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October 18th, 2007

SOHO POLITICS

by D. Clark MacPherson

Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others. – Groucho Marx (1890 – 1977)

While New Orleans has been known by that famous moniker, Manhattan is also starting to become “The Bigger Easy.” Developers and developments that are known to have contributed to local politicians’ campaigns and projects that offend downtowners are expanding at a rapid pace.

The politicians and government appear to be selling lower Manhattan for a nice price and thumbing their noses at residents.

What seems to be happening is a sense that local government, from the Mayor and his appointees down through the City Council, has disconnected from the electorate – and is bent on selling itself to the highest bidder.

Trump SoHo continues upwards towards its 42 stories on a parcel on Spring and Varick streets where contextual zoning would not have permitted anything higher than an 18-20 story structure either as a hotel or commercial building – or 8 to 10 stories as a condo development. Under current zoning there is no community input.

A 17-story hotel is nearing completion onWatts street that may become a stopping point where tourist buses flood lower Manhattan, and in a location where traffic congestion is so bad that it would be like adding open sewers to the 19th century streets of Calcutta.

The Department of Sanitation has chosen Greenwich Street for a 10-story garage and fuel storage depot instead of placing it on 30th street and 12th Avenue, even though it had obtained approval to build it there; this was long before Joe Rose (former head of City Planning) and his family had been attempting to obtain approval to build. There is already a condo development in close proximity to that site. Do you think there is any connection with the City’s decision to instead dump the project in Hudson Square– despite the fact that the project was approved and even accepted by the other area’s community?

Pier 40 is under siege with the probable selection of Related’s “Vegas on the Hudson” development – despite the fact that the community, kids, parents, ball field supporters AND politicians are feeling the pressure – because the Trust Board clearly wants to see the project built. There is no doubt that the Hudson River Park Trust Board, using the excuse that the infrastructure needs repair, is clearly in favor of the Related proposal. Spitzer is weakened and Doctoroff may have the upper hand since he is reportedly the real de facto Chair with Bloomberg the other major Trust controller at this point. And, there had been rumors afloat that Joe Rose had an interest in the appointment as Chair of the Trust Board– but it has just been awarded to Diana Taylor, Bloomberg’s “friend.” It will be interesting now to see how this plays out for the community.

The “we know better about what’s good for you” approach was most evident at the last public meeting of the Trust Board where Marc Ameruso, Chair of the Advisory, reported on the community suggestions largely extruded by Arthur Schwartz (as Chair ofWaterfront at CB2 and previous Advisory Chair). The Trust Board received the Advisory’s report with ho-hums. It speaks reams that Doctoroff said nothing at all at that meeting. He may not have needed to – since whatever needed to be said had already been communicated – behind the scenes. The connections between the Related proposal, the Trust Board, and government may need to be delineated more clearly at some point.

The Gansevoort Recycling plan has been kicking around for years under the tutelage of the EDC (Economic Development Corporation) via the efforts of Kate Ascher. The most recent PR plan, however, involved using a kid suffering from asthma in a commercial to support Bloomberg and Doctoroff’s push to get Albany to push through the plan for Pier 52 – by emphasizing the need to protect our children from pollution. Of course, there was no mention of the huge increase of truck and vehicle traffic downtown caused by the Verazzano toll reversal that gives free rides in and out of downtown to New Jerseyites and Staten Islanders. Of course that was never mentioned, since Staten Island created the Republican win for both Giuliani and Bloomberg.

The other part of the Gansevoort deal was a political push to win quid pro quo from North Manhattan politicians who found it necessary to use the NIMBY theory of waste disposal. The rational location for a downtown recycling site was, and still is, Pier 76. But that would interfere with another Bloomberg/Doctoroff redevelopment site – the Convention Center and its cross-West Side Highway overflow.

Selling out theWest Village and inundating them with diesel particulates is acceptable. Impeding a development site is not.

So, what is really going on?

It appears that there is just so much money around – although liquidity may soon start to ebb as a result of the current banking crisis – that financial pressures are just too hard to resist.

For one thing, Hudson Square is still a “No-man’s-land” that bears a resemblance to the Great Plains of the 1930’s and the resulting dust bowl from which that term emanates.

With no coherent zoning, the foot dragging from the Speaker’s Office where pressure for change should come from, and the gleeful selling off of downtown by Bloomberg/Doctoroff’s Batman and Robin team – there is clearly no interest in stemming the new Homestead Act for Manhattan. Parcels can’t be given away for development fast enough. The pressure to give downtown away makes Robert Moses and his sell-out of the Brooklyn Dodgers look mild by comparison.

The fact that Speaker Quinn has already accepted at least $262,000 toward her mayoral campaign is a significant signal of what we have to look forward too.

Tony Avella, Council Member of Queens, joined the picket line in front of Trump SoHo.Where was Speaker Quinn – why wasn’t she at a site in her own district?What does that say about representation?

From Trump SoHo to the Gansevoort Recycling proposal, to the Pier 40 development, to the DSNY project, residents are being treated like children who don’t really know what’s good for them–and maybe they don’t. Even scarier, maybe they shouldn’t know what is really going on.

As Jack Nicholson said, while playing Jessep from A Few Good Men, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Maybe residents need to consider or reconsider candidates who represent them instead of those that represent their own interests and the interests of developers.

There are unconfirmed rumors that Community Board #2 Chair Brad Hoylman may decide to pursue an initiative aimed at dealing with the pathetically weak response from City agencies towards rentcontrol/ stabilization complaints and tenants. The number of allegations that landlords have been harassing and retaliating with impunity against tenants who complain about housing conditions have increased dramatically–as have illegal efforts to evict them or litigate them out of their homes.

Instead of helping tenants, however, the HPD, DHCR and Department of Buildings have more or less cooperated with landlords by ignoring dangerous conditions and instead focusing on complaints by landlords about tenants. HPD prosecutors have been lax to the point of incompetence and Judges have appeared to be indifferent when tenants have instituted HP actions–and the 311 system has been so ineffective that tenants no longer bother to register serious complaints.

A community forum, much like the Town Hall meetings that affected the S.L.A. response to over saturation of liquor licenses, could have a beneficial effect on the “legal method” of evicting tenants in Manhattan through financial intimidation.

Filed Under: Commentary | Community | New York | News | Politics

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