Gay youth: Community should pick 2 park directors

By Albert Amateau

FIERCE, the organization of lesbian, gay and transgender youth who have traditionally found refuge on the West Village waterfront, delivered a strong message — backed up by a new report — to the Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee on Monday. They said they wanted to reform the Hudson River Park Trust to make sure that public open space takes precedence over commercial development in the 5-mile-long riverfront park.

Desiree Marshall, lead organizer of FIERCE, presented the group’s white paper, which calls for the Trust to include on its board of directors two members chosen by the community, in addition to the present makeup of appointees of the mayor, the governor and the borough president. FIERCE wants the community voice to be equal to that of the mayor’s and the governor’s appointees on the Trust’s 13-member board.

Currently, the mayor and governor each appoint five board members, while the Manhattan borough president appoints three “community” members; so FIERCE is proposing to increase the Trust’s board to 15 members.

FIERCE also seeks to increase the influence on the Trust of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council.

The group also made a specific demand for a 24-hour drop-in center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth somewhere on or near Pier 45 — the Christopher St. Pier — which has been the traditional gathering place for L.G.B.T.Q. youth.

“We need Community Board 2 to pass a resolution, and we need elected officials to open up the Hudson River Park Act to make these changes,” Marshall said. She noted that the Trust was calling for changes in the state legislation that would extend the potential commercial lease on the 14-acre Pier 40 at West Houston St. from 30 to 49 years.

Last year, the Trust rejected a proposal by The Related Companies to redevelop Pier 40 commercially with Cirque de Soleil because Related required a 49-year lease instead of the 30-year lease established by the Hudson River Park Act.

“There should be no extension to 49-year leases. It would increase the chances for big commercial development on the pier,” Marshall said. “H.R.P.T. is going behind closed doors to change the act, and we want to make sure if the act is changed, the process is transparent and beneficial to the community,” she said.

FIERCE also wants to make sure that 50 percent of Pier 40 is reserved as public open space. Although the park act mandates that the equivalent of 50 percent of the pier’s footprint be devoted to public open space, the definition of open space could include walkways and areas in front of commercial attractions, Marshall said.

“It’s more like 30 percent of the pier is public open space,” she explained. “We need a better definition of open space to make sure 50 percent of the pier is usable public space.”

FIERCE also called for federal economic stimulus money to be devoted to the Hudson River Park.

However, A. J. Pietrantone, executive director of Friends of Hudson River Park, told the committee that getting federal stimulus money for the park was an extreme long shot. The Friends, a civic group that advocates for the park, met with the Trust and state officials recently and identified $57.5 million in infrastructure work needed to stabilize Pier 40.

“But most of New York’s stimulus money goes to the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Fund,” Pietrantone said. “There is no program that the park is eligible for; we are not a road, we are not a bridge, we are not a water-treatment plant, so the park can’t get stimulus money unless D.O.T. says, ‘We don’t need that money for a bridge; it should go to the park.’”

FIERCE’s recommendations presented at the April 13 meeting are based on recommendations made more than a year ago by the Pier 40 Working Group, which includes community board members, representatives of elected officials and other stakeholders in the future of the 14-acre, two-story pier on the Lower West Side waterfront.

Arthur Schwartz, C.B. 2 Waterfront Committee chairperson and also chairperson of the Pier 40 Working Group, said later that the committee was drafting a resolution on the FIERCE recommendations, which will be submitted to C.B. 2’s May full-board meeting.

Pier parking problems

The committee also heard from Stephen Norris, a Villager who uses the public parking on Pier 40. Norris said he received a notice that the indoor parking fee would be increased to $340 per month from $315.

“It’s still in the middle range of the market, but the conditions are terrible,” he said. “The ceiling leaks, concrete debris keeps falling. You have to sign a waiver and use a car cover.”

Norris said that Standard Parking operates the public parking but H.R.P.T. sets the rate. The Trust told him the rate increase was a mistake and that he would get a new notice, but it hadn’t arrived yet. Norris said when he complained to the Trust about the parking conditions, he was referred to H.R.P.T. general counsel Laurie Silberfeld, whose answers did not satisfy him.

Schwartz said he understood that the Trust had issued a request for proposals, or R.F.P., for a public parking operator, but he didn’t know whether Standard Parking or another operator had been chosen.

The committee passed a resolution opposing any parking fee increase and calling on the Trust to send a representative to the board’s next Waterfront Committee meeting to talk about public parking on the pier.