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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | Few people showed up last week for the first of what Battery Park City Authority president Gayle Horwitz said would be quarterly Town Hall meetings to discuss neighborhood issues.
On Nov. 17, fewer than 100 people were in the auditorium of P.S. 276 to hear Horwitz and other B.P.C.A. officials accompanied by Michael H. Dockett, Assistant Commissioner, Urban Park Service, field written questions from the audience. William C. Thompson, Jr., chairman of the Battery Park City Authority, was not at the meeting.
Horwitz opened the meeting by reading from notes describing some of the Battery Park City Authority’s activities and accomplishments over the past year. She was particularly effusive on the subject of the ball fields, which are now covered with state-of-the-art artificial turf. She ended her remarks with a mention of the recent layoffs at the Authority, during which 19 people were terminated.
“The Authority is at a crossroads in our history and our mission is changing,” she said. “We’re closing our chapter as a real estate developer and opening a new chapter as an owner/manager. In an effort to meet our ongoing mission of ensuring a community of quality residential, commercial and park space, the Authority has restructured its operations including the consolidation of certain departments and functions. This restructuring will better position the Authority to meet its operational challenges moving forward while maintaining our high level of service to the community.”
Most of the questions that followed dealt with quality-of-life issues in Battery Park City. “Can we set up a Battery Park City version of Notify NYC to alert residents and workers to events such as this week’s lockdown?” Community Board 1 member Jeff Galloway wondered.
“That’s a great idea,” Horwitz replied. “I think it’s something we’ll go back and take a look at and figure out a way to implement.”
She also said she would take a look at issues such as the problems that residents of Little West Street have with “no standing” signs that lead to tickets when they try to load and unload their cars in front of the buildings where they live and at the need for more bicycle racks around P.S. 276.
“We’re constantly looking at adding bike racks,” Horwitz said.
The problem of the proliferation of rats in Battery Park City evoked a long discussion. Tessa Huxley, who heads the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy, said that people add to the problem when they are careless with their food or when they feed squirrels and birds. “Feeding the birds actually feeds the rats and the rats will also eat the birds’ feces,” she said.
“We’ll put together a rat agenda,” Horwitz promised. “This will not be something that happens overnight because it has to be comprehensive. Feel free to email me about rats.”
Pat Smith, who served on the committee that negotiated a ground rent settlement with the Authority, stood up to express his thanks. “They didn’t have to do the deal,” he said. “Everyone here knows that Albany and City Hall would very much like to get their hands on that money so it took some courage on the part of the Authority and it took some courage on the part of Speaker [Sheldon] Silver to agree to do this thing because it was right. They didn’t have to. I just wanted to say thank you.”
Horwitz seemed appreciative of the commendation.
There were a few hardball questions. Tom Goodkind, a member of Community Board 1, asked what had happened to the prospect of lions in front of the Battery Park City library. “In April of this year, our Community Board voted 34 in favor, seven opposed, to a resolution supporting the library lions by Tom Otterness subject to your approval and asked that you continue to work with this artist to move this art into the Battery Park City collection of Otterness’ works,” he said. “And the board also expressed gratitude to an anonymous donor who gave all the money to Tom Otterness – not to the Authority – in order to build this for free. So then you wrote to the Board chair, Julie Menin, that this art would need to go through a process. That was in June. Since then, we haven’t heard anything. It’s sort of sad to see this thing fall out of the way. It was voted on by the entire Community Board. What is the process and when can we expect the process to begin?”
Horwitz replied that the process would have to entail an R.F.P. and “a determination that this was indeed an appropriate place for a piece of public art.” She said that the other complicating factor was “the way it was presented to me – I had no prior notification and at a Community Board meeting I was told that this artwork would be donated to the Authority and that it would be donated by an anonymous donor.”
Goodkind said that the money was to be donated to Otterness himself. Horwitz promised to look into the matter further.
Then Jay Fine raised a question about the layoffs. “I read in the Downtown Express and in the Daily Broadsheet about the firings last week, and I was thinking that with people with institutional expertise going away, how much is going to be spent on consultants over the next several years?” he asked.
“Tonight is not about talking about personnel issues,” Horwitz replied, “but I will assure you that the services that this community has grown accustomed to will not be affected in any way.”
She then immediately went on to the next question. “The bikes on the esplanade are going to kill someone,” a member of the audience complained. “What can be done about this?”
Subsequently, Fine said in an email, “My question was at least as important as residents’ concerns about bicycles, dog waste and rats, since it affects the Authority’s ability to carry out its function. If they had thought through the impact of their actions they would have been able to easily address the issue. Plus, this still doesn’t explain why they carried out the firings in such a cruel and callous manner.
There were additional comments and questions about the light sculpture in the West Thames cul-de-sac, which broke soon after it was installed, the actions of the Park Enforcement Patrol, and whether Brookfield Properties is indeed adhering to its promise not to destroy the staircase in the Winter Garden.
Horwitz said that similar meetings will be held quarterly and that if Battery Park City residents have issues or comments, they should email her. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.