Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The abandoned Department Of Sanitation East 91st Marine Waste Transfer Station (center) is nestled between the Asphalt Green, a 9 acre recreational facility located on the Upper East Side. For years the community complained about the putrid smells originating from the sanitation facility and its operation. After vehement community opposition the station was finally closed in 1999 after nearly 60 years of operation. 

Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) 

The Community is currently fighting the building of a new much larger waste transfer station as part of Mayor Bloomberg Solid Waste Management Plan, (SWMP). Opponents argue that no other community is being forced to house a waste transfer-station directly in the middle of a public park located in the City's highest density residential community.


By Tony Ard

In December 2009, in a little noticed decision, Judge Michael Stallman of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan ruled that the Upper East Side's largest public recreational complex, and the Parks Department's second largest publicly accessible facility in the community- is in fact, not a park.

The plaintiffs suing to stop the proposed $125 million East 91st Marine Waste Transfer Station are arguing that the proposed demolition and reconstruction of a ramp - vital to MTS and Solid Waste Management Plan, (SWMP) - can not be performed without getting obtaining State legislative approval first. Legislative approval must be gotten before parkland can be alienated or used for an extended period of time for non-park purposes. 

The City is hoping this decision will clear the way for the Department of Sanitation to place a 100 foot high garbage transfer station next to it, accessible only by a ramp through the middle of the park. (The decision is being appealed)

That 9 acre recreational complex is known as Asphalt Green. It lies in one of the city's two most densely populated neighborhoods. The park serves the needs of tens of thousands of grown-ups and children alike in a wide variety of ways. Included in the complex is Dekovats Playground which is heavily used by infants, toddlers, and elementary school age children, their parents and their caretakers. 

Asphalt Green includes an athletic field that serves community sports organizations, schools, and the non-profit that runs the complex's own sports programs, summer camps and field days for children. When not being rented out, the field is used by individuals and groups for soccer and baseball and for exercising in any number of ways. The facility also includes an out door basketball court that serves hoopsters of all ages, including a summer basketball league.

Just across the FDR Drive lies the 1. 828 acre Bobby Wagner Walk, a DOT owned, DPR managed waterfront esplanade used daily by thousands of walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, skateboarders, and fishermen.

Joggers and walkers utilizing Bobby Wagner Walk with the abandoned marine waste transfer-station in the background. Bobby Wagner Walk, a waterfront esplanade used daily by thousands of walkers, runners, bikers, roller bladers, skateboarders, and fishermen also contains hundreds of trees and flora and fauna.

In attempting to mislead the court by downplaying the park uses including its recreational significance, Parks Department lawyer Alessandro Olivieri argued that this was not parkland but instead merely a “thoroughfare.”

In order to avoid getting State alienation approval to build the sanitation facility the Bloomberg administration is arguing that because the City never mapped either the Asphalt Green or the esplanade as parkland they are not “dedicated parkland” therefor they are not entitled to legal protection. In December Judge Stallman sided with the city ruling that the Asphalt Green and Bobby Wagner Walk were not parkland. If the ruling is not overturned it would allow a portion to be used for this non-park purpose.

"A private entity - Asphalt Green, Inc - operates the Asphalt Green area, and restricts usage 70% of the time to fee-paying members, thereby mitigating against a finding of a dedicated park area," the decision stated, citing parks council Alessandro Olivieri's affidavit.

The absurd New York County State Supreme Court decision ignored the fact that the Parks Department acquired the Asphalt Green land in 1970, that the park has been used as a dedicated public recreation facility for almost forty years. The DPR shows the complex as a park on its web site and has its signs and its legally binding rules affixed on the perimeter fencing, including the playground denoting them as park facilities.

In a gross distortion of the facts, the City argued, and Judge Stallman accepted apparently without questioning its validity, that a contractual requirement that Asphalt Green facilities be available to the public at least 30% of the time is used by Asphalt Green to restrict non-paying public access to the facilities to only 30% of the time. This simply is not the truth. The Dekovats Playground for example is available 100% of the day. The outdoor basketball court is available at all times - approximately 90% of the time - except during an eight week summer camp which ends at 4:30 PM every day.

There is a brief period of summer basketball league games which start in the late afternoon/early evening. Except for the summer camp period, the athletic field is available throughout the late morning to early afternoon during weekdays.

Also, except during summer camp, the athletic field is available nearly every weekday until mid-afternoon, when it is used for youth and adults, schools and league and athletic events.
The ruling also ignored that during the Parks Department ownership the complex has been supported by tens of millions of dollars in public funds. Each year the Asphalt Green spends $ 25,000- $ 30,000 dollars lobbying our elected official for public funding.

In June 2010, the City Council restored $231.7 million of the Mayor's proposed cuts,.... but they also added another $165.2 million in new initiatives, including $48.9 million in local member items including $215,000 to fund recreational programs at Asphalt Green.

If that is in fact the city's position this also begs the question why are public tax dollars being used to build, maintain and pay for programs when the city considers this a private facility.

According to the Parks Department website, " Bobby Wagner Walk is the part of the East River Esplanade that extends from 90th to 125th Street." Bobby Wagner Walk is part of the Eastside NYC Greenway (part of a eight and a half mile long continuous promenade running along the river.

According to the Mayor's State of the City address these waterfront esplanades are part of a "multi-use recreational path." According to City Planning’s 1993 Greenway Master Plan for New York City greenways are "…at once the parks for the 21st century and a part of the transportation infrastructure, providing for pleasant, efficient, healthful and environmentally sound travel by foot, bicycle or skates." The esplanade also contains hundreds of trees and flora and fauna.

In attempting to mislead the court by downplaying the dedicated park and recreational uses, Parks Department lawyer Alessandro Olivieri argued that Bobby Wagner Walk is not parkland but instead "primarily used as a thoroughfare.”

"on the right by the serene, rippling expanse of the East River. The walk features wide-open views of Roosevelt Island and the Triborough and Hell Gate Bridges, The path is often serpentine, with garden-lined sections."

Besides directly contradicting the Mayor and City planning - not to mention his own colleague - chief of planning Joshua Laid who all consider esplanades "parks," Mr. Olivieri also directly contradicted the administration's reliance on esplanades as "park and open space" that often accompany large developments the administration pushes. 

City officials has even gone so far as to use the phrase "esplanade park" to counter criticism that not enough active recreation parkland is being created as part of huge development projects.

During the hearing, Mr. Olivieri also bizarrely argued that DeKovats Playground, located on York Ave and 91st St. adjacent to Asphalt Green was not a park either. The playground recently received $1.95 million in city funds allocated by Mayor Bloomberg.

DeKovats Playground - York Ave and 91st St. Not A Parks Department Protected Playground? Not according to the Parks Department. Parks Department lawyer Olivieri argued in court that DeKovats Playground was not entitled to legal protection because the City never mapped it as parkland and therefor it was not “dedicated” as parkland.

(left to right) Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro, Community Board 8 Chair Jacqueline Ludorf, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, City Council Member Jessica Lappin, Assembly Member Micah Kellner, Asphalt Green Executive Director Carol Tweedy, and
On October 29, 2009. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe joined Manhattan Parks Department Borough Commissioner Bill Castro and City Council Member Jessica Lappin at the ribbon cutting ceremony dedication for DeKovats Playground. The Parks Department playground received $1.95 million in city funds allocated by Mayor Bloomberg. (Photo by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks Department)

“Thanks to nearly $2 million in funds from Mayor Bloomberg, DeKovats Playground has been completed renovated, ” said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe at the playgrounds' ribbon cutting celebrating its renovation. “Children of all ages on the Upper East Side will delight in the park’s new play equipment and water features.


In the 70's, many neighborhood activists including George and Annette Murphy prevented two 45-story apartment buildings and a public school from being built at the site. They strongly argued the more parkland and public recreation facilities were desperately needed in the community board with the least amount of parkland in the entire city.

Why has this become an issue? Because as as part of this administration's Solid Waste Management Plan, (SWMP) Mayor Bloomberg has sited this area to rebuild a marine waste transfer station.  After vehement community opposition, the city’s former waste station closed in 1999 after nearly 60 years of operation. For years the community complained about the putrid smells coming from the facility. This inappropriate location would bring 1, 860 tons of garbage on a typical day, (up to 5,280 tons in an emergency) six days a week according to permits being sought by the Department of Sanitation. That translates to from 372 to 1056 truck trips per day. 

Trucks spewing diesel exhaust and reeking of refuse would queue on the access ramps which bisect Asphalt Green and go over the Bobby Wagner Walk. During emergency periods, the trucks would line up in the streets along side the athletic field.

Ramp Entrance - York Avenue at 91st St. The access ramp bifurcates DeKovats Playground and swimming pool (left) with the Asphalt Green's artificial turf field (right). Neighborhood residents and park users long remember the putrid smells and long lines of idling garbage trucks alongside the playing field on York Ave.

The entrance to the proposed waste station is on York Avenue at 91st St. The access ramp runs between DeKovats playground and the Asphalt Green's artificial turf field. With recreational space in the city scarce, why choose 91st Street for a garbage transfer station? 

According to Sanitation, there was one there previously so it is more convenient to put one there again rather than looking for another place or another method. They argue, that the agency followed all the appropriate procedures. Their process, the court says, was rational and it will not interfere with the use of the park. Never mind the affect common sense tells us it will have on the surroundings. The process might be "rational" but the outcome is not.

Another point relates to the construction issues. The DSNY has only represented the amount space they would take up during the ramp construction. There is nothing that binds them to that representation.

More to the point, the operation of the station, with the number of trucks queueing on the ramp throughout the day, will substantially degrade the usefulness of the area as a playground and athletic facility.

East River. After vehement community opposition the waste station was closed in 1999 after nearly 60 years of operation. The proposed new waste station will be 100 feet higher or twice as high as the current one and be built 100 feet north, and closer to Stanley Isaccs/Holmes public housing.

In order to get vital political support Mayor Bloomberg has attempted to portray this as an environmental justice issue. Proponents of the plan point out that Manhattan creates half of the city’s refuse but does not have a transfer station. The bulk of the city’s waste is trucked to transfer stations in Brooklyn, the South Bronx and Queens. While it is undeniable that historically environmental issues have disproportionally impacted poor communities and neighborhoods of color the fact is no other community in the city is being forced to have a waste transfer-station directly in the middle of a park located in a residential community with the city's highest density.

Individuals and community groups have been fighting the city over re-opening the waste transfer station on 91st since the plan was first introduced in 2002, and will continue to fight it as long as there is a court and a legislature to fight in.

Tony Ard, is the director of the Gracie Point Community Council, a plaintiff in the suit.

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