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March 22nd, 2007

SOHO POLITICS: THE FRIENDS OF HUDSON SQUARE

by David B. Reck

dsc01488.jpgdsc01490.jpgdsc01493.jpgNow is the time for some serious trash talking. Thirty years ago when I came to Hudson Square it was a forgotten neighborhood with no name. I had little money but I had my dream. I am only one of the many loft pioneers that literally built our homes and our neighborhoods in the urban wilderness. Never in our worst, hellish nightmares could we have imagined that the Department of Sanitation all these years later would attempt to dump so much trash on our community.

For a New Year’s present Sanitation quietly released their plans for a “Consolidated” facility consisting of not one, but three garages for garbage trucks, salt storage, equipment, offices, and enough fuel to burn much of Lower Manhattan back into a brand new development site should it decide to explode. If we hadn’t been paying attention the neighborhood still wouldn’t know about it. The Friends of Hudson Square took to the streets and rallied over 200 people for the scoping session held on January 31st. In short order we have joined with the Tribeca Community Association, The Canal West Coalition, The Soho Alliance, The Soho Arts Council, The Community Environmental Monitoring Coalition, and more businesses than I can count.

Sanitation has included so much in this proposal that there is something for everyone to hate. The truck refueling facility at the western end of Canal St. (which would also be a gas station for all city agency vehicles in the downtown area) would house 29,000 gallons of fuel tanks. This proposed garage would directly adjoin the vent shaft and emergency exit of the Holland Tunnel and sits on top of the Tunnel. In addition there would be 13,000 gallons of fuel tanks in the new consolidated garage across Spring St., and there is already an existing retail gas station on the south side of Canal St. The hazards of the fuel storage and its potential as a terrorist target are quite obvious.

The new multi-story garage at Spring St. and Washington St. would house all the equipment, personnel, and offices for 3 Sanitation Districts and would also be used by the United Parcel Service, who is the current owner. It would have 427,000 square feet of space and be 150 feet tall.

To complete the plan, a two-story public parking garage at Greenwich St. and Clarkson St. that provides neighborhood parking for 400 cars would be demolished for the construction of a facility that would store 6,500 tons of salt. Most of the development in the surrounding area and throughout Community Boards 1 & 2 has been on sites that were former parking lots so the neighborhood already has lost a tremendous number of parking options. This parking garage is one of the few that remains. The loss of this lot would place yet another undue burden on the already stressed surrounding neighborhood. Sanitation recognized that parking is a problem, which is why their plan provides parking for their employees!

In addition to all of this, the proposal assumes that the construction of the Gansevoort Marine Waste Transfer Station, also in Community Board 2, will happen despite community opposition. We are having a hard time understanding how all of this complies with the “Fair Share” rules of an equitable distribution of city facilities among community districts.

This type of project triggers the requirement for a City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR). Much to our amazement, the Department of Sanitation is the lead agency for the Review. In their preliminary work they already found that the proposed action may result in significant adverse environmental impacts only with respect to traffic, noise and air quality, even though there are 20 categories that should be studied and these impacts are not fully described. We already experience the adverse impacts from traffic and air quality caused by the Holland Tunnel and they have been endlessly studied. It’s time to do something about it, not add to it.

The CEQR process requires that alternatives to the proposal be identified and evaluated yet the Scoping Document assumes that there are no other possible alternatives. In fact, that’s not the case. Over the past ten years there have been many alternatives that have been publicly discussed. In 1999 Sanitation and Community Boards 2 & 4 agreed to use a site in Community Board 4 for most of what Sanitation now wants to put in Hudson Square–and that site is still available. When the Environmental Review for the Hudson Yards Rezoning was done a few years ago this site was included and the environmental impacts were found to be acceptable. Many people want the garage there because it will have a green roof as an accessory for the new High Line Park. At that time the site in Hudson Square was also analyzed and the “significant adverse environmental impacts” were fully detailed. City government already knows that this is the wrong location but they are determined to move ahead.

The original founders of The Friends of Hudson Square understood that we were being discriminated against because of our lousy zoning. Our hard work resulted in the recent Hudson Square rezoning. The Land Use survey for our zoning change found no industrial uses in the rezoned area and few industrial uses in the surrounding area. At the time of the rezoning, Community Board #2 recommended that City Planning consider a much larger area because of all of the existing residential and commercial uses. Currently underway at City Planning, with the full support of Community Board 1, is a proposed rezoning of North Tribeca. All of this is clearly reflective of Public Policy for Land Use in our area. Putting this mega sanitation center next to our existing residential/commercial area would be a major setback. No doubt it would increase the amount of traffic, change traffic patterns, and substantially increase traffic congestion on our increasingly residential streets.

The battle lines are clearly drawn. Far too often we have been forced to defend our community but in the process we have learned how to do it. The approval process should take about a year. On the next New Years Eve we intend to ring in a new year and ring out this absurd proposal.

THE FRIENDS OF HUDSON SQUARE
512 GREENWICH ST. NYC, NY 10013
(212) 966-1899
DAVID B. RECK, PRESIDENT
512DAVE@EARTHLINK.NET

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