Volume 20, Number 42 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | FEB. 29 - MARCH 6, 2008

A design for an alternative, less intrusive sanitation facility that would house only two sanitation districts, as proposed to the city's plan for three districts, on the site of the UPS parking lot on Spring and Washington. Backers of the alternative plan say a park could be constructed atop the future garage.

The big story on big garage: Looking for consensus

By Lincoln Anderson

The community alternative plan is very much in vogue right now in the Village. Community groups have put forward alternative proposals for both Pier 40 and St. Vincent’s Hospital, where looming potential megadevelopment schemes are being staunchly opposed by local residents. Now, yet another group is pitching an alternative design, in this case, countering the city’s effort to put a supersized garbage truck garage at Spring and Washington Sts.

The Community Sanitation Steering Committee — composed of property owners around the proposed garage site, in Hudson Square and small businesses— is advocating a scaled-down version of the project the city envisions.

The committee’s leading members include the sprawling St. John’s Center commercial building, the tony new Urban Glass House condo residence and Park-It Management, which operates a parking garage at Clarkson and Greenwich Sts., a likely future development site and area residents.

The Bloomberg administration wants to build a 140-foot-tall garage at the west end of Spring St. to house garbage trucks serving three Department of Sanitation districts — Districts 1, 2 and 5. The committee’s alternative plan would see a smaller garage house garbage trucks from just two Sanitation districts — District 1 (serving Lower Manhattan) and District 2 (serving Greenwich Village, Soho, Noho, Hudson Square, Little Italy and part of Chinatown).

Also under the alternative plan, instead of including parking spaces for 158 Sanitation employees in the Spring St. garage, these cars would be shifted to nearby Pier 40, at W. Houston St., where parking would be increased under the Pier 40 Partnership’s community-generated plan, which is the proposal for the pier favored by the Community Sanitation Steering Committee.

The alternative Spring St. garage plan would still contain space for 56 UPS trucks, which is a component of the city’s current plan. UPS owns the open-air parking lot at the site, but has been forced to work with the city because of the administration’s threat of using eminent domain to seize the property after paying UPS fair market value.

The alternative garage would only have a basement level, where the Sanitation trucks would park, as well as a first floor, which would be for the use of UPS’s tractor-trailers.

RoofTop Park

On top of the building would be a significant community amenity, a park, as conceived in the recent “Envisioning Hudson Square” architectural design charrette. It would be called St. John’s Park, harkening back to the park of that name that was destroyed for the Holland Tunnel’s construction. A park on top of the UPS site was one of the charrette’s most popular ideas, the committee members note.

Michael Kramer, a lobbyist for the St. John’s Center, which abuts the UPS lot to the north, said the newly gentrifying neighborhood doesn’t want a huge garbage-truck garage dumped on it.

“The property owners would like to determine their own fate,” he said. “Three [Sanitation] districts is too much. It’s too intense. We already have well over 400 UPS trucks, FedEx, the Holland Tunnel.”

The committee also thinks the salt pile D.O.S. wants to put on the site of the current Sanitation District 1 garage at Canal and Spring Sts. should be relocated elsewhere, such as under the Manhattan Bridge.

Diesel refueling tanks currently planned for the Spring St. site could also be located elsewhere, perhaps even in New Jersey, the committee thinks, near the spot where the trucks currently drop off their garbage.

Space would be saved in the garage’s basement by using elevators — instead of a long ramp — to lift the trucks to ground level. There would be two elevators, since it’s best to “always have redundancy,” Kramer added. “They can each raise 30 trucks per hour.”

Air-rights fight

Kramer said that market economics would make this alternative plan more lucrative and flexible for UPS in considering their options. He said that neighboring property owners or other local developers would pay UPS far more than the city offer. Meanwhile, Kramer continued, UPS would give the garage site to the city “for free — because it just wants the highest value for its air rights.”

Asked how the St. John’s Center would use the air rights, Kramer said, “We’ve been quoted as saying we would be looking at a hotel, maybe residential.” The air rights could be used to build a tower addition on top of the St. John’s Center.

“We’re talking about a concept here, not a done deal,” added Richard Barrett, president of the Canal West Coalition, a member of the Community Sanitation Steering Committee.

In addition, because a smaller garage would be built, the city would save millions of dollars, the alternative plan’s advocates point out. These saved funds, Barrett said, in turn, could be used by the city to build a park on top of the future garage.

Norman Black, a UPS spokesperson, said the company’s number-one priority is retaining use of its space at its Spring St. parking lot; quiet during the day, the lot springs to life at night when tractor-trailers haul in loads of packages that are then sorted into trucks that make deliveries in southern Manhattan starting in the morning. Fifteen million packages pass through UPS’s building across the street from the lot annually, he noted.

“This is the city’s proposal, not our proposal, that the city would build a multistory facility on our lot there, with two levels there continuing to be for UPS staying on the lot,” Black said. “Sanitation would have the rest. Absolutely, we have told the city if and when they receive approval for this plan we would work with them on this solution.”

In turn, regarding Kramer’s contention that UPS would prefer to sell its air rights, allegedly for more money, to, say, the St. John’s Center, Black said, “That is simply wrong. That is a mischaracterization. UPS has not expressed any preference for any plan. We are aware that there are other groups proposing other options, but we have not taken a stand on that, nor will we.” As for what he knew of the alternative plan, Black said, “We heard that they would renovate the St. John’s Building for Sanitation vehicle parking.” Under that scenario, the UPS site would then be able to have high-end development above it, he said.

Despite Black’s seeming misunderstanding of their alternative plan, Barrett and Kramer claim UPS knows full well what their proposal entails, and that many private developers are even now making offers to buy the delivery company’s copious air rights.

Eminently afraid

The city has said they’re prepared to condemn that land and take it away from us,” Black noted, clearly indicating why UPS is eager to appease City Hall in order to preserve use of its critical property.

The committee members have also raised the issue of fair share with regard to the Spring St. garage. Under the city’s Fair Share Criteria, any facility that serves one district is classified as “local,” while a facility that serves more than one district is “regional.” A regional facility requires broader environmental review. Also, when a facility is deemed regional, the borough president can call on the mayor to convene a special panel to build consensus on whether the facility’s siting is proper or to brainstorm on whether there might be better locations.

The local-versus-regional/consensus-building regulations are quite arcane; even local politicians admit they are just coming to fully comprehend them as a result of this garage issue. But the committee believes that within these wonkish rules lies their best chance of getting a smaller garage — with a park on top to boot.

In one of the few real powers of his office, Scott Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, possesses the ability to trigger the formation of consensus-building process; Stringer merely would have to write a letter to Mayor Bloomberg calling for him to empanel a consensus-building committee. The mayor, however, is not obligated to start a consensus-building process; the decision is voluntary on his part.

Letter’d be better sooner

But the clock is ticking: Stringer has only 90 days after the project’s listing in the City Record in which to write to the mayor. The Spring St. garage appeared in the City Record in early February.

Ratcheting up the pressure, if the Department of City Planning certifies the ULURP, or uniform land use review procedure, for the Spring St. garage at any time, all bets are off: Stringer no longer would be able to write the letter to the mayor. It so happens that City Planning just last week released a draft ULURP, fueling anxiety among the garage’s opponents that the review’s approval is imminent.

Asked last month why he had not yet written a letter to the mayor seeking a consensus-building process, Stringer issued the following statement:

“The central issue at this stage appears to be that this proposed facility — since it would cover several community districts — has been classified by the Department of Sanitation as a local, rather than a regional, facility. We are in the process of exploring this question with the Departments of Sanitation and City Planning.

“Assemblymember Deborah Glick raised this issue with me in a Feb. 6 letter. I am encouraging her to join me in directing these questions to Sanitation and City Planning.

“The community clearly deserves a better explanation of how this decision was reached. We will continue to work with the city and local residents as the ULURP process goes forward.”

On March 7, Stringer wrote to Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty asking for some answers. Citing his ability to seek a consensus-building process, Stringer said his decision whether to do so depends on how the facility is designated, “local” or “regional.” “Therefore,” Stringer wrote, “I request more clarification regarding the reasoning and decision-making involved in designating the proposed facility as a local facility. … The public deserves to understand not just the decision, but the reasoning behind it, especially since the designation seems to be contrary to the letter of the law.”

Stringer noted in his letter that, “according to Appendix A to Title 62 of the Rules of the City of New York, a ‘local’ facility serves ‘an area no larger than a community district or local service delivery district’ ” and that Sanitation districts are co-terminus with community board districts — meaning Sanitation District 2, for example, picks up the garbage only within Community Board 2.

Other local politicians and their spokespersons weighed in on the issue.

Andrew Doba, a spokesperson for Council Speaker Christine Quinn, said, “We are currently engaged in ongoing conversations with the Department of Sanitation and other concerned parties, including neighboring residents. We will continue to closely monitor this development as it proceeds through the land use process.”

Colin Casey, State Senator Tom Duane’s senior legislative aide, said, “From our reading, it’s pretty basic: One district is ‘local,’ and more than one is ‘regional.’ We’re waiting for Sanitation to give an explanation on that.” Asked whether Duane wants Stringer to write the mayor to hopefully trigger a consensus-building process, Casey said, “It’s the borough president’s tool — and it’s up to the borough president and the community boards; one step at a time.”

Assemblymember Glick noted she wrote a letter to Stringer on the issue.

“We are supporting the notion that this is a ‘regional,’ not a ‘local’ facility,” she said. “That would be our interpretation. This is a request for appropriate review and it seems to me it’s a reasonable request.”

Glick also wrote City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, who replied to Glick with the puzzling response that D.O.S. somehow considers the proposed facility to be both “regional” and “local” at the same time.

‘Local yet regional’

As Jennifer Torres, a Planning spokesperson, explained it: “The Department of Sanitation has submitted a Fair Share analysis to City Planning as part of its uniform land use review procedure (ULURP) application for a facility site selection for the garage complex. Although Appendix A of the Fair Share Criteria lists a Sanitation garage as a typical ‘local or neighborhood facility,’ the Department of Sanitation has recognized that analysis of the garage complex as a set of three distinct ‘local facilities’ might not adequately address all relevant concerns. Therefore, its Fair Share analysis considers the siting of the three district garages under both the ‘local facility’ criteria and the ‘regional/citywide’ facility criteria.”

Sanitation spokeperson Matt Lipani echoed Torres, saying: “The department’s Fair Share analysis, submitted to City Planning, considers the siting of the three district garages under both the ‘local facility’ criteria and the ‘regional/citywide’ facility criteria, to be conservative. The department analyzed it as both a regional and local facility in the ULURP application. The department does not believe the [Community Sanitation Steering Committee’s] alternative is practical, for operational and cost reasons.”

The main reason the city wants to site the garbage truck districts at Spring St. is because it’s being forced by a lawsuit settlement with the Friends of Hudson River Park to vacate its trucks from Gansevoort Peninsula. A major advocate of Hudson River Park, Glick has pushed for the trucks’ removal from Gansevoort. Yet, she said, she wasn’t worried that scrutiny of the Spring St. garage plan might somehow possibly affect D.O.S.’s exiting Gansevoort.

“That is four years away,” she said of the city’s commitment to remove its Sanitation garage from Gansevoort by 2012. “I can’t imagine that doing a slightly different review — ‘regional’ rather than ‘local’ — in any way disturbs that timeline.”

Councilmember Alan Gerson said he is “very concerned” about the Spring St. megagarage. “That’s a uniquely problematic area to put in a facility that will have oversized trucks coming and going.” Yet, Gerson noted, the site is in Quinn’s district. “We’re going to look closely at it and work closely with the community and Christine Quinn to make sure we explore the full range of alternatives at that location,” he said.

Similarly, Marty Algaze, Senator Martin Connor’s chief of staff, said Connor supports the Community Sanitation Steering Committee’s alternative proposal, but he noted, it’s in Duane’s district.

Clarification needed

Brad Hoylman, chairperson of Community Board 2, said, “We think it deserves analysis as to whether it’s ‘local’ or ‘regional.’ The community wants clarification.” The community board hasn’t passed a resolution requesting a consensus-building process yet, though, and only recently became aware of this possibility, Hoylman noted. “It’s certainly something worthy of consideration,” he said. “It seems like it might be a good idea.”

“The proposal has inequity built into it,” Hoylman said. “We want to find a solution that benefits everybody. But the status quo is not acceptable to the community…because they have to move,” he noted of the garbage trucks on Gansevoort Peninsula. “That’s part of the settlement that was reached. We’re obviously coming to a point in time where we have to make some decisions. The best solution for the community is generally never the easiest for the city agencies involved. It requires some creativity, thought and community involvement.”

Hoylman wrote to Planning Commissioner Burden three months ago requesting clarification on how the siting of three Sanitation districts in C.B. 2 at Spring St. qualifies as fair under the city’s Fair Share guidelines. This week, he said he still has not received a response.

Previously, the city planned to put two of the three Sanitation districts (Districts 2 and 5) in a new garage to be built at a site known as Block 675 in Chelsea, just south of the High Line. A ULURP was done for that project and Community Board 4 had even given its approval for it.

Dan Brodsky, who several years ago had hoped to develop a residential building above the UPS lot at Spring St. — which would have, again, contained a UPS facility in its base — did an economic study comparing the development costs of a Sanitation garage at Spring St. and at Block 675. Brodsky’s analysis included building a residential tower above the Chelsea garage location, revenue from which would have helped offset the cost of constructing the Sanitation garage underneath.

Threw in the towel

We thought it was a good idea at the time,” Brodsky said. “Really, the city was not interested in it. So we dropped it. The city’s making a deal with U.P.S., I think. We didn’t think sanitation was an appropriate use for that [Spring St.] site. I think Sanitation picked it when that was an industrial area — and that has become a residential area and an entrance area to the river and the waterfront park. Our position was that the 31st St. site would be a more appropriate site. We had invested quite a bit of money, working with architects, to build [at Spring St.].”

Dan Klein, head of Sanitation’s real estate department, said the existing zoning doesn’t allow the tower-above-the-garage concept at W. 31st St., since the special zoning there calls for a park on top of what would have been the Sanitation garage, the top of which has to be the same level as the future High Line Park. Yet, Joe Rose, a former City Planning commissioner who currently sits on the board of directors of the Hudson River Park Trust and is also a developer, recently unveiled a plan to build a tower at the location.

Klein also said a garage at Block 675 would have involved “deep, subterranean construction.” Plus, the only place the entrance could be located, on 12th Ave., would have been belowground in a flood plain, while the West St. entrance for the Spring St. garage would be at ground level.

Thus, in the case of a major flood, “You’re not losing the building at Spring St.,” Klein said. “You’re losing it at 30th St.”

As for why Sanitation first picked Block 675, Klein said it was because the Spring St. lot “wasn’t being marketed back then. The city wasn’t looking to condemn property on the West Side.

“They’re going to get what the property is worth,” Klein said of what the city will pay UPS. “We have to play by the rules.”

Klein also noted that there’s no room for a 20,000-square-foot pile of road salt at Block 675, either.

“You’re getting a lot more bang for your buck at Spring St.,” he said.

Phil Mouquinho, chairperson of C.B. 2’s Special Sanitation Garage Subcommittee, grew up in the Hudson Square neighborhood, where he still operates a restaurant, P.J. Charlton, on Charlton St.

“I can see having Sanitation District 1, because it’s always been down here. I can see Sanitation District 2, because it’s ours,” he said. “But Sanitation District 5? That’s supposed to be on 30th St. Now they want to clean that up and give it to Georgetown [Joe Rose’s company] to develop. And we’re already considered a red zone by the federal government,” he said of Hudson Square’s high emission levels.

Despite UPS’s dissembling, Mouquinho said he, for one, knows “Brown” wants to sell its air rights to the St. John’s Center.

“UPS and the St. John’s Building are in agreement that they would give the UPS lot to the city and the city would save $130 million,” he said. “The city offered to pay $175 per square foot. We all know it’s real worth is north of $400. Peter Moore has made an offer north of $400 [for the UPS lot’s air rights],” he said.

Mouquinho knows the area’s history. Sadly, it seems, some things never seem to change. Garbage used to be barged out of Manhattan via Canal St., he noted.

“Back in the 1800s, Canal St. was the city dump,” he said.

 





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