WSP Performance Crackdown; NYU Expansion on CB2 Parks Committee Agenda Tonight, Thurs. Jan. 12th

Updated

The WSP performance crackdown is on the agenda at tonight’s Community Board 2 Parks Committee meeting, 6:30 p.m. Our Lady of Pompeii Church, 25 Carmine Street, Father Demo Hall (enter on Bleecker) [venue has been changed from what was previously announced].

The addressing of the controversial new rules (on hold temporarily) is now scheduled for an “executive session.” Previously announced as an opportunity for public comment; it was stated that this topic was being moved to February’s meeting in order “to allow more time for public comment.”

Now, the CB2 website states, that, during the closed session, the committee “will consider a resolution reiterating a prior position opposing a Parks Department rule regarding public expression in parks and including its recent use to restrict un-amplified performances in Washington Square.”

Update from CB2 Chair Brad Hoylman: It was decided that there had been “enough public comment” and that “It’s not fair to ask people to come out again (and again, and…).” He is hoping that a resolution will be drafted by the committee.

The main part of the meeting which is open for public comment focuses on the “NYU 2031 Campus Expansion Plan.” I’d be curious to see how (Parks Committee Chair) Tobi Bergman handles this group since he dodges a bit on issues related to WSP (and gets away with it).

This is certain to recruit a large crowd. There will be a presentation of the plan and discussion of how NYU’s plans affect “open space and related issues” as well as NYC Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). It is noted that “Public input at this hearing will inform the Community Board 2 recommendation.

Community Meeting on NYU Plan 2031 Tonight Wednesday, Jan. 4th, 6:30 p.m.

NYU’s 2031 plan certainly impacts the area around Washington Square Park.

From the flyer for tonight’s town hall meeting sponsored by Community Board 2, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Community Action Alliance on NYU 2031, and a number of local Greenwich Village Block Associations:

NYU is seeking City approvals to add 2.5 million square feet of space – the equivalent of the Empire State Building! – to the blocks south of Washington Square Park!

One aspect I’ll be reporting more on in the future is the Sasaki Garden at Washington Square Village. For more information, see this recent post at the Local Ecologist Blog: Endangered Sasaki Garden.

A meeting addressing the overall plan will be held tonight, Wednesday, January 4th, at 6:30 pm at the AIA – Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place between Bleecker and W. 3rd St..

From the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation:

With the new year upon us, it’s time to gear up for the seven-month public hearing and approval process for NYU’s massive and precedent-setting twenty-year expansion plan (see images and more info HERE).  Either we stop the plan now, or we live with it and its consequences forever.

To get organized and informed, and to start letting decision-makers know you want them to vote AGAINST the plan, come to the Town Hall meeting this Wednesday at 6:30 pm at the AIA, 536 LaGuardia Place (Bleecker/W. 3rd St.).  More than fifty community groups from the Village, East Village, SoHo, Chelsea, and Union Square are co-sponsoring the meeting.  Please post and circulate the flyer HERE.

Times and locations have now been set for the following Community Board #2 public hearings on the NYU plan (CB 2 will vote on the plan in February based upon January’s public hearings – this is the first official step in the public review and approval process).

  • Monday, January 9th, 6:00 pm, CB 2 Zoning Committee, AIA 536 LaGuardia Place (Bleecker/W. 3rd).  NYU will present its plans; the Zoning Committee will make recommendations to CB 2 regarding the zoning changes NYU is seeking to allow its plan to move ahead.  A STRONG TURNOUT AT THIS MEETING IS CRITICAL!  (Note: NYU is the second item on the agenda for this meeting.)
  • Thursday, January 12th, 6:30 pm, CB 2 Parks Committee, NYU Silver Bldg., 32 Waverly Pl. (Wash. Sq. E.), rm. 713.  The Parks Committee will review NYU’s proposals to take over and build upon open space and green space and make recommendations to the CB 2.  A STRONG TURNOUT AT THIS MEETING IS CRITICAL!
  • There will also be hearings on the traffic impacts of NYU’s plan on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 6:30 pm at the NYU Silver Bldg., 32 Waverly Pl. (Wash. Sq. E.), rm. 520, on its impact upon schools and social services on Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 6:30 pm at Judson Church Meeting room, 55 Wash. Sq. So. (Thompson St.) (note: NYU is the second item on the agenda at this meeting)
  • and on its environmental impacts on Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 6:30 pm at the Tony Dapolito Rec. Ctr., 1 Clarkson St. (Carmine/7th Av. So.).

Villager on CB2’s “Washington Square Speak Out” Hearing On Performance Crackdown

I was going to write up my own impressions of the Community Board 2 Public hearing – “Washington Square Speak Out” – held on December 19th on the performance crackdown at WSP. However, Albert Amateau at The Villager did such a great job reporting on the meeting that I’ve excerpted his piece, A symphony of no’s on Parks’ musician rules at speak-out”, here:

There was only one speaker on Monday in favor of the Parks Department’s citing musicians and other performers in Washington Square Park for violating park rules. The lone supporter was Bill Castro, Manhattan borough Parks Department commissioner, who told a packed audience that the recently enforced rules still allow buskers plenty of room to perform in Washington Square — as long as they’re 50 feet from any monument and 5 feet from a bench.

“The rules are not intended to ban performers from this or any other park, regardless of whether they solicit or accept contributions,” Castro said.

“The department seeks to regulate and accommodate a variety of activities and uses,” Castro added, but he promised that the department would review and reconsider the enforcement policy that began in the park around May. The rules only apply to buskers, meaning performers who accept cash contributions.

Given that Washington Square, the spawning ground in decades past of music luminaries including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, has benches along its paths and large monuments, including the iconic arch, the central fountain, the Garibaldi statue and the monument to Alexander Lyman Holley, the claim of “plenty of room” rang hollow.

All others at the Dec. 19 speak-out, sponsored by Community Board 2 and its Parks Committee, called for an end to what they called an anti-life and hypocritical enforcement effort.

Indeed, one speaker, Mitchel Cohen, mocked the rules, saying he was in favor of barring musicians because they interrupted the sound of jackhammers and sirens and they prevented people from getting close to the monuments.

“Everybody knows that people come to Washington Square Park from all over the world to see the Holley Monument,” Cohen quipped.

Gregory Nissen, a theater composer and pianist, introduced himself as Robert Zimmerman who just blew in from Minneapolis with his banjo, but decided to leave because the cops wouldn’t let him play in Washington Square.

Katie Kat, a soprano and voice instructor at New York University who performs under the arch (“great acoustics”) with her partner, Roxanne Walitzki, sang part of an aria from Puccini’s “La Bohème” at the end of her remarks and won admiring applause.

C.B. 2 members Keen Berger and Doris Diether, both speaking as individuals, urged an end to the enforcement.

Berger, a resident near Washington Square for 47 years, said she has visited the park at least 2,000 times. She said she cherished the music and didn’t recall negative reactions against performers.

Diether reminded the forum that performance in Washington Square dates back more than 50 years.

“This is ridiculous,” Diether said about the enforcement, which she recalled started two or three months ago. “First, they said that musicians were blocking the pathways. Then, they said there was no solicitation in the park. The rules are idiotic and the Parks commissioner [Adrian Benepe] should be told they’re idiotic and they should be thrown out,” Diether said.

“The people who perform are the people who keep the park safe,” said Susan Goren, a regular parkgoer known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.” The rules, she said, are eliminating what people find joyful in the park.

A longtime jazz performer known as Black Bobby said, “First they came for the black folks. Now, from the look of the audience here tonight [largely white], it seems that there is equality.”

and…

Robert Lederman, president of A.R.T.I.S.T. (Artists’ Response To Illegal State Tactics), reminded the meeting that he has a pending federal lawsuit challenging the city’s rules limiting where artists can vend art and other expressive matter in Union Square, on the High Line and in Central Park and Battery Park. The rules were only imposed on musicians, according to Lederman, after he raised the issue to Parks that musicians were excluded from the Union Square limits, while vendors were forced to abide by them.

Lederman, who cited an editorial, “Don’t ban the buskers” in last week’s issue of The Villager, said the rules practically ban artists and musicians from any New York City park.

The activist said the hypocrisy of the rules is apparent from the city-sponsored holiday markets that pre-empt space in Union Square and other parks.

Lorie Moody, a resident of 2 Fifth Ave., agreed, citing the Greenmarket in Union Square and “the less-than-glorious, white-tented event in Washington Square,” referring to the annual Taste of The Village event under the Washington Square arch.

Colin Huggins, “The Crazy Piano Guy,” who wheels his piano to play in Washington Square and other parks, said he has received summonses that would cost more than $2,000 in fines if they are not eventually dismissed. He said his playing brings people together.

Joe Mangrum, who does sand painting in Union Sq. and Washington Square, has also received numerous summonses.

“New York City is unique because there is this creative freedom,” Mangrum said. The city, he said, appears to be “militarizing’” the park.

“Freedom is the most important thing we have. If you don’t have that you don’t have a country,” Mangrum said.

Ryo Sasaki, a jazz trumpeter, said he came to New York four years ago from Japan because of the music culture. He has been playing in Washington Square Park for three years, “and suddenly this season we cannot do it anymore,” he said. “I learned to play music in school but I never learned how to entertain and communicate with people. Those skills I learned in Washington Square Park,” Sasaki said.

“The city crated a problem that never existed,” said Natalie Albert, a neighborhood resident for 40 years.

Community Board 2 to Hold “Washington Square Park Speak Out” on Performance Crackdown Monday, December 19th

Opera Under the Arch! (August 2011)

As I reported in yesterday’s post on the performance crackdown at Washington Square (and the media surrounding it), CB2 plans to come out of hiding on issues relating to WSP and hold a public forum.

Mark your calendar!
Community Board 2 Washington Square Park Speak Out — Monday, December 19th, 6:30 p.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, 8th Floor.

A note: No women spoke at Sunday’s press conference on this issue. It’s true there are less female performers at the park. I wonder why that is? I encountered these two women in the summer singing opera under the Arch. The Arch is known for its acoustics; as Katie Kat, left, said, the Arch is “the spot to sing.”

Previously on WSP Blog: Opera Under the Arch! August 4, 2011

Washington Square Park Redesign Phase II-B/Chess Plaza Finally Sees Some Action * Completion by Month’s End?

Updated — Work began again on Phase II-B / Chess Plaza last week! We’ll see if it keeps going and will get to completion by month’s end (previous completion dates for this section have been: Fall 2010/December 2010/Spring 2011/ Memorial Day/end of Summer/end of September – last official date given).

Looking South...

Lawn Installed

West Side

Grass Awaiting Installation Weekend

Chess Plaza Almost Complete

See an overview, dissatisfaction with oversight on the project, and last WSP Blog post on Phase II delays here.

Note: I don’t know what to make of these strange little plants/shrubs in the middle of the Chess Plaza (photo is dark – hard to see). You might recall the Chess Plaza area used to be an open unobstructed space. They made this area smaller (stating it was “un-utilized” I believe was the term from the Parks Commissioner) and broke up the flow of the area with these “flower” beds in the center. Since so much of the redesign is about “symmetry,” of course, Chess Plaza had to have a flower bed in its center but I think it would have been better served without one.

Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of Washington Square Park Redesign Project As Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks

Amended sign- Completion Date: "Or whenever... zzz"

On September 29th, I wrote about how construction on the SouthWest Quadrant/Chess Plaza at Washington Square Park had been stopped for about 3 weeks. 5 weeks passed with no movement or signs of life on this last piece of long overdue Redesign: Phase II work. At this point, delays in the project do not surprise me. Why this is happening is due to a dispute between the Parks Department and the contractor (more on that later).

What does surprise me is the lack of oversight by just about everyone you’d expect to be monitoring this project.

Let’s review the players —

Washington Square Park Task Force

There IS a Washington Square Park Task Force – although you’d never know it – this body seemed to dissolve once City Council Member Alan Gerson left office – replacement Margaret Chin has been totally MIA on the project. Community Board 2 has pretended that the Task Force doesn’t exist and Council Speaker Christine Quinn has not prompted it to keep going. The body was part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement,” created for the express purpose of giving the community an opportunity to provide oversight on the project and monitor work on the park’s redesign. In March of 2010, I wrote a piece about how the only way the Task Force would function properly is if it was separated from Community Board 2. Clearly, that remains accurate.

Community Board 2

Trees are dying, work is stopped, project is months behind schedule, budget continues ballooning, something is wrong with the Fountain … and yet Community Board 2 has only chimed in – with regards to WSP in the last year – when they sent out Bob Gormley to talk to the media about the bathroom hours being cut.

Brad Hoylman is back after a 2 year hiatus as Chair of the Board (CB2 chairs only serve 2 year terms). Some may have mixed feelings on his role in the negotiations for the park’s redesign years prior, and he does, after all, work for pro-Bloomberg entity, Partnership for New York City. My experience was that he was pretty decent at moving things along and bringing up and addressing issues during the period I first became involved (2008).

However, since Hoylman returned in June of this year, there’s been no progress or spotlight on the park by the board. He’s left Parks Committee chair Tobi Bergman in charge. As I’ve mentioned, Bergman is a former Parks Department employee who doesn’t take a very hard look at anything related to the Parks Department (in fact, his current job is somewhat dependent on the city agency).

NY City Council

No involvement at all. Council Member Margaret Chin’s office completely unresponsive. Council Speaker Christine Quinn – who was a huge part of the “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” – is hands off at this point but, then, she’s not being pushed to be involved by the bodies that ought to be doing so – the Community Board and Task Force.

We know that the Parks Department is a dysfunctional agency, and so, at this point, this is a project run amok.

************************************************
An Overview:

Phase II Original completion date: Fall 2010. Work was split into two parts earlier this year — Phase II-A (eastern end) opened June 2nd. Budget for all three phases of the park’s elaborate redesign was $16 Million – that figure has now doubled.

************************************************

Previously on WSP Blog: Has Phase II just stopped? September 29, 2011

Village Parks Updates – 1, 2, 3, … 4?

Update on My Update —  Part 4 Update from Community Board 2 Parks Meeting is Coming. Like Washington Square, the other neighborhood parks – Bleecker Playground & Sitting Area, Petrocino Square, Seravalli are behind schedule and problem-plagued. Yet, they aren’t getting attention from anyone, except a piece here or there in The Villager. I want my report back to be comprehensive and recount some of the history of these projects. That requires additional work, thought and energy. In the meantime, if you missed the first three updates from the meeting, here they are:

Part 1: Projected Opening for WSP Phase II; Washington Square Given Minimal Attention at CB2 Parks Meeting

Part 2: Update on Washington Square Phase II from CB 2 Meeting Last Week (Seating Alcoves and Initial Landmarks Preservation Commission Hearings)

Part 3: High Line Phase 2 to Open Late Spring; Restaurant in 2013; Privatized Park Keeps Getting Grander – And More Expensive to Maintain

Part 2 – Update on Washington Square Park Phase II from Community Board 2 Meeting Last Week

– Updated –

* Washington Square Park Seating alcoves reduced in size contrary to agreement?

* A Look back at Landmarks Preservation 2 Hearings On WSP Phase II in 2009

* Has Community Board 2 Colluded with the Parks Department to Keep Phase II Under Wraps?

* & More!

As I reported in Part 1 of my report back from the April 6th Community Board 2 meeting, Phase II construction at Washington Square Park (parts, of course, that weren’t moved into Phase III) on the Eastern side will be finished and open sometime “around Memorial Day” with the Chess Plaza opening in June.

At the meeting, Community member Margie Rubin asked about the seating alcove in the Northeastern section of the park – across from the playground – which was promised to be the “exact same size.” She said that this alcove is now “1/2 the size. Why was it cut down?

The community fought to keep the seating alcoves in the park; the Parks Department wanted to remove most of them. At the Landmarks Preservation Commission two hearings addressing Phase II in 2009, the Parks Department agreed to increase the proposed number of seating alcoves from 1 1/2 to four. (Previously, there were six, or seven, depending who you ask.)

Brad Romaker from Capital Projects division — who was sent to the meeting by the Parks Department to give the status report on Phase II and was unfamiliar with the finer points of the park’s plan — said he did not know what happened but would find out. (A woman involved with another Parks project at the meeting told me that Romaker can be quite helpful and can get things done.)

This led to discussion in which Tobi Bergman (CB2 Parks Committee chair) said post-Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings that the seating alcoves were never supposed to be the same size.

My understanding was that three of the alcoves remained the same size except for one on the southeast side (which also endured a change of location to the southern side of the park at some point after the LPC meeting). I will revisit the alcoves; nonetheless, it was clearly stated that the alcove on the northeastern side would retain its size.

See highlights from previous blog posts below from the two Landmarks Preservation Commission meetings in 2009 addressing Phase II:

* Highlights from LPC Public Hearing March 17th on WSP (posted March 20,2009):

Currently there are six seating alcoves at Washington Square Park which exist on the north, northeast, and southeast sides of the Park. The Parks Department’s plan is to eliminate all except for one (which will remain in its entirety on the north side, across from the playground) and to retain a 1/4 or a 1/2 of another (on the eastern side).

* Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; NYC Parks Department agrees to increase # of alcoves (posted April 15th, 2009):

The Parks Department, represented by Charles McKinney and designer George Vellonakis, started out stating that they were prepared to add one or two more alcoves to the originally proposed two. However, they preferred three. George Vellonakis said that ideally a fourth would be omitted because its location inside the Park lawn on the (south) east side “distracts the view and expansion of the lawn.” The other reasons given by Mr. Vellonakis for omitting that fourth alcove were possible damage to surrounding tree roots and that that area in the new design undergoes a “geometry change.”

The Parks Department stated that the fourth alcove would be very small and “intimate” but how small I’m not sure.

Mr. Bergman then said that this was due to “different memories” and stated that everyone had a chance to “look at the blueprints.” Actually, that is not true specifically because of his collusion with the city Parks Department. The CB2 Parks Committee chair has prevented any substantive look at or discussion of Phase II designs.

A Parks Department long-awaited presentation on Phase II that was supposed to happen in February 2010 (after the Department admitted being unprepared at a meeting in December 2009) never happened. The blueprints were dropped off at this February 2010 meeting (over one year ago) and left on a table with no opportunity for discussion or review – this was five months after the work had already started. Mr. Bergman does not have a lot of credibility when it comes to the issue of Washington Square Park, Phase II and blueprints.

When asked about the tiles which previously lay in Teen Plaza that children in the ’70’s had created; some of which were supposed to be moved into the newly designed Children’s Playground, Mr. Romaker did not know if this had happened but also that he would find out. I was also curious about the historical markers which are in Phase III — Mr. Romaker did not know about these and again said he would get the answer.

There’s more! Part 3 from the meeting coming on the other parks.

* In 2008, I wrote an 8 part report after a Washington Square Park Task Force meeting so I certainly can find things to write about after attending these meetings!

Projected Opening for WSP Phase II; Washington Square Again Given Short Shrift by Parks Department and CB2

"Spring 2011" completion now means around or after Memorial Day

We have a date. Or, at least, close to one. Projected opening for the entire Eastern side of Washington Square Park Phase II, currently under construction, is slated for “Around Memorial Day.” That’s the (latest) word from the NYC Parks Department stated last night at a meeting of Community Board 2’s Parks Committee. The agency is now saying “early June” for the Chess area and Southwestern Plaza (tho’ I doubt the Eastern and SW sections will open so close together in time). As I predicted, Phase II is opening in two parts.

Yet again, however, Community Board 2 and the Parks Department paid scant attention to one of the city’s most prominent parks. First, Washington Square Park was listed last on the published agenda of topics to be covered, almost as if an afterthought.

The focus on the meeting was updates on the status of seven Greenwich Village area parks, including Seravalli Playground, Petrocino Park, Minetta Playground, JJ Walker Field, Bleecker Playground & Comfort Station/Bleecker Sitting Area, and the High Line. One of these is only .03 of an acre.

Then, at the meeting, instead of an update presented by designer George Vellonakis or WSP Park Administrator Rebecca Ferguson (neither was present), it was given by Brad Romaker from the Capital Projects division of the Parks Department. Romaker has a disarming honesty that also makes him immensely likable. However, that can’t make up for the fact that he was sent in to the meeting with little knowledge of any of the projects he updated on, other than what was contained on a piece of paper from which he read updates.

As far as Washington Square Park Phase III — Restrooms and Parks’ Administrative Building, which now also includes the Mounds and Large Dog Run (previously in Phase II) — Romaker informed the community that this will go out for contractor bids in May. He said construction on Phase III will begin in “late summer” (I believe this is highly unlikely).

The Parks Department has not updated on Washington Square substantively in more than a year. I question their judgment in not sending someone familiar with the project to update the community and New Yorkers on this historic and landmark New York City park.

This is Part I update on the meeting. Part II to follow Monday, April 11th.

* The Skinny on Phase II Construction and Why it’s so behind schedule.

Community Board 2 To Address Status of Neighborhood Parks Including Washington Square Wed. April 6th

Community Board 2 Parks Committee MEETING
Wednesday, April 6th, 6:45 PM

Community Board 2 announced some long delayed topics will appear on its April 6 agenda including “status of capital projects in CB2 parks”: Washington Square, Seravalli Playground, Petrocino Park, Minetta Playground, JJ Walker Field, Bleecker Playground Comfort Station, and Bleecker Sitting Area.

There are so many parks listed mainly because it’s been six months and longer since any substantive discussion has occurred of these projects.

Also on the packed agenda is an update on the 2nd phase of the High Line opening.

Notably absent? Whether there will be discussion of Washington Square 2nd phase opening date.

(If you’re thinking this seems highly unusual, that’s because it is. This is how Community Board 2 handles their – and one of New York City’s – most prominent park and public space.)

Meeting Location: NYU Silver Building, 32 Waverly Place, off Washington Square East, Room 714.