-Gardeners oppose human fertilizer room (a k a bathroom)

By Julie Shapiro

Volume 20, Number 29 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | Nov. 30 – Dec. 6, 2007

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Donald Jenner is one of many Washington Market Park community gardeners who opposes the proposed location of a public bathroom because it will close the garden for a season and may reduce its size.

Gardeners oppose human fertilizer room (a k a bathroom)

Community gardeners are angry about proposed bathrooms at Washington Market Park, because their construction would temporarily close the gardens and permanently remove eight garden plots. Even worse, gardeners say, their new plots will be adjacent to the bathroom.

“I don’t want to be gardening next to the bathroom,” said Larry Wasser, the gardener representative on the Friends of Washington Market Park board. “I haven’t found one [gardener] that isn’t upset about it.”

Advocates of the bathrooms, which have been in the works for years, say the facilities are a necessary and welcome amenity. The flocks of children who frequent the park currently have to trek up to the Borough of Manhattan Community College when they have to go — or else drop their pants in the bushes.

Most community members support a public bathroom somewhere in the park, but when the Parks Department picked a location near the community garden, gardeners spoke out.

“I’d prefer not having masses of people every time they want to urinate passing through the gardens,” said Laura Braddock, gardener and Community Board 1 member. “It’s an insult to the gardeners… Having a bathroom right by your garden is just bad.”

Susan Gregory, who has been gardening at Washington Market Park for 25 years, is also unhappy about bathrooms encroaching on garden space. “We’ll be gardening right next to a toilet,” she said. “It’s just not done.”

And still worse, Gregory added, the bathroom construction — which will tear up the entire garden — will destroy shrubs and perennials that have been growing for 20 years, including heirloom plants.

Pam Frederick, a Friends of Washington Market Park board member, promised that the Parks Department would relocate any heirloom plants to the southern side of the garden.

“They’re not going to screw over any community gardeners,” Frederick said. “This is the Parks Department — they’re into plants.”

Additionally, Parks will spruce up the new gardens, adding wooden edges, fertilizing the soil, renovating the paths and, Frederick hopes, upgrading the seating area. The Friends supported this location for the bathroom over other choices because it is un-programmed space and not in full view of the whole park.

At the Tribeca park, children’s play areas stretch along Greenwich St. from Chambers St. to Duane St., where the park’s entrance is. The 60 community garden plots are on the northwest side of the park, and the bathroom is planned for the far northwest corner, where sheds currently store equipment.

Another site under close consideration was just to the south, on the other side of the stairs that lead to the Borough of Manhattan Community College. The Parks Department vetoed that location because the digging to connect the sewer lines would damage the roots of several hardwood trees, Frederick said.

However, longtime neighborhood resident Donald Jenner said the Parks Department has neglected caring for those trees.

“The trees are not in good shape,” he said, so there is no reason to preserve them at the expense of the community gardens.

Several gardeners want to see the bathrooms in the southeast corner of the park, at Greenwich and Chambers Sts. Advantages include easy utility access and proximity to the children’s playground. However, placing the bathrooms there would require a large jungle gym to be moved, and that site was not chosen by the Parks Department.

The 240-square-foot building will be brick and glass, with a green roof and climbing roses along the walls. The meadow-like planted roof will make the building easier to heat and cool, and will also minimize runoff, Frederick said. The Parks Dept. hopes to begin construction within the next few months.

The Tribeca Committee of Community Board 1 unanimously passed a resolution supporting the bathroom construction, after hearing from the Friends of Washington Market Park. But when three community members objected at the full board meeting on Nov. 20, the board tabled the issue, asking the two sides to meet and discuss their disagreements.

“[The bathroom] is definitely a need,” Tribeca Committee chairperson Carole De Saram said. “The question is where are they going to put it.” De Saram hopes the Friends and gardeners can reach a compromise.

Frederick said the Friends have met with gardeners before and that gardeners have representation on the board. Frederick does not foresee another meeting to discuss the location.

“I think the community board has to decide for themselves,” she said. “In the end, it’s in the Parks Department’s hands.”

Frederick has asked Parks to sit down with the gardeners and talk about preserving some of their plants.

The idea of public bathrooms in the park predates the Friends organization, a recent nonprofit reincarnation of the previous elected board. That board advocated bathrooms several years ago, when City Councilmember Alan Gerson allocated $400,000 to build them, a Parks representative said. As time passed, it became clear that more money would be needed, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation agreed to pitch in $573,000, Parks said. The construction should start early next year.

There is broad support for the bathrooms, but it is not universal.

Gregory, who has gardened through several restructurings of the park, does not think bathrooms are necessary.

“I raised a child in that park and we were perfectly fine…going up to the college when needed,” she said.

The reason children are going to the bathroom in the park itself is because they are poorly supervised, Gregory said. Many of the childcare workers who bring their charges to the park are not community members and do not have a stake in maintaining the park, she added.

Wasser is concerned that the bathrooms will be poorly maintained and attract homeless people. “Free-standing bathrooms in parks don’t do well,” he said.

Several gardeners also objected to the youthful focus of the park. The benches in the community garden are the one place where senior citizens can sit without risking being hit by a soccer ball, Jenner said.

“A lot of the park is devoted to children, and that’s fine,” Wasser said. “Young families are a large component of this neighborhood, but parks should be multi-generational. They should include the needs, hobbies and interests of all different ages.”

The emphasis on children extends to the Friends group.

“The board is mostly women with young children, so their interests are the interests of women with young children,” Wasser said. “They don’t represent the community.”

Frederick replied that anyone is welcome to join the board, and added that there are currently several open spots.

“It’s a small park with a big playground, but the park is open to anyone,” she said.