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October 18th, 2007

SOHO INTERVIEW: A CONVERSATION WITH TONY AVELLA

by D. Clark MacPherson

What was surprising to many SoHo residents this winter was that a City Council member had joined the picket line in front of Trump SoHo. Even more surprising was the fact that he was not the representative for this area, but was Chair of the Zoning and Franchises committee. In the freezing weather on Spring and Varick Streets, Tony Avella, Councilmember from Bayside, Queens, discussed the project with Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, David Reck of Friends of Hudson Square and Sean Sweeney of the SoHo Alliance. The representative of Hudson Square, Christine Quinn, the new Speaker of the City Council, did not appear.

When we met with Avella, a man who intends to run for Mayor, he expressed interest in a number of topics that focused on land use and development. He nevertheless agreed to center our discussion on some pressing issues affecting all of downtown.

Among the most important matters affecting SoHo, NoHo and Hudson Square is the problem of over-development and its impact on residents’ and their quality of life, or eventual lack of. He is of the opinion that there has been no coherent planning that involves residents.While he was aware of the enormous delays that can be caused by incessant meetings and dialog, he supported the idea of getting some feedback from the community. His view is that City Hall is making all of the decisions and filtering down – causing a great deal of community opposition– as opposed to a groundswell of support filtering upwards to decision makers in government.

While he did not pin the tail on Bloomberg and his development team, it was obvious that Avella feels that the community is getting little, or no opportunity to comment on and affect future developments in this city.

At this point in our history, the agencies involved in development or planning are not responsive to the community.

Communities like Hudson Square and SoHo have been ignored by the Bloomberg administration and have been merely footnotes to a team of bureaucrats and planners who are insensitive to the concept of a neighborhood, and its residents.

Avella’s criticism of the City Council was limited to his dismay that Bills from Council Districts do not always make it to the floor for a vote. In this respect, he feels that the Speaker position has become too powerful.Whereas in the past a councilman could introduce a bill and risk its passage or failure, the Law Department of the City Council has now been given the mission to not only examine the form of a new Bill but the Content as well. This means that a form of legislative censorship is now in effect as a result of Speaker Quinn’s control.

And, support from members of the Council – when they are told to be supportive – or legislative Siberia is the result of independence.

Finally, as a result of the Signage inaction and the blind support of Bloomberg’s Master Builder obsession, we spoke about the Department of Buildings. Avella’s take on the Department of Buildings is that this agency is tantamount to a corrupt entity – unresponsive to residents, lacking in independent leadership, and contrary to its own mission statement.While he did not say so, he did not appear to object to the view that the Department of Buildings was an agency that blew with the political winds and was a developer (and landlord’s) dream.

Tony Avella is an independent thinking, hard working City Council member who should be considered as Mayoral election time rolls around. He can be reached at his district office at (718)747-2137. For those of us who are tired of the bureaucratic run-around and political double-talk, he is a breath of fresh air.

Filed Under: New York

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