Also, the presence of not one — but three — Parks officials at this month’s C.B. 2 Parks Committee meeting where the issue was discussed, indicates Parks is strongly invested in this. Joining Neilson were Bill Castro, the Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, and Steve Simon, Parks chief of staff. Castro stated Parks would maintain its authority and operational jurisdiction over the park, and that the conservancy would never have a contract, license or memorandum of understanding with Parks.

It’s troubling, though, that no one has seen the conservancy’s bylaws yet, or knows who will sit on its board other than the four founders.

We also must say we have some concerns about how C.B. 2’s review of this initiative has proceeded. A resolution from the board’s Parks Committee was not readily forthcoming after its meeting two weeks ago. Indeed, we were only able to obtain a “draft” resolution late on Wednesday afternoon. We’re told that all C.B. 2 members will have a chance to review this resolution  — “but not 100%” of it — before the full board meeting.

The draft resolution includes caveats C.B. 2 wants the conservancy to include in its bylaws. Based on the assumption — key word — that the conservancy would accept these caveats, then, the resolution states, C.B. 2 “appreciates and endorses the effort of this group…to create an organization to build community stewardship of the park, raising additional funds for maintenance, plantings, horticultural activity, increased PEP [Park Enforcement Patrol officers] presence, and organizing volunteers and the like… .”

The draft reso states: “W.S.P.C. will not have a role in policy, planning or event creation, and all policies concerning the park will continue to be set by Parks with input from C.B. 2,” also that funds raised by the conservancy won’t be mixed in with and used for the park’s general budget.

But shouldn’t Board 2 wait until this group produces its bylaws, showing that these points have been incorporated?

Washington Square isn’t just any park. As the C.B. 2 draft resolution states, Washington Square “serves as our community’s ‘flagship’ park” and is a “world-renowned landmark.”

Over all, this process has been much too rushed. The board, in our respectful view, should table this vote until at least next month’s meeting — if not until September after the August break.

There is absolutely no rush to approve this Thursday night. But there is definitely a need for more review. Table it.