Volume 20, Number 30 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 7 - 13, 2007

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Pier 40 garbage trucks smell sweet to some

By Josh Rogers

If you think community activists would be leading the opposition to a plan to put garbage trucks in a waterfront park, guess again. Some of them have begun to float the idea of moving trucks to Pier 40 to drive off a proposed entertainment center to be built near the pier’s playing fields.

“Sports uses can live with sanitation if it is done properly,” said Tobi Bergman, who runs youth programs on Pier 40 as the head of Pier, Park and Playground.

“There is no advantage to having [other] activity on the waterfront,” said Bergman, also a member of Community Board 2. “The waterfront should be for recreation. Sixty trucks are better than 1,000 cars coming to an entertainment complex.”

Bergman, like others who look favorably on the idea, said it needs further study. He said the plan could solve several problems. The Dept. of Sanitation is moving forward with its plan to build a 140-foot garage for three Sanitation Districts on a UPS-owned lot at Spring and Washington Sts. The garage tower has strong community opposition, although probably not as much as the Related Companies’ Pier 40 plan for a Cirque du Soleil theater, a music hall, a multiplex cinema, restaurants, a banquet hall and retail shops. Related would retain the field space and car parking on the pier.

Pier 40 sanitation idea

*Move the sanitation trucks that have to come off Gansevoort Peninsula as part of a lawsuit settlement to Pier 40, rather than the city’s preferred location on a UPS parking lot at Spring and Washington Sts.

*Use some of the hundreds of millions of dollars the city plans to invest in the Spring St. garage to repair Pier 40 and secure its long-term future. The Spring St. lot could be developed residentially, adding to the city tax rolls.

*Community leaders who have spoken favorably about this plan say the sanitation trucks would be less disruptive to Pier 40 sports activities than the Related Companies’ plan to build an entertainment center.

*The idea would require a change to state law, as would the city’s plan to build a marine transfer station for garbage on Gansevoort.

The 15-acre Houston St. pier needs an estimated $25-$30 million in repairs and the Hudson River Park Trust, a state-city public authority, is anxious to find a developer to secure the pier’s as well as the park’s long-term future. Much of the pier building is vacant and would need a large investment to open. In an interview in the spring, Connie Fishman, the Trust’s president, estimated it would cost about $80-$100 per square foot to bring about 175,000 square feet of space on the pier up to code — as much as $17.5 million, according to the estimate.

During his regular report to the Trust’s board last week, Marc Ameruso, a Community Board 1 member and the chairperson of the Hudson River Park’s Advisory Council, said the sanitation idea is worth exploring. When he said the Sanitation Dept. was planning to invest $400 million in new Downtown facilities and that money could go to the park, Diana Taylor, the Trust’s chairperson, appeared to be keenly interested in the idea as she started nodding her head in agreement repeatedly.

Taylor did not return a call for comment.

Julie Nadel, a member of the Trust’s board and C.B. 1, said the subject did not come up when the Trust board went into executive session Thursday, but she thinks it is worth considering.

“I think it’s an extremely interesting idea,” she said. “It could solve a lot of problems.”

The 1998 state law that created the Hudson River Park forbids municipal uses on Pier 40, but Nadel said the law would not be a “deal-breaker.” Nadel cut her political teeth working for Assemblymember Dick Gottfried — who later co-wrote the park act — and she said if there is a consensus in the community and among Downtown assemblymembers, it would not be hard to amend the law.

That consensus, if possible, will take some time. Assemblymember Deborah Glick, whose district includes Hudson Square, Tribeca and the Village, said last week that the Pier 40 sanitation idea is an old notion that unfortunately has resurfaced.

“I don’t think it’s a great idea,” Glick said in an interview with Community Media L.L.C. editors. “I have spent more time looking at Related, which is a dreadful idea — which everybody is clear on is a dreadful idea — and I suspect that if there was a little more floating of the garbage truck idea on Pier 40, people would be just as disturbed.”

Glick, who is fighting the city’s plan to build a sanitation marine transfer station on the park’s Gansevoort Peninsula, said Spring St. is an appropriate place for one or perhaps two sanitation districts. She and others who oppose the Gansevoort marine transfer station and a three-district garage on Spring St., have suggested alternatives in Clinton.

The Sanitation Dept. currently parks trucks on Gansevoort, but the city has to move them as part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Friends of Hudson River Park. The city has just begun the approval process to move them to the new garage to be built on the UPS lot on Spring St. The Gansevoort transfer station, which will include a recycling education center, will not require truck parking, but like Pier 40 garbage trucks, it would also violate the Hudson River Park law.

Glick said she would be willing to talk to the city and the Trust about the broader sanitation and park-money needs and ideas, but so far the city has not been an “honest broker.” She said when she presented Sanitation officials with a report recommending the Pier 76 tow pound as a marine transfer alternative, one took a few seconds to thumb through the report and declare it would cost $400 million to build.

Glick also wants to see the recommendation of the Pier 40 Partnership, a high-powered group of parents who have told the Trust it can raise between $10-$30 million to pay for the Pier 40 repairs in order to block the Related plan.

The Trust’s Taylor has given the Partnership a Dec. 15 deadline to come up with its own Pier 40 plan. The Trust is also considering a plan by Urban Dove/CampGroup to maintain the fields and open indoor recreation and camp space to provide at least $5 million in annual revenue to the Trust.

The Trust has raised financial questions about CampGroup’s plan and it is not clear how seriously the group is being considered. Taylor and another Trust board member, Carol Ash, the state Parks commissioner, have both told Downtown Express that they think the Partnership should also talk to Related about a compromise plan and did not mention the camp proposal.

Related executives and Trust staff leaders acknowledged in the spring that Related’s traffic plan needed to be changed, and the Trust has not said there have been any adjustments since then. Joanna Rose, Related’s spokesperson, said the firm has met with the Partnership and has made unspecified changes to its plan as a result.

“Related remains excited to bring high performance ball fields and over 10 acres of waterfront open space to Pier 40 while ensuring its future viability with critical infrastructure investments,” she wrote in a statement to Downtown Express. “We are pleased with the progress we have made working with the Pier 40 Partnership which has already resulted in improvements that will make a more responsive project for the community.”

The Partnership’s Rich Caccappolo, who helped start iVillage Inc. and is also president of the Greenwich Village Little League, declined to comment for this article.

Bergman said in addition to overrunning the park with traffic, the Related and Spring St. sanitation plans would slow the residential growth of Hudson Square and create pressure to transform the neighborhood into a hotel-entertainment center.

Richard Forte, director of real estate operations for Eugene M. Grant & Co., which owns the St. John’s building across the street from Pier 40, told Downtown Express several weeks ago that if the Related plan is approved, he would be inclined to build a 300,000-square foot hotel tower on the building, but if it is not, the Grant firm would be more likely to build condominiums.

UPS had been considering developing some of its lot residentially, but when the city made an eminent domain threat, UPS entered into talks to retain parking in the city’s proposed sanitation garage, according to UPS.

The Trust hopes to pick a Pier 40 group in January, but Bergman said with so much happening in the neighborhood, the Trust and city should take the time to consider whether or not sanitation on the pier is the best solution.

“Hudson Square has been off the beaten track until now, but what happens there is going to have a huge impact on Soho, the Village and Tribeca, and there shouldn’t be a rush into it,” he said. “It’s never too late to do something that’s right.”

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