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July 6th, 2004

Letters

by You the Reader

Save the Far West Village Campaign Scores Big Victory

GVSHP’s Campaign to Save the Far West Village scored a huge victory in late April when, following months of intensive lobbying by GVSHP and its allies, the City reversed itself and overturned the ruling allowing as-of-right high-rise residential development in manufacturing zones citywide. This ruling, first exposed by GVSHP and its Save Gansevoort Market project in 2003, would have allowed a 450-foot tall residential high-rise at 848 Washington Street in the Meatpacking District; driven out jobs and businesses in the Meatpacking District; and facilitated high-rise development in areas of the Far West Village zoned for manufacturing (such as the Superior Ink site at Bethune and West Streets-already slated for development -and all of the Far West Village south of Barrow Street), Noho, Soho, and other areas.

This “David Slays Goliath” victory shows that our campaign, and the support and participation of thousands of people, can and will make a difference. Special thanks to everyone who wrote a letter or postcard, and especially to: City Councilmember Christine Quinn, State Senator Tom Duane, Local 342 of UFCW, the NY Industrial Retention Network, Councilmember David Yassky, Community Boards 2,3,4, and 5 Manhattan, David Rabin (Lotus), Michelle Dell (Hogs and Heifers), Bob Wilkins (Lamb Unlimited), Elaine Young, the Municipal Art Society, Council Member Alan Gerson, The Greenwich Village Community Task Force, the Federation to Preserve the Greenwich Village Waterfront and Great Port, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler for all their support and help.

Overturning this ruling was one of the campaign’s three goals. Two critical ones remain: zoning changes to ensure future development is limited to appropriate scale and bulk for the neighborhood, and landmarking protections to ensure preservation of historic buildings in the area. We are making headway on the zoning front-following our Town Hall meeting and the receipt of hundreds of letters from our supporters, the Department of City Planning (DCP) invited us to meet with them to discuss our zoning concerns-an unusual and very welcome step. We have met and expressed our basic concerns about inappropriate development in the area, and hope the initial meeting will be followed soon by movement towards the changes we need- zoning changes that would preserve and protect the scale of this neighborhood.

Our letter writing campaign keeps growing and has an impact. Over 1500 postcards urging the City to institute our preservation measures were distributed at the rally for participants to fill out on the spot and take back to distribute to their friends and neighbors. Supporters continue to send GVSHP-generated letters to the City, bringing the total well into the thousands. In light of the massive participation in this letter/postcard-writing campaign, our progress at this time is no coincidence.

The danger of increased out-of-scale development destroying historic buildings in the Far West Village continues to grow. In addition to the current third Meier tower under construction, plans for 3 other towers have been announced and plans for 4 more are rumored to be in the works. One announced project involves the destruction of an 1829 rowhouse next to the new Meier tower.

Greenwich Villiage Society for Historical Preservation

Editor’s note: Call (212)475-9585 x38 or e-mail gvshp@gvshp.org to get postcards & flyers or to volunteer in this effort. Send letters to the City urging that they take action to protect the neighborhood. Go to www.gvshp.org/letters4-21-04.htm for sample letters.

Bob Bolles Park…Here Come the Fence and Locking Gate

Despite Park Comm. Benepe’s statement to the contrary, prior to the “renovation/destruction” of Bob Bolles Park, homeless people NEVER slept in the park. In addition, local people cleaned the area three times a week.

Currently, the mega thick planting of foreign species trees, shrubs and primrose bushes provide perfect “cover” for those who need it. These days the park is a delightful crash pad, public toilet and sweet little trash depository. Frankly, those of us who have known this space for decades are hardly surprised by this negative turn of events. Our plans called for an open area of art and nature with ample night lighting, lots of cross vision, and a low barrier to protect the area from traffic mishaps. These ideas were entirely ignored by the Parks Dept.

It is important to be aware that a company called Capital Z spearheaded this renovation. They were a new neighbor in 2000. Capital Z is the multi national – multi billion dollar – investment and real estate firm based in Zurich. They were clever enough to arrange for park planning meetings to be held on their premises without including the unpleasant component of community input. After all – they had a small crowd of supporters, and these folks could supply all of the input they needed. The funny thing is that these supporters were never seen before, and they have not been seen since.

The community was left out entirely. Capital Z was able to install a park that looks just dandy from the roof top penthouse of their nearby building. However this is not the end game they have in mind. Capital Z will not be truly happy until they can force the installation of a fence, and a locking gate because of the nasty problems that have cropped up since renovation. Happiness will be controlling the key. That is the end game. Soon they will appear before CB2 complaining about the homeless, and poop problems in the park. They will come forward with a plan, and funds for a fence and gate due to security reasons . . .”Our children, Our children” they will chant to bring shame upon anyone who objects. However the facts are that their design is fatally flawed. The gross over-planting has not only cut off light and vision to the interior of the park, it also cuts off “line of site” for traffic. As a result we have experienced a big spike in traffic accidents, and pedestrian injuries on the corners of the park at Thompson Street. Although there have been serious injuries, no one has been killed. Luck.

In addition, the tip of the triangle is an open exit from the park. The problem is that it goes directly into oncoming traffic with no crosswalk!!! Sheer lunacy. Be informed that in 1999, a cab coming across Broome St. went out of control and plowed into the park at the tip. At that time a thick 2-foot wide solid metal strip on 4 foot posts cemented into the earth buttressed the tip. The cab still ended up 1/3 of the way into the park against a piece of sculpture. The sculpture finally stopped him. At present there is no butress whatsoever. If the same thing were to occur today with either a car or (God forbid) a truck, it would plow all of the way through the park. If this were to happen when people were in the park it would be disastrous. One can flash back to the car that went out of control and crashed through Wash. Sq. Park. a few years ago. Several people died, and many others were maimed. Horrible. We must learn from that mistake.

In closing I wish to plead with you all to be on the alert for a new push to go for the fence and locking gate. The privatization of public space, which includes the erasure of our local artistic/natural heritage, is not in the interests of the citizens of SoHo. What is in our interest is to have our park back. Our interest would be best served if the art, and nature were returned (and maintained) to this open public area, so that we could ALL enjoy it in safety.

Sincerely,
Lawrence White

SoHo/Canal Street Vendors

To all SoHo area Residents and Their Elected Representatives,

The exploding criminal enterprise surrounding the untaxed and unlicensed sale of bootleg merchandise (primarily designer handbags and CD’s/DVD’s as well as watches and sunglasses) has completely transformed the area of Canal Street from Broadway to West Broadway and has placed a real burden on the surrounding neighborhood, notably lower Mercer near Howard Street. The lawless atmosphere created by the frenzied street sales of these items from black plastic garbage bags or improvised shopping cart ?ɬ´displays’ is making life miserable for many of this area’s residents.

Sidewalks are often completely blocked, forcing pedestrians who are not the typical tourist customers of these “enterprises” to walk out in the traffic congested roadways. Crosswalks are all but impassable, legitimate businesses and residences have their entrances obstructed or completely blocked by this activity. Garbage is strewn everywhere, residents have been offered money from these entrepreneurs to let them stash merchandise in their hallways; some have been threatened when they ask these vendors to move from in front of their buildings. The halfhearted attempts at policing this activity cause dozens of these vendors (with bags over their shoulders or pushing carts) to run through the streets, hiding between cars, placing their illegal merchandise in doorways or disguise it by placing it next to garbage put out for collection.?Ǭ† They wait in doorways of neighborhood residences and storefronts, yelling into walkie-talkies (the preferred mode of communication), eating lunch and leaving trash behind when they return to Canal Street to sell.

The atmosphere that is created by this and the droves of tourists supporting this trade do nothing to help the local economy. These tourists pursue little else in the area. They typically do not eat at neighborhood restaurants or visit galleries and boutiques, they are bargain shoppers who have heard the buzz surrounding this specific activity and come for these items alone. There are millions of dollars in untaxed sales being generated.

Copyright infringement and unlicensed vending as well as other laws regarding blocking of the public sidewalks and loitering are being broken with impunity. One should make no mistake, this criminal activity is highly organized. Dozens of female vendors are managed by male “watchers” and supplied by fleets of vehicles that take a significant amount of the parking on the side streets. Many of these vendors are illegal immigrants and much of the merchandise is imported illegally from China. One can only imagine the labor conditions under which these items are produced.

What is all too evident is that these activities are ruining the quality of life for those in its midst and there seems to be no real interest at enforcement of the existing laws that apply. What is needed is a political decision to clean up this blatantly illegal activity and return the streets back to the legitimate businesses, their customers and local residents who do contribute and pay taxes. Please help us in any way you can.

Mercer-Howard Block Association

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