Volume 19 • Issue 13 | August 11 - 17, 2006

Seaport debates tree question on Peck Slip piazza

By Janet Kwon

Seaport residents still want to transform Peck Slip into a rustic European piazza but can’t seem to agree on whether they want trees in the plan.

In a full board resolution favoring the piazza idea this April, C.B. 1 outlined several components of the plan they could agree to — such as closing off Front St. traffic running into Peck Slip, creating one continuous open space for the piazza. The board also wanted to keep Peck Slip’s cobblestones intact, and they did not want any curbs rimming the piazza.

At Community Board 1’s Aug. 3 Seaport and Civic Center Committee meeting, however, it was clear that residents had not yet decided on two elements of the piazza: whether or not trees and parking spaces should be allowed in the piazza. Improvements to Peck Slip are being funded out of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s $150 million East River waterfront fund.

“The parking should be eliminated… but I think the trees are a good idea,” said Seaport resident Tom Brown. He added that he likes the look of Water and Front Sts., and he would like to see the sides of the piazza similarly lined with trees. He also mentioned that he would like to see some kind of water element in the piazza.

“A fountain, in the true style of piazzas, would be able to bring people there… it would really be an icon of the area and attract people… it would be very inviting,” he said.

Randy Polumbo, owner of Dodo, an organic foods café at 45 Peck Slip, shared Brown’s sentiments.

“I know a lot of people think strongly that [the piazza] shouldn’t have trees, but I’m very pro-foliage…I think that having a little bit of strategic greenery would be nice,” Polumbo said.

Polumbo also thought that parking should be eliminated.

“New York City is already cluttered with cars…[the piazza] shouldn’t have cars parked all over the place; it kind of ruins it,” he said. He added, however, that he would be in favor of having some loading and unloading parking spaces.

One Seaport resident said that because the buildings bordering Peck Slip are not very high, planting trees would obstruct views from residential windows.

Committee member Marc Donnenfeld said going back and forth isn’t productive, and hoped to have a consensus soon.

“[Seaport residents] need to make up their minds and decide what they want, so the work can get done,” he said.

“I think that a piazza is a bare look, and I think that I would like to see a little bit more. I think there should be some sort of judicious use of greenery that will not adversely affect the historical nature but will complement the space,” Donnenfeld added.

Board member Linda Roche also said that she would like to see some greenery in the piazza or “some kind of shading for senior citizens and mothers with children,” to counter the warm weather.

Alison Shipley, a partner at Quennell Rothschild, the landscape architect working on Peck Slip, presented some examples of piazzas in Paris, Prague and other European cities. She presented a mixed bag of examples — some with and some without trees.

“There are a lot of options we can consider for Peck Slip,” Shipley said.

Shipley also presented several examples of work by artist George Trakas, who will be working with the firm on Peck Slip. Rothschild is no stranger to parks near rivers — it has designed part of the East River esplanade as well as the master plan for the Hudson River Park.

Although residents are on board with the idea of a wide-open space, the city’s Department of Transportation thinks a piazza idea could be problematic.

“One of the big concerns with the piazza idea is that the community is calling for a flat roadbed, no curb line. [The curb] separates the pedestrian refuge area from the roadway… it has a lot to do with vehicular safety and pedestrian safety,” said Suchi Sanagavarapu, a D.O.T. senior project manager.

Sanagavarapu said that D.O.T. is still in the design phase of the project, and they are currently waiting for the city Parks Dept. to present a design plan. She said the city wants to eliminate most of the parking around Peck Slip, which drew applause at the meeting.

The Parks Dept. hopes to begin the design process for Peck Slip this month, and present a preliminary design to C.B. 1 sometime this fall.

“We will be designing and working on things that have been approved [by the community board]. We are going to be reconfiguring the outline of the park and expanding it,” said Carli Smith, a Parks Dept. spokesperson.

“With D.O.T., we’re working on the roadwork that’s surrounding it,” Smith said.

As for the interior space of Peck Slip, Smith said that although it’s not clear yet exactly what the designs will include, Smith said that, “we can expect to see some landscape work, benches and renovated pavement.”

However, since the final decision regarding the possible trees and parking spaces has not been finalized, there might be a designing delay when the community does reach a consensus.

“There are groups that don’t want trees and don’t want parking, and there are groups that do want trees and do want parking on the new plan. The community board is obviously going to have to vote and take a stand on that,” Smith said.

“We may be going back to the drawing board at that point, but we don’t have to hold off to begin our design before the community board decides whether or not they want to see these trees and parking spots there,” Smith explained.


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