Highlights from the Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Here are some of the highlights from Tuesday’s (March 17) Landmarks Preservation Commission public hearing on Washington Square Park Phase II Redesign:

* Charles McKinney from the New York City Parks Department gave the overview of the City’s retooled plan for Washington Square Park in Phase II focusing on the alcoves and the performance area. (Landmarks was also supposed to look at the pathways but these were not addressed – verbally, at least.) The landscape designer behind the City’s dramatic and oh-so-symmetrical redesign plan for the park, George Vellonakis, was there to assist him with visuals for the presentation.

Seating Alcoves

* 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).

… Council Member Gerson: Alcoves are part of the “core Washington Square Park experience”

* New York City Council Member Alan Gerson appeared (!) and made a very important statement to the Commission advocating on behalf of the alcoves and the performance area. Council Member Gerson asked the LPC to hold off on a decision and not approve the plan before them. He remarked that the Washington Square Park Task Force and the Parks Department have “come so far” in their discussions over this and are “almost there” in reaching an agreement. He spoke of how important the alcoves are to “the core Washington Square Park experience” and said the replacement of seven (I count six but hey…) with one “deprives the community.”

* Council Member Gerson also stated that the removal of the majority of the alcoves “violates the spirit and letter between Speaker Quinn and myself on the one hand and the Parks Department on the other” (referring to the Gerson-Quinn Agreement). The Gerson-Quinn Agreement (which Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe doesn’t consider binding) called for keeping the alcoves in the Park’s design.

* Tobi Bergman spoke on behalf of the Washington Square Park Task Force in agreement with Council Member Gerson asking for modifications to the Parks Department’s plan.

... LPC Commissioner: Why can’t the alcoves be included? Parks Department: Here’s why….

* Many other Park users and advocates made compelling statements on behalf of the alcoves as places where people read, study, socialize, perform, eat lunch or just observe the park from a different vantage point to such a degree that by the end of the meeting, one of the Landmarks Commissioners finally asked, “why can’t the alcoves be included?Great question!

So what was Mr. McKinney’s reply to this? According to Mr. McKinney, the Parks Department’s view is that the alcoves …. “attract activities that are undesirable.” Hmmm.

Performance Area

* The current Garibaldi / Teen Plaza area (to east and southeast of the Fountain) acts as a stage for the Washington Square Music Festival and a host of other uses including rallies, protests, traveling high school bands, book festivals, musical performances, food festivals, and more. Mr. McKinney stated that as currently configured the area is “too isolated.” (??) Apparently, the Parks Department’s goal was to create a “centralized” space but truthfully it seems more isolated when you look at the plans.

… Washington Square Music Festival: “stage too small, too low, and without a backstage preparation area.” stage height “creates sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.”

* Peggy Friedman, the executive director of the Washington Square Music Festival made a perplexing statement, first saying to the Landmarks Preservation Commission “with reluctance, I ask you to approve this plan.” She then elaborated on this statement remarking that the stage is too small, there is no appropriate back stage and that the stage height (it is currently an acceptable 36″ tall; in the plan, it is reduced to 28″) creates “sight line problems for viewers beyond the first few rows.” She said the area is “too small, too low and without a backstage preparation area.” (As currently configured, the “backstage” is located to the west and “in clear view of the audience.”)

* Another woman from the Festival spoke and stated that the stage itself is so improperly designed that if they want to present their typical 24 musicians and a conductor they would “not fit on the stage as currently proposed” and the Festival would have to “curtail the scale of some of our programs.” She said that the plan is “sadly inadequate for our needs.” Note: we are talking about a plan that was created fresh, right? It is supposed to work for the community’s needs and yet clearly does not.

Random

* Mr. McKinney stated at the end that the Parks Department believed a “small amount of people” were “somewhat unhappy” with this plan and they’d “prefer not to have a delay.”

* There were about three people who spoke in favor of the design… one who just wanted to see the plan move forward… and including community member Gil Horowitz who referred to it as the “Olmsteadian-inspired Vellonakis design.”

* Susan Goren from local group, ECO (Emergency Coalition Organization to Preserve Washington Square Park), read from a letter she wrote to Parks Commissioner Benepe stating: “Despite promises to the contrary, Washington Square Park’s historic use as a gathering space and as a performance space is being destroyed as the park is turned into Henry James’ Washington Square Park, lovely in the early 1800s, but hardly desirable in our modern world.”

LPC vote in 2005 one of the questionable moments in history of Park’s redesign plan

Another bit of trickery is that when Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the City’s redesign plan in May 2005 (another dodgey moment in the history of this plan), as Mr. McKinney explicitly noted, there were no alcoves and there was no performance area. One of the Landmarks Commissioners asked on Tuesday, “I don’t remember an outcry over the alcoves” (at the time). This is because it was stated – at that time – that this all would be revisited in later phases and yet the Parks Department believes the entire plan was approved without these elements so now anything they add in looks like a bonus. To them.

So… what’s next?

Head LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney said he’d like for the LPC Commissioners to “come back, discuss and then take an action.” He stated that that meeting shouldn’t be too far off in the future. Once that date is set, I will let you know.

Landmarks Preservation Commission Meets Today Tues. March 17th on Washington Sq Park

Today Tuesday, March 17th Phase II of Washington Square Park Redesign goes before Landmarks Preservation Commission at 4:15 p.m. Public comment is encouraged. Arrive 3:30 p.m.

The major historical, aesthetic, and cultural usage being destroyed relates to:

* loss of public space in the destruction of four and a half of the six seating alcoves (eastern side of park and southeastern – visible on right side of map). Much utilized and beloved and add character to the Park;

* the reduction in space and usage around Garibaldi/Teen Plaza (area in middle of diagram, to right of fountain circle);

* the removal of the entrance to the park at Thompson Street, shifting it to the east so that it can (like the Fountain) align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. (Does this represent symmetry run amuk?

*The great reduction of space at the northeast corner (upper right hand corner of diagram). Soon to be a “plaza” (one at each corner of the Park – neat and pretty and functional. No picnic tables allowed).

If you plan to speak at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, please consider orienting your comments to the historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of the park’s design plan.

It’s not clear if Community Board 2, Washington Square Park Task Force, Council Speaker Quinn, Council Member Gerson, etc. will weigh in with their feelings to LPC (supposedly against this…)… ? Although the hearing was delayed a month so that, supposedly, the NYC Parks Department could respond to “community” concerns, it appears they made some small modifications to accommodate the Washington Square Music Festival (figuring not doing so would get them in hot water) but did not address any of the community’s other (real) concerns.

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Details: Tuesday, March 17th, arrive 3:30 p.m.; hearing 4:15 p.m. Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing on Washington Square Park Next Phase Redesign, 1 Centre Street (at Chambers), 9th floor, Manhattan

Trains: 2, 3, 4, 5, N, R, J, M, Z (Centre-Chambers Streets, City Hall-Brooklyn Bridge stops)

Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing on Washington Square Park on Tuesday, February 17th * How will City’s presentation to LPC differ from bare bones presentation given to Community Board 2?

Strawberry Fields, Central Park (Designated Scenic Landmark 1974)

Strawberry Fields, Central Park (Designated Scenic Landmark 1974)

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday, February 17th around the Parks’ Department’s plans for Phase II of Washington Square Park redesign. If you’d like to see the plans, they are available as of today (February 12th) at the LPC.

The New York City Parks Department via landscape designer George Vellonakis showed some minimal “before-and-after” drawings of the plan to the Washington Square Park Task Force/Community Board 2 Parks Committee at their meeting last week (February 4).

Of course, it is nothing new for the Parks Department to try to ‘get away’ with presenting the bare minimum (and obscuring certain facts and figures) but will the Community Board or Task Force at last object?

The aspects of the park being altered in Phase II include:

– “Teen Plaza”/Garibaldi Plaza – reworking of the area and new stage (reduced in height and size)

– Removal of a number of the seating alcoves (one and a half is being preserved out of six)

-Reworking of the pathways in the park

-Reconfiguring (reduction) of the Northeast and Southwest “Plazas”

* According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission web site:

How does the Community Board participate in the Public Hearing Process?

[Applicant – in this case City of New York-Parks Department] must present your proposal to your local Community Board before the LPC public hearing. Typically you will appear before the Community Board’s Landmarks Committee; your presentation should be the same one that you use for the LPC. The Committee will then make a recommendation to the full Board, which will send a letter to the LPC stating that the Board supports, opposes or recommends modifications to the application. Failure to appear before the Community Board may result in a negative recommendation from the Board, and can delay the LPC’s final decision on your proposal.

Community Board 2 Chair Brad Hoylman says the Community Board is working on a resolution which will be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday. It is unclear if that will be a resolution from : the Washington Square Park Task Force? Community Board 2 as a whole? the Parks Committee of CB2? the Landmarks Committee of CB2 ? All of the above?

Mr. Hoylman also informed me that although the Landmarks Committee did not have its own presentation of the plan (it was on the committee’s agenda, and then subsequently removed) – and was not included in the February 4th meeting – that the committee has members who are also part of the Parks Committee (who will give input). I am unclear if that suffices. I was told by a member of the Landmarks Committee that typically when an applicant comes before the committee, the committee is shown: architectural renderings, examples of materials to be used, example of railings and how they are going to join, etc.

In other words, much more detail.

Since the Parks Department only showed minimal information at the Washington Square Park Task Force meeting on February 4th, will they be showing additional information to the Landmarks Preservation Commission? If so, is that acceptable to the Washington Square Park Task Force and Community Board 2?

If you plan to speak at the Landmarks Preservation Commission, please consider orienting your comments to the historical, cultural, and aesthetic aspects of the park’s design plan.

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Details: Tuesday, February 17th, time tbd(to be announced Friday, February 13th), Landmarks Preservation Commission Public Hearing on Washington Square Park Next Phase Redesign, 1 Centre Street (at Chambers), 9th floor, Manhattan

Materials available for Public Viewing in advance as of today, Thursday, February 12th.

Trains: 2, 3, 4, 5, N, R, J, M, Z (Centre-Chambers Streets, City Hall-Brooklyn Bridge stops)

I will update with the time once announced.

Photo: Wally G

NY City Council to hold Public Hearing Monday, Feb. 9th Regarding Banning use of Artificial Turf and Additional Testing on Rubber Mats

The Parks & Recreation Committee of the New York City Council will hold a public hearing on Monday, February 9, at 10 AM in the Council Chambers at City Hall around eliminating use of artificial turf in NYC parks and fields (already in ‘play’ in over 90 locations!) and requiring temperature testing (and possibly banning) of “safety surface” (you know, those rubber mats that kids have burned their feet on…) before further usage. Both are being considered for use at Washington Square Park in Phase 2 of the Park’s redesign.

Meeting details and link to actual resolutions:

Details: Int 739 – By Council Members Baez, James, Gioia, Mark-Viverito, Gonzalez, Palma and Arroyo –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to prohibiting the use of certain synthetic turf on surfaces used for recreational purposes.

Int 896 – By Council Members de Blasio, Lappin, Barron, Brewer, Gerson, Gonzalez and James –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring signage warning of heat dangers of playground mats.

Int 918 – By Council Member Stewart –

A Local Law to amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the surface areas of playgrounds and playing fields.

Res 1782 – By Council Member Mark-Viverito – Resolution calling upon the New York State Legislature to amend Section 399-dd of the General Business Law to allow municipalities to enact local laws regarding playground equipment and the
Department of Parks and Recreation to require a temperature test for all equipment installed in parks and playgrounds, including safety surfacing, and to prohibit such materials from being installed that pose a health or burn danger to exposed skin.

A Letter from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn re: Term Limits Vote

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn sent this letter out yesterday via email to New Yorkers who had contacted her expressing their opposition (prior to the vote) to the City Council overturning of voted-in term limits.

Ms. Quinn writes:

As I’m sure you now know, on October 23rd the Council voted to extend term limits for city elected officials from two to three four-year terms.

I understand how strongly you and others felt about this issue. This decision wasn’t one that the Council and I took lightly, and it came with a great deal of deliberation, dialogue and debate, including two days and nights of public hearings.

WSP Blog Note: which she didn’t attend.

I realize there’s very little I can say at this point to convince you that my support for extending term limits was based solely on what I absolutely believed in my heart was best for our City: that in these extraordinarily difficult times, New Yorkers should have the choice to keep their current leadership or vote us out at the polls.

WSP Blog: As Council Member Bill de Blasio (Brooklyn) said the day of the crucial vote … by taking away the voters’ right to choose, Mayor Bloomberg and Christine Quinn make the argument, in true Orwellian fashion, that they are giving the voters more choice.

I would like to promise you this, though. As Speaker, I will continue to work as hard as I can each and every day to earn your trust and respect and to help make city government more responsive and effective for all New Yorkers.

WSP Blog: Responsive… would have been listening to the voices of New Yorkers -89% of whom stated in a Quinnipiac poll they did not think the New York City Council should overturn these previous votes.

Next November, you and other voters will have the opportunity to vote for me, any of my colleagues, or Mike Bloomberg for another four years – or to make a change. The decision will ultimately be yours. That, to me, is the essence of democracy.*

As difficult as this decision was, I appreciate and respect your views and hope we can continue to work together during these tough economic times.

Sincerely,
Christine C. Quinn, Speaker

* definition (Webster’s Dictionary): democracy (n) : government by the people

Game On, Mayor Bloomberg

Much focus on the national election today. And a lot of electricity in the air. All warranted of course. But it’s hard not to think that NYC Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg scheduled his signing of the overturning term limits legislation for Monday, November 3rd when he knew that any news reported, today – Election Day – that wasn’t about, well, the election, would be somewhat obscured. Smart guy, our Mayor.

Except I can’t help thinking that he has overreached. He plotted every last aspect of this elaborate scenario. He maneuvered the system like no one’s seen in a long time. Mr. Bloomberg lined up the media editorial boards, fellow corporate CEOs, reluctant billionaires, compliant charitable groups which receive the benefit of his personal fortune, and 29 New York City Council members to go along with his master plan. And he accomplished his goal: the chance to install himself (with the help of $80 million dollars) for another 4 years of unprecedented power to “finish” what he started and couldn’t quite seem to push through in eight years.

I’m sure our billionaire Mayor is thinking that next year, his last year under this second term, and then the next four, will be like his previous seven.

He’d get away with his deceitful maneuverings to replace the city we know with the affluent, bland city he envisions. His under-functioning agencies would stay under the radar.

The media would continue to only talk about how great he is.

If something went wrong that fell under the domain of city governance, they wouldn’t link him to it by name.

The people who might raise a ruckus about it – mostly community groups – didn’t have the power to really get anyone’s ear. And so it goes.

Except, what if it didn’t?

What if this “game changing moment,” as Letitia James defined it on the day of the City Council term limits vote, is “game changing” for our Mayor?

Yesterday, he sat through four and a half hours at City Hall listening to the people, a large percentage of whom were very angry. They didn’t mince words. They told it like it is. As today’s New York Times article stated: “during the bill signing, a man unaccustomed to direct, public criticism endured a heavy – and very harsh – dose of it from those he governs.” Mr. Bloomberg probably figured he had no choice but to endure it (public comment is part of every bill signing) and this will be over – people have short memories, he memorably said – after this one day.

Except, what if it isn’t?

There was a young man who spoke yesterday at City Hall, David Tieu. His picture is in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and The New York Post. His testimony was show stopping. He said “look at how I’m dressed” which was supposed to signal something about his work but I wasn’t certain what. I read in the paper today that he is a deliveryman. He expressed how he had to drop out of City University when Mayor Bloomberg imposed further cuts onto the CUNY system (City University of New York). He stepped away from the mike and he pointed at Mr. Bloomberg and said: “You’re Public Enemy Number One! That’s all I have to say. To hell with your agenda!” Most of the stories didn’t go into that agenda leaving out mention of the whole having-to-drop-out-of-school thing and what his issue with Mayor Bloomberg is. Mr. Tieu took the day off from work to address the Mayor personally.

Josephine Lee of Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side critiqued Bloomberg’s rezoning plan for those and other neighborhoods, saying “all you’re doing is displacing working class communities and communities of color.”

Under Mayor Bloomberg, there have been more rezonings of neighborhoods than in the previous five administrations combined. Typically, these rezonings lead to displacement of long time residents and businesses. Replaced by shiny glass buildings, high rents, “luxury” housing, big box chain stores, more privatization and corporatization of, well, just about everything, and more shiny people. The kind Mr. Bloomberg likes.

What gave me hope about yesterday, this game changing moment, is, at last — in a public forum — hearing the stories that each individual told … seeing people’s faces, people coming together, people at last having a place to say what is so wrong with this Mayor and, yes, his agenda.

Game on.