Full Deck: CB4 Folds After 52-Item Agenda
BY WINNIE McCROY | The crowd was as thin as the agenda was thick at the July 31 Community Board 4 (CB4) meeting, held at Roosevelt Hospital. Among the 52-item agenda were issues of importance to the Chelsea/Hell’s Kitchen neighborhoods, including the fate of the Bayview Correctional Facility, the proposed Hudson Yards Business Improvement District (BID), the Special West Chelsea District, the future of a new Fulton Houses project and a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding traffic at a corner where a man was recently struck and seriously injured.
“No one wants a boring neighborhood,” said Barbara Cohen, a consultant to the Hudson Yards BID steering committee, while singing the praises of the proposed BID. “We want to retain the diversity, creativity and all the contradictions that make New York City neighborhoods great.”
Steering committee member Kevin Singleton joined Cohen in explaining that the BID, was not for businesses only, but would provide services and improvements that would benefit the whole neighborhood.
“We support this BID with both our wallet and our mouth,” said Singleton. “This can coexist with the emerging Hudson Yards neighborhood, and serve the existing Hell’s Kitchen area. It will enhance existing city services and help maintain the Hudson Park and Boulevard and target additional sanitation services for Ninth Avenue. The BID will assess commercial, mixed-used and vacant buildings, and no resident tenant will pay more than the symbolic one dollar annual payment.”
Singleton added that they had received support from 60 percent of lot holders, and that public outcry regarding inclusivity may necessitate a name change to the Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards BID.
The BID was Item 37 on the agenda, and board member J.D. Noland noted that they had “attended planning meetings, engaged in the process and stressed how important it was that this continues. It is unusual to have a BID in a largely residential area, but we are adamant in saying that business is important, but not at the cost of the residents. We don’t want the Times Square BID, we want a partnership in this area.”
The board voted unanimously on a letter of support to the Department of City Planning, after adding a friendly amendment proposed by Betty Makintosh that the BID retain the character of the neighborhood while incorporating the new park and other areas.
During the subsequent public comments session, many vocalized their support, with Nancy Diaz, a resident at the Orion building, noting that the BID had reached out to a diverse constituency, and that the BID would help provide an additional source of voices for CB4.
Laura Kirschhawn said that the tenants in the 119-lot building at 41st Street and 10th Avenue were in favor of the BID, and thought it would improve the quality of life by increasing pedestrian safety and streetscaping. Kathleen Treat, chair of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, expressed her gratitude to the Land Use Committee for their unanimous vote in favor of the BID — and Paul Januszewski of Rockrose Development Corp. noted that it was important to have a strong advocate like Treat for the Hudson Park and Hudson Yards.
Lisa Wager, director of Government and Community Relations for the Fashion Institute of Technology, read a letter of support for the planned capital improvements to an area just blocks away from FIT’s student dorms. Also expressing support for the BID were representatives from Covenant House and board members from 502 Ninth Avenue.
PEDESTRIAN SAFETY A PRIORITY AFTER SERIOUS ACCIDENT
The call for pedestrian safety was intensified after a recent accident in which a bus crushed a local man’s legs. Item 49 dealt with a letter to the DOT regarding pedestrian safety.
“A man was hit by a bus going left on 43rd and Ninth and is in critical care,” said Marcus. “This is the 40th such accident at this intersection, so we must no longer request more safety measures. They must do this.”
Board members agreed to make this demand the first item of the letter. A resident from 350 43rd Street noted that residents were excited about the neighborhood’s upcoming construction projects, but very concerned for pedestrian safety, especially in light of this recent accident.
Senior citizen Fanny Cole said that she had spoken with CB4 Chair Christine Berthet (who is the founder of CHEKPEDS, the Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety) about the issue. Cole had the crowd laughing as she read aloud from her correspondences with the New York City DOT about traffic safety.
“I also spoke with the MTA about having them paint ‘Look Right’ or ‘Look Left’ on the ground at corners where buses turn,” said Cole. “At one point, they actually told me it would be too expensive to use all that paint. It is still impossible to cross 34th Street and Ninth Avenue, especially when you are elderly.”
ELECTEDS AND REPS REPORT TO CB4
Assembly Member Richard Gottfried was among those elected officials who attended the event to speak on community issues — among them, a controversial plan for building an addition to the Fulton Houses. Under a now-rejected proposal by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Artimus Properties would have bulldozed a children’s playground and community garden at the low-income housing site to building a parking lot (a design change from earlier plans for underground parking).
Gottfried said he would talk to the community about the situation before certifying any revised plans — and in an earlier meeting, State Senator Brad Hoylman called the plan “so appalling it defies credibility.” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn echoed this sentiment in a statement.
“I want to be clear, I do not and will not support a development plan that displaces a playground to make up for lost parking,” said Quinn. “We need more safe recreation spaces for our children, not less.”
Gottfried also noted that he had joined fast food workers in their one-day strike for a living wage, that he had helped build a new park on 39th Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues and that he had passed legislation to help Hudson River Park improve and become strengthened financially. This included moving the 30th Street Heliport 1,000 feet out into the river. “It’s better to have it 1,000 feet closer to New Jersey, as far as I’m concerned,” Gottfried said, before assuring the crowd that he bore no ill will toward New Jersey.
Representatives from other elected officials also shared updates. David Chizuk from Borough President Scott Stringer’s office said that a “Veggie Van” would be bringing residents 10-12 lbs. of fresh local produce to those tenant associations that had been left out of the sustainable local food movement.
Ellen Lewis from Hoylman’s office noted that the 2013 Legislative Session ended on June 22, and that Hoylman had worked to reform the board of the New York City Housing Authority, to put safety cameras in school zones, to distribute Hurricane Sandy relief, to support an urgent care center bill and to authorize a meningitis vaccine to address the city’s raging epidemic among gay men.
Harriet Sedgwick from Quinn’s office said the Speaker was pleased to have passed her eighth consecutive on-time budget. She was also glad that the enormous public outcry over Fulton Houses had been heard, and announced that a public lottery would be opened for Clinton Park Housing.
Finally, the representative from Congresswoman Caroline Maloney’s office noted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had done a 76-city raid, catching 150 sex traffickers and saving 105 children. Maloney co-sponsored legislation to provide more tools to stop human trafficking.
COMMUNITY TO BE INVOLVED IN FUTURE OF BAYVIEW SITE
After reaching out to Empire State Development (ESD), the company that bought the Bayview Correctional Facility at 550 West 20h Street, ESD expressed an interest in hearing from CB4 about the future of the site.
The issue was Agenda Item 30, and board member Joe Restuccia noted that during a tour of the facility, all CB4 members present expressed a concern that the Request for Proposal (RFP) would go to the highest bidder.
“There are meetings now to strategize about the future, and the ESD announced today that they are trying to get a community consensus on what happens to it,” said Restuccia.
Concerns included a desire to see the facility feature 30 percent affordable housing, historic preservation of the building’s façade and community use of the pool and gym (that remained from the building’s days as the Seamen’s YMCA).
“Bayview was a very good neighbor as a prison, and we would like to see some social service use of this building,” said Restuccia. “ESD agreed that we will be part of the RFP for figuring out the process. We did this with the Armory building, and the city and community benefited.”
Lee Compton said he would like to see the preservation of the facility’s chapel, and Brett Firfer spoke to the fact that moving prisons out to the county made it harder for families to keep in touch, having an impact on recidivism and reintegration into the community. Most agreed the prison was a good neighbor. “Bayview was so innocuous, most people didn’t even know it was there,” said board member Pamela Wolff. “In the ’70s, people thought it would be a big problem, but it was no problem at all. I personally feel the loss. It is a tragedy and I wish there was a way to address the 153 women who vanished overnight. I’m grateful the board has taken this issue seriously.”
AMBITIOUS AGENDA COVERS 52 ITEMS
District Manager Bob Benfatto shared his report, noting that CB4 had asked for a seat on the board of the Culture Shed, a Hudson Yards facility that will feature performance, arts and media. The community board has decried that the structure’s retractable hood covers part of the outdoor plaza.
They have demanded the city provide 20,000 square feet of public space to make up for the area that will be lost when the Shed holds private events, such as those during Fashion Week. In Item 34, the board agreed that the MTA would take 1,000 square feet, and the city would take another 1,000 square feet, which they would lease for public space.
In the interest of time, committee members bundled some agenda items for voting. The majority of the items were letters of support to various city agencies for new businesses, landmarking ratifications, land use and transportation issues. Noteworthy items include a decision to support XL Dance Bar (at 512 West 42nd Street) in their application to the State Liquor Authority (SLA), noting that the club had addressed complaints about loud music during their tea dances. Item 14 dealt with noise on the rooftop terrace of Yotel New York (570 10th Avenue, at West 42nd Street).
Building Licenses & Permits committee (BLP) co-chair Paul Sears said that the company had a new food and beverage provider who had taking care of some of the operating issues, but expressed concern over continuing negotiations with their lawyer Donald Bernstein.
“I have some issues with the way they are operating regarding the rooftop terrace events issue,” said Sears. “We agreed to terms in our meeting, and then he sent a revised list of stipulations. The community voted on one thing, and Yotel went and did another. The intention of the item is don’t make the rooftop loud so it affects the neighborhood.”
Board member Lisa Daglian said that they had received many complaints, and that Yotel had agreed to stipulations including no outside promoters, saying, “You can’t give away the store to outside people who are running their own events.”
Sears noted that he was concerned that they might file with a corporate change with the SLA and then go about the same method of operation as before, noting, “The SLA looks at hotels differently than bars, because the financial impact is larger.” The board eventually voted to pass the letter of support, with clarifications about outside promoters.
Two items addressed with exterior alterations in residential buildings, and a final BLP issue dealt with Traffic Bar at 701 Ninth Avenue, asking the SLA not to renew their liquor license due to noise issues, but noting that “they probably will anyway.”
HOUSING DOWNGRADES ‘REVOLTING’
Item 29 of the agenda addressed a situation dealing with new apartments being built at 546 West 44th Street. According to Restuccia, the developers created some extra units, and agreed to hold them at 80/20 housing. But when the developers suggested installing less opulent floors, counters and appliances in these low-income affordable apartments, CB4 said “No dice.”
“They met us halfway, but we wanted the countertops and floors to be the same in all units,” said Restuccia. “Our answer was no, it has to be the same in all.”
Restuccia said that they would vote “Denial, unless…” in the matter of a letter of support to Housing Preservation and Development regarding the building.
“The issue is revolting, and I am disgusted by it,” said Noland. Board member Pamela Wolff said that she was thrilled at the eloquence other board members had used in making this point clear to developers.
LAND USE A TOP PRIORITY IN SPECIAL WEST CHELSEA DISTRICT
Well into its second hour, the meeting reached a point of contention over Item 31, a letter of support to Cultivate HKNY over their help in refurbishing a local park. Board member Martin Treat was insulted when Restuccia said that, contrary to a comment in the public hearing session, the park was not designated by Audubon. After some disagreement about the wording of the letter, it was sent back to committee for changes.
Another bone of contention arose over Item 39, a letter to the Department of City Planning (DCP) requesting a study to include more land in the Special West Chelsea District. They request that the city include all streets from 10th Avenue between 15th and 30th Streets, rather than just the two and a half blocks around Chelsea Market.
“When we don’t have a special district, we get piecemeal,” said Noland. “We have been pushing since 2005 to include these areas.”
The DCP agreed to add the south side of 15th Street, saying the rest could wait. The board voted to pass a letter reiterating their recommendations to expand the Special District with the zoning intact, saying that when it was time to rezone, they would then consider the area within the context of the district.
“City Planning hates it, and we love it. Perhaps with the help of Speaker Quinn — or maybe ‘Mayor Quinn,’ — we may get it,” he said.
James Wallace suggested adding a map for clarification, and Lee Compton warned against creating “donut holes” to the north and south by not keeping the area designated as a light manufacturing district.
“The end of the Bloomberg era means we don’t have to give into higher FARs [Floor Area Ratios],” said Jay Marcus. “I hate the idea of saying that because this is what developers want, it is okay to raise the FAR or change manufacturing to commercial/residential. We, as CB4, need to take a harder stance, and keep it a manufacturing district, or change it from M1 to M24, to allow no hotels.”
NO MORE ILLEGAL BUS STOPS
An issue at the end of the meeting dealt with illegal bus stops in the area. Item 42 sought for ratification of a letter to the DOT over Intercity Bus Stops in CB4. It included a review on stops between 34th and 42nd Street, including what Daglian called “phantom stops.” According to board members, the DOT will begin enforcement of this law.
The meeting ended with the introduction of two new business items. One dealt with a letter recommending Advocacy New Yorkers for Parks, a 100-year-old parks advocacy group. After some discussion, board members decided it was not appropriate for CB4 to send their recommendation for the group to New York City mayoral candidates, noting that they typically worked with elected officials only.
A final proposal was also denied, regarding signing on, in a show of support with CB5, over non-compliant signage on Madison Square Garden.
“In the light of our original letter [about light issues] and the longevity of the lease in perpetuity, I’m hesitant,” said Compton. “Madison Square Garden is bathed in the light of signs, and this is a minor enforcement issue. I prefer not to do this.” CB4 Chair Corey Johnson withdrew the proposal, and the meeting was called to a close.
Normally held on the first Wednesday of the month, CB4’s next full board meeting will be held on Tuesday, September 3 (to account for the Labor Day weekend and a Jewish holiday). For more information, visit nyc.gov/mcb4.