State, neighbors near compromise on W. Thames Park


By Skye H. McFarlane

It was standing room only Monday night in Battery Park City, as Route 9A Project officials faced off with nearly 100 angry dog owners, gardeners and children holding hand-made “Save Our Park!” posters.

The crowd had assembled at Community Board 1’s monthly Battery Park City Committee meeting to protest proposed reductions in the size of several W. Thames Park amenities.

By the end of the two-and-a-half hour session, however, an air of cautious compromise filled the room. The state Department of Transportation and the Battery Park City Authority agreed to draw up new plans for the space under the Rector St. pedestrian bridge while rethinking designs that would shrink the nearby lawn and dog run. All of the changes are part of the Route 9A Project, a long-term plan to revamp West St. from Chambers St. to Battery Park.

“It’s more than we thought we would have, so I’m pretty pleased,” said C.B. 1 public member Maria Smith after hearing the proposed compromise.

If C.B. 1 approves the new designs next month, the once-temporary Rector St. bridge would be renovated and reinforced to last as long as another decade while the community works to find a place for a permanent pedestrian bridge in the area.

The bridge sparked a firestorm at last month’s B.P.C. Committee meeting when C.B. 1 members found out for the first time that leaving the bridge up to keep pedestrians safe would mean sacrificing the basketball courts and community garden planned for the southwest corner of Rector and West Sts. The bridge’s ramp, which lands on the lot, takes up too much space for the D.O.T. to build the original design.

At Monday’s meeting, C.B. 1 was receptive to the B.P.C.A.’s new idea to install “temporary” versions of the same amenities — two basketball courts and 52 community garden plots — by eliminating a seating area and some aesthetic flourishes. At whatever point the bridge came down, the B.P.C.A. would put in the permanent courts and gardens.

Chris Cotter of the D.O.T. also agreed to revisit the W. Thames dog run after advocates spoke up, saying that the new design, which would cut the run nearly in half to make way for a fountain and plantings, was insufficient to serve the local canine community.

“If you have so many dogs in such a small space, you are going to have dead dogs,” said Andrea Singer, a neighborhood dog walker.

Cotter could not be as accommodating of requests to shrink the project’s 12-foot-wide granite walkway. The path would be part of what Gov. George Pataki has called a “grand promenade” connecting Battery Park to the World Trade Center site. The community was already irked over the promenade when its southern portion opened this fall, 26 feet wide and barren of active recreation. Though smaller, the northern extension of the tree-lined thoroughfare has provoked even more ire because it would take 14 east-west feet out of the W.

Thames lawn, which the Downtown sports leagues use for t-ball and biddie soccer games.

Many community members mocked the promenade as an unnecessary monument to the departing governor. Several people pointed out that B.P.C. already has a wide sidewalk on the western side of the park. C.B. 1 member Tom Goodkind called the path the “Champs Elysees of Patakistan” and committee chairperson Linda Belfer quipped that if Pataki really wanted to put his mark on the community, he ought to sponsor a Pataki park or a Pataki garden.

“It’s a great meeting spot,” said 11-year-old Eli Jossen, referring to the W. Thames lawn. “Why should we have to give that up for something that’s less important to us.”

Cotter defended the path as necessary to keep pedestrians off the adjacent bikeway, but he appeared receptive to a compromise put forth by Downtown Little League president Mark Costello. Costello pointed out that the project has three tree barriers — a nine-foot bed between West St. and the bikeway, another nine-foot barrier between the bikeway and the walkway, and a four-foot space separating the walkway from the field. If the nine-foot barriers could be reduced to four feet or if a barrier could be eliminated, Costello said, the field, courts and community gardens would regain valuable square footage. The assembled masses applauded Costello’s plan and Leticia Remauro of the authority called it “a very excellent idea.”

Despite the conciliatory gestures, committee chairperson Linda Belfer insisted that whatever plans are agreed upon next month be put in writing and signed by both the D.O.T. and the B.P.C.A. Several community members supported the notion, citing the Rector St. bridge (which was intended to last for two years and had now been up for five) and the W. Thames lawn (which was only supposed to shrink by two or three feet) as reasons why the community needs to get its promises in writing.

“Not that I don’t trust you,” Belfer told Cotter and Remauro, “But a new administration is coming in and I don’t want any ‘he said, she said’ five years from now.”