Land use to green design, board leads the debate


By Maria Passannante Derr

Last year was an active year for the members of Community Board 2 and for the citizens who take an interest in Greenwich Village, Soho, Little Italy, Noho and Chinatown. Early in the year, we experienced tragedy with the passing of longtime District Manager Arthur Strickler. After a five-month extensive search by the board, Bob Gormley joined C.B. 2 in August as our new district manager. Immediately, Bob began familiarizing himself with the issues and projects that affect the lives of those in C.B. 2.

Among those issues that C.B. 2 took up in 2006:

Important discussions continued on the renovation of Washington Square Park (with the establishment of the Washington Square Task Force), while we still await the Appellate Division decision on litigation in this matter.

C.B. 2 mediated the tension between a contingent of Christopher St. residents and L.G.B.T. youth.

We sponsored a pubic forum on the legality of the proposed marine transfer station at the Gansevoort Peninsula.

As chairperson of C.B. 2, I established a Street Activity Permit Committee, so that all such applications will be subject to full board review.

How to accommodate commercial/residential development in a preservationist setting remains on our minds.

As with every new year, however, 2007 presents us with diverse opportunities and challenges.

One matter of lasting impact on our neighborhood is the Department of Sanitation’s proposal to combine housing for the garbage trucks and other vehicles of Boards 1, 2 and 5 in a newly constructed 150-foot-tall garage at the corner of Spring and Washington Sts. on what is now a UPS site. This project in no way resembles what was called for in the 1999 C.B. 2 resolution that supported siting D.O.S. trucks serving Boards 1 and 2 in an open-air parking lot. It was, in part, contingent on C.B. 4’s agreement to accept two additional Sanitation districts on 29th St. in an underground facility — a proposal that, incidentally, received ULURP and City Council approval in 2004. Now, eight years later, D.O.S. is advancing a project that bears no resemblance to the previously approved plan. The proposed inclusion of Board 5’s garbage trucks, as well as the development of a site in the context of an enormous, single-use facility, is of obvious concern to the community because of the enormous impact on traffic, air pollution, noise and quality-of-life issues inherent in this proposal.

Board 2 has not wasted time in getting involved. Many members of the board and the community attended a recent public meeting to express diverse opinions on the proposal. In February, four different board committees (Zoning, Environment, Parks and Traffic) addressed this issue. As a result, the board passed a comprehensive resolution encompassing the different approaches and review by all four committees, which first and foremost calls upon D.O.S. to live up to its commitment to proceed with the 29th St. facility.

Development of a different sort will also top many meeting agendas in 2007. Renowned downtown institutions like New York University and The New School are experiencing growth and St. Vincent’s Hospital is reconfiguring and, likely, rebuilding. With growth and rebuilding come questions of not only the physical changes and expansion of these entities but also ancillary issues that range from environmentally friendly energy consumption to cultural integration between neighborhoods and the institutions.

To cite one example, recently, the C.E.O. of St. Vincent’s Hospital announced the filing of the confirmation plan with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court that provides for the financial restructuring and extensive reorganization of its facilities. Several sites are being considered for the construction of a “state of the art” hospital along the Seventh Ave. S. corridor. The scope of the St. Vincent’s project and the ramifications — both long term and short term — are of great concern to C.B. 2, which will be participating in a working group to hear and advise on matters that come before it.

Development, both residential and commercial, has long been and will remain a focus of C.B. 2 and its committees. With a growing awareness of the scarcity of resources and issues like global warming, we have taken a new interest in not only what buildings look like (design impact) but in how they actually function. We will increasingly be considering the names and faces behind development and the integrity of their designs as they relate to sustainability, particularly in the environmental realm. With such fast-paced changes in the area of land use, it is more important than ever that developers be concerned with quality structures that are built to last for decades to come.

While development can be exciting and its concerns are age old and will always remain with us, there is also the continued need for preservation, so that New York City retains its unique character. The desire for and need to preserve historically significant neighborhoods and buildings, particularly during rehabilitation, is one of our greatest undertakings on the board because the impact is so far-reaching. In recent years, there has been exciting movement in neighborhood preservation, including the downzoning of the far West Village. Now, there is gathering momentum to create a landmark status for parts of the South Village and Soho (tentatively to be called the South Village Historic District).

There is increased awareness of the need for environmentally sound architecture and land use, which I’ve mentioned; there is the ever-growing interest in and need for affordable housing, so that Manhattan doesn’t become an exclusive enclave of the wealthy; there are accessibility issues and civil rights; planning for natural and manmade disasters, and more. C.B. 2 is compelled and committed to be in the vanguard of what most concerns us now and for the future.

At the board, we spend countless hours reconciling what often appear to be diverging interests or opinions. But the more the members of a community feel they have a stake in their neighborhood, the more they participate, the stronger and more cohesive is the vision of what that neighborhood can and should be, and the more informed our decision-making process is on the local level. To that end, I encourage everybody to attend our meetings and become active and passionate about the issues. It’s always an exciting time to be a New Yorker, none more so than now.

Derr is chairperson, Community Board 2