Volume 20 Issue 21 | October 5 - 11 2007

Nabe fights plan to dump garbage trucks

By Patrick Hedlund

When Nancy Miller envisions the construction of a proposed sanitation facility in Hudson Square, the executive director of a local vision rehabilitation center fears for the safety of the visually impaired clients making their way to her office each day.

“It’s an absolute nightmare,” said Miller, director of VISIONS / Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, whose non-profit has been located at 500 Greenwich St. for the past decade. “Imagine what it’s like for a blind person having to navigate around [sanitation trucks]… It would destroy the neighborhood.”

Amidst all the recent wrangling over the fate of Hudson Square, tenants and developers who both claim a stake in the future of the neighborhood have the city to thank for rallying them around one common cause: to unanimously trash the Department of Sanitation’s plan to build the massive facility in their community.

The proposal, unveiled by the department at a meeting with the community early this year and revised in July, seeks to construct a 140-foot-tall sanitation garage housing three districts’ worth of equipment on a parking lot just north of Spring St. along West St. The site would act as a garage for garbage trucks coming from across Manhattan, where they would refuel at the proposed depot nearby before hitting city streets each morning.

The plan has drawn the ire of nearly all in the community, with most expressing unadulterated outrage over what they deem to be city’s “disastrous” design for relocating multiple facilities to a nearly half-a-million-square-foot structure in Hudson Square.

According to Urban Glass House developer Abe Shnay, whose luxury building would suffer blocked views and other detriments if the proposal moves forward as planned, the idea is “borderline obscene.”

Others have chided the city for offering a plan that will not only add to the area’s congestion woes, but also create environmental concerns in a burgeoning residential neighborhood.

“It’s not just the traffic,” said Canal West Coalition member Richard Barrett. “It’s the smell, the rodents. It’s how the trucks come in, it’s what sprayed in the trucks, it’s the chemicals that the trucks carry back into the garage that evaporate that compound the air-quality issue.”

Sanitation’s current proposal stems from a successful 2005 lawsuit by the Friends of Hudson River Park to remove operations off the Gansevoort Peninsula 20 blocks north of Spring St.

The city’s solution: consolidate three districts’ worth of sanitation equipment, a fuel storage facility and a salt pile on a stretch of land along the Hudson River waterfront.

“I’m waiting to hear the first person who said that they were in favor of this proposal,” said Michael Kramer, project director for the Hudson Square charrette and member of the Friends of Hudson Square Sanitation Steering Committee, which formed as a result of the proposal. The committee has provided the Sanitation Department 13 alternate sites, although most community members have accepted inheriting at least one district’s worth of facilities.

“To some extent, we’re not opposed to taking our fair share,” said David Reck, president of the Friends of Hudson Square. “We’ve been years trying to get recognition and trying to get things headed the right way, and it’s like now that we’re going, all of a sudden the city dumps this on us. It just isn’t fair.”

Concerned community members have already enlisted legal aid in the fight, and will pursue action if the plan isn’t revised to lessen the load on Hudson Square, Barrett and Reck said.

The proposal would look to build on the 85,000-square-foot, UPS-owned lot located on Spring St. between West and Washington Sts. UPS would share the site with the city and reluctantly made the deal after an eminent domain threat, a firm spokesperson said earlier this year.

Additionally, the plan calls to relocate 7,500 tons of road salt from the Gansevoort Peninsula to the current sanitation facility located between Spring, Canal and West Sts. In total, the facilities would bring about 480 daily trucks in and out of the neighborhood.

The sanitation fuel tanks, however, would be located on the north side of the lot adjacent to the St. John’s Center. The tanks were moved farther from the Holland Tunnel in response to community concerns.

“This plan would be a disaster for Hudson Square,” read a statement from St. John’s owner, Eugene M. Grant and Co., “as it would introduce more truck trips and vehicular congestion, air and noise pollution, major traffic-safety and quality-of-life concerns, adding a major fuel depot literally at our doorstep.”

The Department of Sanitation plans to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement to the public this month and continue an open review process, the agency said in a prepared statement. The city points out that the proposed sanitation sites were kept in the neighborhood’s manufacturing district when Hudson Square was rezoned four years ago.

“City land use policy for the proposed site, as reaffirmed by the City Planning Commission and City Council in 2003, provides for continued manufacturing district zoning and prohibits residential development,” the department stated. “After a review of the reasonable alternatives, DSNY staff believes that the proposed site, with its principal access from West Street – a designated through truck route and major arterial highway – is the best location for this essential public facility.

Rip Hayman, whose building on Spring St. housing the Ear Inn is located at the nexus of the proposed facilities, disagreed while decrying the plan’s feasibility.

“It would totally swamp the neighborhood with a long line of trucks trying to get in and get out,” he said. “It’s a flawed plan because it’s not functionally sensible to concentrate this kind of activity.”

Others, like local restaurateur and lifelong Hudson Square resident Phil Mouquinho, regarded the idea as just that – an idea, albeit a far-flung one.

“We’re talking fantasy,” said Mouquinho, vice chairperson of Community Board 2’s Zoning Committee. “I don’t see that happening.”

But for Miller, whose office sits just a block from the proposed site of the main facility, all she can do is wait and see.

“This is a neighborhood that has vitality and culture,” she said. “It would be a terrible downswing for Hudson Square, and dangerous.”

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