Volume 19 Issue 39 | February 9 -15, 2007

Downtown Express photo by Esther Martin

View of the parking tower site from the Urban Glass House on Spring St.

Garbage tower plan stinks, neighbors say

By Albert Amateau

Residents of Hudson Sq. and Tribeca expressed outrage and contempt last week for the city’s proposal to build a 150-foot tall garage for three Department of Sanitation districts on a site just north of new luxury residential development and a Holland Tunnel exit ramp and ventilation tower.

Most of the 200 people at the Jan. 31 hearing cheered when speakers denounced the project’s threat of an estimated 480 daily truck trips, increased air pollution and the storage of 17,000 gallons of fuel oil in a manufacturing zone adjacent to an area recently rezoned for residences.

“This is beyond poor planning; it’s ludicrous, and we’ll take every opportunity to see that this project as planned does not move forward,” Richard Barrett of the Canal West Coalition said at the Sanitation Department’s hearing on the scope of the project’s proposed Environmental Impact Statement.

Barrett unfurled a white handkerchief blackened with soot, which he said he wiped from a window that had been cleaned three months previously at his home on Canal St., to show how badly the air is already polluted even without the proposed project. Steven Brautigam, assistant Sanitation commissioner for environmental affairs, warned Barrett to keep his remarks to three minutes. “This is about human health!” Barrett protested, to cheers from the audience.

Map showing the proposed Sanitation locations for Manhattan districts 1, 2 and 5. The blue line is the 400-foot boundary around the sites and is the area the city proposes to study in its environmental impact statement.

Brautigam, who presented the plan at the hearing, said the move will increase efficiency, provide better service and replace outdated equipment. He said it also complies with a court agreement to vacate a Sanitation facility in the Village section of the Hudson River Park. The garage would be on a United Parcel Service parking and truck-staging lot between Washington and West Sts. north of Spring St.

Among the public speakers, the single voice in favor of the project was Ross Graham, co-chairperson of the Friends of Hudson River Park, which advocates for the five-mile long riverfront park being built by the state and city.

Friends of Hudson River Park filed a lawsuit in 2005 to get Sanitation facilities off the Gansevoort Peninsula, 20 blocks north of Spring St., in compliance with the state legislation that created the park.

Last September, the Department of Sanitation signed a court-approved agreement to find alternatives for Sanitation uses on the Gansevoort Peninsula and on Pier 97 at 57th St. to allow park construction to begin on those sites by the year 2012. The proposed Hudson Sq. Sanitation project is intended to replace existing facilities for District 2 on Gansevoort and for District 5 on the East River at 73rd St.

“Friends of Hudson River Park are aware of the issues raised by the construction of a major facility in the area,” Graham said. “But we note it is in a manufacturing district and is mandated by the court settlement. We hope that mitigating arrangements can make it more acceptable to the community but we are adamant that it be finished in time for removal of the Sanitation Department from Gansevoort by the end of 2012.”

But members of Community Board 2, in whose district the project is planned, and Community Board 1, whose border on Canal St. abuts part of the project, were dead set against the project. State Sen. Tom Duane and Assemblymember Deborah Glick had serious reservations that they insisted be addressed by the Environmental Impact Statement.

Carole DeSaram, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Tribeca Committee, denounced the proposed storage capacity for 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel, 4,000 gallons of gasoline, 4,000 gallons of ethanol, 2,000 gallons of hydraulic oil, 2,000 gallons of motor oil and 1,000 gallons of waste oil. Much of the fuel would be stored on the smaller site of a proposed truck washing and refueling facility on a triangle south of Spring St. at Canal and West Sts.

DeSaram said the proposed increased fuel storage at the site near the Holland Tunnel exit ramp was a potential terrorism target in an area where residents suffered through the World Trade Center attack. The C.B. 1 committee passed a resolution Feb. 1 asking the city to study the congestion and pollution effects the plan would have on areas that are more than 400 feet from the proposed Sanitation locations. The city document outlining the scope of the environmental study area is limited to 400 feet, although it leaves open the possibility of expanding the study area.

Barbara Siegel, a member of the Canal West Coalition and a board member of the Canal Park Conservancy, recalled that neighbors lobbied for years for the creation of Canal Park, which had been a parking lot for sanitation employees. “Now another Sanitation parking lot is going to be built right next to it,” she said.

Maria Derr, chairperson of Community Board 2, noted that the board in 1999 supported Sanitation facilities for two districts, District 1 covering Lower Manhattan and District 2 covering Hudson Sq. and the Village, at the proposed site. But the current proposal would handle trucks and salt storage for those two districts plus District 5, which covers Midtown from 14th to 59th Sts. “The eight-year-old resolution never contemplated including District 5,” Derr said.

“I never heard a worse idea in my life,” said Phil Mourquinho, a C.B. 2 member and second-generation owner of P.J. Charlton restaurant on Charlton St. Mourquinho recalled that two years ago when the city proposed a New York Jets stadium above the 30th St. rail yards, the plan included a Department of Sanitation facility with a park on the roof at 30th St.

“Where is that offer now? This project is a no-win situation for the neighborhood and the city. Let’s scope it somewhere else,” Mourquinho said.

The smaller site, just north of the triangular Canal Park, has an existing garage for sanitation District 1 with a storage capacity for 7,000 gallons of various fuel and waste oils. It is one of three sites in the current proposal.

The largest site is the 85,000-square-foot U.P.S. parking lot, where the four-story, 150-foot-tall garage is planned. U.P.S. would use the first floor for parking and staging 58 delivery trucks per day, and Sanitation would use the second, third and fourth floors for handling 128 pieces of equipment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To the outrage of many people at the Jan. 31 hearing, the Sanitation facility on the U.P.S. site also calls for space for 98 cars, many of them for personal use by Department of Sanitation employees.

The third site in the project is a privately-owned parking garage that accommodates 400 vehicles at 575 Washington St., which the city would take by condemnation proceedings. Sanitation plans a shed on the site to store 6,500 tons of road salt and two 5,000-gallon tanks for liquid calcium chloride, also used to melt road ice.

“You’re looking to take my business away,” Gary Spindler, owner of 575 Washington St., told Sanitation officials at the hearing. He demanded that Sanitation find an alternate site for the salt storage.

The complex legal issues regarding the U.P.S. site have not been decided. Whether the city or U.P.S. would own the parking lot, the question of condemnation or sale of the property, and rent issues have has not been settled, according to Sanitation and U.P.S. officials. Leonard Steinberg, representing new residents of the neighborhood at the hearing, demanded, “What kind of deal is there between the city and U.P.S. — it could be a dirty deal.”

In the past three years, the area rezoned from manufacturing to residential has had seven new residential developments in a two-block radius of the site, with apartments selling for as much as $1,200 per sq. ft. and a total real estate value of $672 million, Steinberg said.

The projects include the recently completed 12-story Urban Glass House at the corner of Washington and Spring Sts., designed by the late Philip Johnson; the 14-story glass façade residence at 505 Greenwich St.; and an 11-story project at 501 Greenwich St., designed by Winka Dubbledam, that combines a new glass façade building and an old warehouse converted to residential lofts.

David Reck, a C.B.2 member and president of Friends of Hudson Sq., presented a five-page critique of the proposed environmental review to be conducted by the Department of Sanitation. Instead of 575 Washington St., Reck suggested a site under the Manhattan Bridge to store road salt. Another problem, Reck said, is that the sanitation project would have a negative impact on access to both the five-mile long Hudson River Park on the west side of West St. and Canal Park, completed 18 months ago on the east side of West St.

Michael Kramer, representing Eugene M. Grant Co., owner of the St. John Terminal, an office building north of the U.P.S lot that used to be a High Line rail terminal, suggested that the environmental review consider other places for District 5 Sanitation equipment. Murray Weinstock, a musician who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years, recalled that two decades ago, before the upscale development, he used to see rats running in the streets when he came home from a gig. Weinstock fears that with a sanitation garage serving three districts, the rat population will flourish again.

The deadline for written public comment on the scope of the project review is 5:30 p.m. Feb. 26. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be released in May, when the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for the project will also begin. In June, the city will hold a hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the final E.I.S. is expected by the beginning of September.

Community Board 2 and the Manhattan borough president will comment on the project in the summer and fall of this year and the City Planning Commission and the City Council will vote on final approval in the winter of 2008, with acquisition of the sites to follow. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2009 and finish by the end of 2012, when the department hopes to complete the project and leave Gansevoort Peninsula to allow construction to begin on the park.

— With reporting by Skye H. McFarlane

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