Notes from a heckler: The Angry Buddhist returns

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Councilmember Margaret Chin, speaking at the recent “Community United Town Hall on N.Y.U. 2031,” is feeling the heat — and not just from the Angry Buddhist — from constituents impatient to know where she stands on the university’s superblocks mega-development plan.

BY CARL ROSENSTEIN  |  The restless spirits of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs were hovering over the proceedings at the big town hall meeting concerning N.Y.U.’s massive expansion plan and ULURP. There, the Angry Buddhist, seeker only of truth, was labeled a “heckler” by crack Villager reporter Al Amateau, when all I loudly demanded of Councilmember Chin was to “state your position!” The Villager editorial board should do so much.

This New York University proposal is not new. It has been on Chin’s desk for the two years she has been councilmember of Chinatown. Chin’s cloying comment, “I feel your passion and commitment to the issue” was disingenuous, manipulative and insulting to the 500 adults in the room. She was addressing us like first graders, in the same manner ruthless power broker Robert Moses would chide Jane Jacobs and Villagers, decades ago, for their opposition to his urban renewal plans that would have flattened the West Village; thus my “heckle” — “What is your position?”

Chin, coy as ever and in top form, refused to answer, but claimed all 51 councilmembers will decide the matter. This is bogus. Council protocol demands that if the councilmember from the district impacted by a purely local land-use matter vociferously opposes the proposal, the colleagues will fall in line. This happened precisely last fall when Chin had her colleagues, with no opposition save for Rosie Mendez, overturn the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation of 135 Bowery, an 1817 Federal building, on behalf of her friends at the First American International Bank. This N.Y.U. ULURP is too important for vagueness.

Chin has used the same delaying and obfuscating strategy regarding the proposed Soho Business Improvement District. The Soho BID has been nearly unanimously opposed by Community Board 2, as well as by Assemblymember Deborah Glick, state Senator Daniel Squadron and several thousand Soho residents, plus The Villager. And the Soho BID process has clearly been marred by ballot fraud instituted by the BID proponents. Yet, all this is still not enough for Chin to have stated her clear, conclusive and final position, yea or nay, to this day. What contemptuous, premeditated gall.

The Soho BID legislation now sits in the office of the councilmember from Coney Island, Domenic Recchia, the chairperson of the Council’s Finance Committee. Recchia is the scoundrel who engineered the Coney Island upzoning change from amusements to retail and the $94 million land swindle that pocketed Thor Equities a $60 million profit at taxpayer expense. This is New York City land-use politics at its dirtiest.

Chin is certainly the linchpin, though, in this enormous ULURP. Pro-real estate chum Speaker Christine Quinn will certainly have enormous influence, though her power will ebb in 2012, as does her 13th — I mean, third — and final term.

The implications of this ULURP are as enormous as the ironies. Moses created the two N.Y.U. superblocks in the early 1950s when existing 19th-century commercial buildings similar to the surrounding extant streets were determined “blighted.” As pointed out by Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the rationale of urban renewal was to demolish obsolete “slums” deficient in light and air and to replace them with projects including expanses of green space in perpetuity between new towers that were allowed to exceed existing zoning height limitations. This was a great boon to developers. Jane Jacobs argued vehemently against urban renewal in her seminal “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” Jacobs was right most of the time, but in the case of the Le Corbusier-inspired Washington Square Village and the handsome I.M. Pei Silver Towers, the outcome, after 50 years, due in large part to the verdant landscaping and mature trees, must be determined a success. The housing projects in Red Hook are another story.

So fast-forward 60 years and we have N.Y.U. trying to infill these superblocks with massive commercial construction. Robert Moses would be aghast and so would Jane Jacobs. Moses as Shiva, the master builder and destroyer, and Jacobs as Brahma, the urban savior and creator, brought together by destiny and locked for eternity in battle, would be locked arm and arm protesting this proposal. Not only because it would destroy the existence and rationale of this rare urban renewal success, but also because it would open the floodgates to ULURP for all the other superblocks around the city. All of that open space. Big real estate is salivating. This is the precedent they need. Something this big emanates from the top. The mayor is surely involved deeply.

So, will Chin be a handmaiden for our imperial mayor and the ambitious Council speaker, just another sordid bit player trolling for bigger stakes in the real estate juggernaut that has been choking the life and authenticity out of our city for decades? Again, Councilmember Chin, “What is your position?”

Unless the community leaders on C.B. 2 who “have our back” demonstrate defiant integrity, and unless Borough President Scott Stringer is a mensch and not a mouse, and unless the sycophants of the D.I.D. — or Defeated and Irrelevant Democrats — immediately field a candidate to begin the critical 2013 campaign to unseat Chin, I am upping the 10-to-1 odds I have been offering on Chin defaulting to N.Y.U. to 25-to-1. Bets can be placed via Al Amateau. OMMMMMMMMMM.

And Prince Arjuna asked Krishna, “What makes man sin?”

“Greed, lust, anger. All is clouded by desire. Like a mirror by dust and a fire by smoke.”

The Bhagavad Gita

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