downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 Issue 49 | April 20 - 26, 2007

City stops to plant flowers in Peck Slip plan

By Skye H. McFarlane

Though two big regulatory hurdles still lie ahead, park advocates and preservationists appear to have reached an agreement on the redesign of Peck Slip.

“We’re very restricted on this site, but…I think we’ve reached a good compromise,” said John Fratta, chairperson of Community Board 1’s Seaport Committee, last Thursday.

The former boat slip in the northern reaches of the South Street Seaport, which currently serves as a de-facto parking lot, is slated for conversion into a public park. However, the granite cobblestone-paved slip lies within both city and national historic districts, meaning that the design for the space must be approved by both the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and the State Historical Preservation Office (which reports to the national register).

Because preservationists have said that putting trees, grass or other plantings in the slip could degrade its historical, industrial character, the Parks Department’s original design contained little greenery. The architects opted instead for a sunken granite plaza, designed to look like the remnants of a lost ship.

The plan was soundly rejected by the Seaport Committee in March. Neighborhood residents said the design was cold and unwelcoming, that it would become a haven for skateboarders and street fairs, and that it did not meet the needs of a growing, park-starved residential population.

Though the board’s resolutions carry only advisory weight, the Parks Department voluntarily agreed to postpone its hearing with the L.P.C. At meetings arranged by former C.B. 1 district manager Paul Goldstein and his current boss, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the Parks Department hammered out a new design with a group of C.B. 1 members.

The new design includes two new planting beds with bushes and some flowers on the western end of the triangular park. Benches and rib-shaped traffic bollards that had been made of granite and steel, respectively, were changed to wood to make them look “warmer.” More trees were added to the southern side of the park and the small fountain at the center of the plaza was made more prominent.

Though some park proponents are still calling for a grass lawn on the site and some preservationists would still prefer a treeless, European-style piazza, all but seven members of C.B. 1 signed on to the compromise plan at Tuesday’s full board meeting. In addition to approving the revamped design, the board’s resolution called on the city to restrict events and street fairs within the future plaza.

The new design will go before city Landmarks on April 24. If the necessary approvals come through, the Parks Department expects to complete the new Peck Slip plaza sometime in mid-2009.

“We’ve taken two viewpoints that we really diametrically opposed and we’ve managed to bring them together,” said Roger Byrom, who heads the community board’s committee on landmarks. “This really reflects the desire of the Parks Department to hear what we want.”

Skye@DowntownExpress.com





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