Volume 20, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 23 - 30, 2007

Southbridge debates selling land to get a park

By Julie Shapiro

Southbridge Towers may sell a parcel of land to the city for a new DeLury Square Park, but not all the residents are on board.

“I think it’s a mistake,” Southbridge resident Joe Morrone said of the potential sale. The C.B. 1 member is concerned that teenagers will flood the new park.

“You’re asking for trouble when you’re inviting kids to hang out,” he said.

The city hopes to create the park at the northeast corner of Fulton and Gold Sts. when the intersection is reconstructed to form right angles. The park, funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, would be over 10,000 square feet and would include a small waterfall along with benches and boulders for sitting.

“We’re looking at it very closely,” said Wally Dimson, president of the Southbridge Towers board. “There would be a lot of advantages for the neighborhood and for Southbridge.”

Dimson is still hammering out the final details with the city, but he expects to have a concrete proposal to present to Southbridge shareholders in January. He is not sure if he will hold a referendum on the sale, but said he is “committed to getting shareholder input.”

Morrone’s concern about teenagers stems from the recent fights at the Fulton St. Burger King, scuffles mainly precipitated by Murry Bergtraum High School students. Morrone said he has seen students hit one another repeatedly with umbrellas and sticks, and he often hears the sirens of police called to quell a dispute.

Morrone does not think that the “windfall” Southbridge would receive from the sale — a rumored $3 million to $7 million — justifies the cost to residents.

“People are so hooked on privatization that money is what they’re looking at,” said Morrone, who formerly served on the board and is against the privatization of Southbridge Towers.

It’s not clear how much support Morrone has since some other opponents and proponents of privatization have a favorable view of selling DeLury to the city to get a park.

Dimson declined to say how much he city is offering for the land. Southbridge and the city each appraised the land and differed on the “methodology of appraisal,” Dimson said. “We’ve been going back and forth on some technical aspects.”

The question of teenagers taking over the park is not a deal-breaker for Dimson.

“I don’t know if the park would create additional problems,” he said. “That is something we talked to the city about.”

The city would lock the park at night, Dimson said, and the Parks Department previously agreed to patrol it.

Morrone, though, is skeptical that police officers will have time to watch the park.

“You’re going to tell me they’ll put more security, when the First Precinct is understaffed, spread too thin after 9/11,” Morrone said. “They’re not going to be able to give 24-hour guard or protection to the park.”

Officers with the First Precinct did not return a call for comment.

Other residents wanted more information before deciding whether to support the land sale.

Paul Hovitz, a Southbridge resident and chairperson of C.B. 1’s Youth and Education Committee, wanted specifics on the type of oversight the park would have.

Still, he said, “DeLury Park is a very good deal for Southbridge… There’s a limited amount of property that we have and that property is worth a lot of money.”

Hovitz, who was on the Southbridge Towers board for 12 years, said it would be “politically smart for the board to take the temperature of the people on this issue.” However, “this would not be a necessary referendum,” Hovitz said. “The board has the power to make this decision.”

If the Southbridge board sells the land, they would also be selling a troublesome sinkhole on the property, Dimson said. “We may have to address that anyway,” he said, but the city would fill it in as part of the project.

The hole was patched with debris and sand, but that has long since settled, Hovitz said. The shaky land has cracked the sidewalk and destabilized benches.

Since Southbridge Towers is a Mitchell-Lama affordable housing property, the Division of Housing and Community Renewal would have to approve the sale of land. The agency has approved similar requests in the past, a D.H.C.R. representative said.

If the Southbridge board decides not to approve the sale, the city will not seek to acquire the land through eminent domain, Dimson said.

The C.B. 1 Seaport Committee approved the design of the park last month, after a presentation by the Parks Department. On Nov. 27, the Youth and Education Committee will address the park indirectly when members discuss the problems at the Fulton St. Burger King. A First Precinct officer will attend.

Morrone is following the issue closely. On streets near Southbridge, “There’s been a resurgence of these little petty crimes,” such as graffiti tagging, he said. “We’ve tried everything.” The teenagers do not heed “No Trespassing” signs and hang around the Burger King for hours.

The park would be another attraction that would keep the students loitering in the neighborhood after school rather than heading home, Morrone said.

“If there’s nothing there for them, they’ll turn around and go on the subway,” he said. “[The park] will wreak havoc. It’s not the place to do it.”


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