Volume 16 • Issue 20 | October 14 - 20, 2003

Advocates say Trust ready to deal on Pier 40

By Lincoln Anderson

The Hudson River Park Trust has reportedly agreed to present plans to build this ice rink near Pier 40 next week to Community Board 2.

The Friends of Hudson River Park weren’t so friendly last week and the get-tough approach seems to have had the desired effect.

The waterfront park’s leading advocacy group, Friends have decided not to sue the Hudson River Park Trust over the failed Pier 40 process, instead using the threat of a lawsuit as leverage to restart the pier’s stalled development process.

According to Arthur Schwartz, a founder of Friends who would have been the lead attorney on the suit, the Trust, in return for the Friends not suing, has committed to issuing either a request for expressions of interest or request for proposals for developers for the 15-acre W. Houston St. Pier 40 by January.

However, Al Butzel, the Friends’ president, said the Trust didn’t commit to any date, but does plan to try to restart the Pier 40 development process as soon as possible.

Butzel said the permanent plan for the pier could very well turn out to be what the Trust would have built in the interim – sports fields and a parking garage.

In addition, the Trust agreed to call off a meeting scheduled for last Thursday at which its 13 board of directors members were expected to vote to approve an ice-skating rink near Spring St. in the park’s new Village segment. Instead, Community Board 2 and the Hudson River Park Advisory Council will get a chance to review the rink before the Trust votes on it.

A pivotal moment in the developments on Pier 40 and the ice-skating rink last week appears to be a meeting between Douglas Durst, C.E.O. of Durst Organization, and co-chairperson of the Friends, and Trip Dorkey, chairperson of the Trust’s board of directors.

Schwartz said Dorkey and Durst made a verbal agreement regarding the tradeoff of no lawsuit in return for the ice-rink review and restarting Pier 40’s process. Schwartz said he has no reason not to feel Dorkey will honor his word and issue either an R.F.E.I. or R.F.P. for the pier.

Dorkey and Durst could not be reached for comment.

“It the [Trust’s] board abides by what [Dorkey] agreed to with Durst, then we’re back in the process — instead of seven or eight years [of interim uses on the pier],” Schwartz said.

Said Butzel: “The lawsuit wasn’t filed, because, first, they called off the meeting on the skating rink. [The rink] concerned us a lot. And we think there’ll be consideration of a new R.F.E.I. for Pier 40. We’re hoping there will be an R.F.P. because that’s more precise.”

An R.F.P. would contain more specific requirements for what the Trust wants to see at the pier, which, under the Hudson River Park Act, must be developed with 50 percent park and open space and 50 percent commercial activity, the revenue from which will go to the park’s operating budget.

Both Schwartz and Butzel said they couldn’t speculate on which development groups might submit proposals for Pier 40 if the process is indeed restarted. Butzel said that if an R.F.P. is sent out in January, a developer could be in place in under a year, by next June or July.

In a June 10 press release explaining why it didn’t pick a developer for Pier 40, the Trust stated it was waiting for a better economic climate for the massive project. In the meantime, the Trust has been moving forward with an interim plan for the pier, which entails adding up to 900 more parking spaces and possibly a large field in the pier’s inner courtyard. The Trust has issued a request for proposals for a parking operator for Pier 40, with responses due Nov. 7. The contract for the parking operation is for four years, plus two one-year extensions.

Schwartz, a former chairperson of C.B. 2’s waterfront committee, said he had the lawsuit regarding the Pier 40 process written and ready to be filed last Fri, Oct. 10. The suit’s main argument was that under an amendment to the Park Act, the Trust had to pick a developer for Pier 40 and then at least conduct negotiations towards developing the pier. However, the Trust scrapped the process on June 10, just before the deadline, rejecting three plans, including an aquarium and an arts complex. Each plan included extensive rooftop sports-field space.

The suit on the failed Pier 40 process had to be filed by Oct. 10, since that’s when the four-month statute of limitations expired; the clock started ticking June 10, when the Trust aborted the process.

According to Schwartz, Governor Pataki’s office wanted to extend the deadline to file the suit by 90 days, so there would be more time to negotiate and hopefully avoid the lawsuit. But it wasn’t clear if the courts would permit the extension, Schwartz said.

Schwartz said he already had several plaintiffs, including the National Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper, in addition to the Friends. Schwartz said some block associations and individuals were also interested in being parties to the suit. Last Wednesday, he attended a joint board of directors meeting of the Greenwich Village Little League and Downtown United Soccer Club to see if they were interested in joining the suit.

As for the ice-skating rink, it raised concern when first introduced as a permanent, enclosed structure at the Trust’s board of directors meeting last month, after it became apparent there had been no review of the plan by either Board 2 — which contains the site — or the Hudson River Park Advisory Council.

However, for the Trust to have voted on the rink last Thursday would apparently have violated the park’s governing law: Butzel referred to a section of the Park Act that states that whenever there is “any significant action affecting the park or community,” the Trust must hold a public hearing and give 30-day notice. Butzel said an enclosed ice-skating rink, blocking the view from the bikepath to the water, is a significant change from the park’s master design plan.

According to Butzel and Julie Nadel, a Trust board member, at the meeting scheduled for last Thursday, the board was going to be asked to vote on an uncovered rink. Butzel said there would have been a covered equipment shed. Like a few other board members — notably former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern — Nadel had been taken aback at the Sept. 25 Trust board meeting, when the ice-skating rink plan was proposed without having undergone any community review.

Said Nadel, “Any permanent installation that takes up a significant amount of space, covered or uncovered, is significant.”

Several individuals — Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Lawrence B. Goldberg, president of the Hudson River Park Advisory Council; and Nadel — lobbied Robert Balachandran, the Trust’s president, to postpone the vote on the rink until the community gets a chance to review it and comment. Glick, like Butzel, warned that to vote on the rink last Thursday would have violated the Hudson River Park Act.

Glick also faxed a letter to Dorkey, the Trust’s chairperson, calling the rink proposal “a most distressing turn of events.”

Wrote Glick: “It’s shocking that in all discussions regarding Pier 40 [which the rink would be located just south of], there was no mention that the Trust staff was proceeding so quickly with construction of an unannounced and undiscussed plan for this facility. It would be bad enough if the plan were simply for a skating rink out in the open…but…it will include a structure as well.”

The meeting at which the ice rink was the only agenda item was reportedly canceled at 5 p.m. the day before. An e-mail was sent out at 8:30 the following morning announcing the cancellation.

There will be a public hearing on the ice-skating rink held by Board 2’s waterfront committee on Mon., Oct. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Manhattan Developmental Center, 75 Morton St. According to a press release from Board 2 sent out at 1 p.m. last Thursday, Trust officials will be present to answer any questions from the community and comments will be welcomed.

Nadel, who has been critical of the Trust’s handling of Pier 40, anticipated the Hudson River Park Advisory Council would also get to review the skating rink at its Oct. 28 meeting.

Don MacPherson, chairperson of C.B. 2’s waterfront committee, said both Balachandran and Connie Fishman, the Trust’s vice president, reached out to him regarding holding a public hearing on the ice-skating rink, which he called a “positive step.”

MacPherson and the board’s chairperson, Jim Smith, sent a letter to the Trust several weeks ago, urging that the community board be involved in the review of the Pier 40 interim plan; but they never heard back, until last week when the ice-skating rink issue reached a critical moment.

“I can’t tell you why they responded. But they did contact me and we’re going to move with it. And frankly, I’m happy about it,” said MacPherson.

In addition, the Pier 40 Committee — a group composed of members from Community Boards 1,2 and 4, created to review the Trust’s Pier 40 interim plan — held its first meeting last Wednesday. Both Balachandran and Fishman attended, according to Nadel, who also attended. Although Trust spokesperson Chris Martin last month said one huge multi-use sports field will likely be located in the pier’s courtyard under the interim plan, according to Nadel, at last Tuesday’s meeting, Balachandran was somewhat vague on where the interim fields will go on Pier 40, indicating they might not be in the courtyard.

Butzel noted that in the last round of developers’ proposals for Pier 40, the plans all included large sports fields on a rooftop park. “The goal is to get fields on top, not in the center,” he said.



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