Thursday, September 22, 2011

Support Growing For W. 20th St. Park

“We will continue to work hard and creatively in trying to find an alternative location for the affordable housing and are in the process of reviewing several potential sites. I believe in the needs for both more open space and more affordable housing in Chelsea and throughout my council district. My office will continue to do its due-diligence to ensure that no stone is left unturned in our endeavor of reaching a win-win solution.” - Christine Quinn

At a May 2011 rally, 200 Chelsea residents voiced their support to transform a Department of Sanitation lot at 136 W. 20th Street into public parkland. (Photo courtesy of Friends of 20th Street Park)


What started out as a seemingly quixotic cause — when neighborhood residents first organized to champion a park at the soon-to-be-vacated Department of Sanitation facility at 136 West 20th Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenues) — has burgeoned into a cautious cause for optimism, according to Chelsea Now.

Over the past year, Friends of 20th Street Park ( has worked to garner the support of local elected officials, residents and the business community for green space in that one-quarter acre of east Chelsea. And against all odds, it might not be an impossible dream after all.

In City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s September 7, 2011 “Reports to Community Board 4” (sent out to her constituents), she reiterated her pledge to find an alternative site for affordable moderate- and middle-income housing slated for the empty lot. Quinn wrote that for several months, her office has been meeting with members of the community board, park advocates, city agencies and local officials “with the hopes of accomplishing a win-win solution for two dire needs in Chelsea: Affordable Housing and Green Space.”

The speaker goes on to promise, “We will continue to work hard and creatively in trying to find an alternative location for the affordable housing and are in the process of reviewing several potential sites. I believe in the needs for both more open space and more affordable housing in Chelsea and throughout my council district. My office will continue to do its due-diligence to ensure that no stone is left unturned in our endeavor of reaching a win-win solution.”

Matt Weiss, president of Friends at 20th Street Park, called the speaker’s words “encouraging,” and says he is “feeling optimistic about the site eventually becoming public parkland.”

Commenting on the speaker’s written statement, Community Board 4 (CB4) chair Corey Johnson said in a telephone interview, “We are grateful that the speaker and her staff have been working so hard to find a win-win solution for the community, which includes much needed affordable housing and much needed open space. Our board is hopeful that with the hard work and organizing that the Friends of 20th Street Park has undertaken that viable sites for affordable housing may be identified, so both of these important goals can be obtained.”

Weiss told Chelsea Now that Quinn and her staff are working closely with the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (H.P.D.) “to fully explore the list we have provided both of them in an effort to make this happen.”

The list, “Working Draft of Alternate Affordable Housing Sites to 136 West 20th Street” — compiled by Friends of 20th Street Park Steering Committee — has grown from a dozen to 23 properties. They include four government-owned buildings; the remaining are privately-owned/potential Housing Asset Renewal Pilot Program (H.A.R.P.) candidates. H.A.R.P., originally proposed by Quinn in her March 2009 State of the City address — aims to convert unsold, vacant condominiums and unrented apartments (intended for market rate) into affordable housing for moderate- and middle-income families. The $20 million program is administered by H.P.D. — $8 million of which consists of funding from the New York City Housing Trust Fund, which is jointly managed by the mayor and the city comptroller.

Weiss and others in the community have observed the consequences of overdevelopment in Chelsea. “The media have profiled stalled and half-finished condo projects and empty construction sites in Chelsea, many of which are near the High Line,” he stated. “It would seem clear to us that there exist greater potential solutions to affordable housing in such an environment than options for new public open space.”

He highlighted 540 West 28th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues) as an ideal H.A.R.P. candidate. It is a half-sold condo, recently featured in the Wall Street Journal as suffering from “selling fatigue.” “This is the third such struggling project in Chelsea profiled in a major paper at a time when our group, in partnership with Speaker Quinn, is actively and aggressively looking for alternative sites to make way for the park. The environment seems quite ripe for what we’re trying to do.”

The park group is baffled by the increasingly vacant and deteriorating property at 201-207 7th Avenue (170 West 22nd Street). The four city-owned, five-story residential buildings at that location are listed as “Tenant Interim Lease” (T.I.L.) — a type of affordable housing in which the city usually owns the building, having taken it over from a landlord who has mismanaged it or allowed it to fall into disrepair. The residents, often low-income, are then offered subsidized opportunities to buy or lease their units.

“This property, just two blocks north of the park, seemingly has the most potential as an alternative, since the city already owns it,” Weiss said. “Its fate remains unclear and a source of great neighborhood concern. We continue to be puzzled by H.P.D.’s intent to develop costly new construction on 20th Street [the vacant Department of Sanitation site] when this property continues to be a blight and should be redeveloped into a source of community pride instead. Park advocates are still seeking answers to this issue.”

Weiss noted that the park advocates sent Mathew M. Wambua, (H.P.D.’s new commissioner), an informational packet, letters of support from the community and local officials and are waiting to hear from him. H.P.D. is currently putting together a Request for Proposals (R.F.P.) for developers to build there. Sometime later would come the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (U.L.U.R.P.) — whereby applications affecting the use of the land would be available for public review. Key participants in the U.L.U.R.P. process are the Department of City Planning, the City Planning Commission, the community board, the borough president, the mayor and the city council. In other words, the fate of the park might come down to the speaker’s decision.

Meanwhile, Friends is continuing to build grassroots community support among residents and business owners. This summer, around 60 local businesses agreed to place signage in their windows with such messages as “20th Street Park — Make It Happen!” and “Imagine a Park on 20th Street,” with an arrow directing passersby to the vacant lot. They also collected signatures for a petition in their establishments. Hundreds of signatures have been obtained, and the supporter ranks have swelled to over 2,000 in recent weeks, according to Weiss.

Park advocates have also had tabling events on weekends in front of the Lyons Wier Gallery (at 175 Seventh Avenue, across from the 20th Street site). Michael and Deanne Lyons Wier, co-owners of the gallery, are big boosters. Deanne Lyons Wier told Chelsea Now that she and her husband, a 10-year Chelsea resident, live around the corner from the site, and “it would be nice to have a green space in between all the buildings,” she said. “We are a focal point in the community, and we want to help promote attention to the space.”

In an email to Weiss, Michael Lyons Wier wrote, “I believe the park has tremendous potential for the arts, children’s education and community-based themes. I think a sculpture park as part of the development could be addressed as a revenue stream for the city much in the same way Madison Square Park is.”

Another influential business on board is Kleinfeld (at 110 West 20th Street at Sixth Avenue). Kleinfeld is the largest bridal salon in the country and most famous worldwide, thanks in part to the hit TLC cable show, “Say Yes to the Dress” — which has been filmed here for the last five years. Co-owner Ronnie Rothstein said a park is sorely needed from a residential point of view as well as a business point of view. “There are no parks in the neighborhood, which is becoming very popular and filled with kids,” he said. “Thousands of people work nearby, who have no place to go unless they take a long walk to get to a park and then can’t get back in time for work. What the mayor has done to close off streets, making some main streets into parks, is great. But a side street park at West 20th Street won’t affect traffic and will give the neighborhood a wonderful asset.”

Weiss pointed out that several other “major pillars of the community” are also supporters. They include the Rubin Museum of Art (on West 17th Street), Preschool of the Arts (on West 19th Street), the media agency Blue State Digital (on West 20th Street) and indoor play space City Treehouse (on West 20th Street), to name a few, “demonstrating the growing consensus embraced by a broad swath of Chelsea constituents,” Weiss said.

Local resident Sally Greenspan, an active member of the Friends, has lived on West 19th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues for 29 years and feels very passionate about the issue. “I have watched Chelsea grow, seen the buildings go up. It was very empty when we came here. It’s wonderful to see, but city officials have forgotten about the inner part of the city. We need a patch of green within all the cement,” she said. She noted that it’s a challenge for parents every day. “They have to take their kids to Madison Square Park or Union Square playgrounds, which are far away, crowded and competitive. The kids have to stand in line to go on the swings.”

On Monday morning, September 19, Friends of 20th Street Park gave a presentation in front of the lot to high school students from Urban Academy on the Upper East Side on “transforming underutilized land into thriving parks and open spaces.” “We were very excited about the educational opportunity this afforded students to hear about the importance of green infrastructure in our community and to learn how to voice their opinions and start a grassroots campaign,” Weiss said.

“It also feels like word is getting out because the school is not even in Chelsea,” he added. “This project has enough momentum to be carried to other parts of the city. It’s important for the next generation of leaders to roll up their sleeves and get involved.”

Read More:

Inhabitat New York City - October 12, 2011 - by Amanda Coen

Chelsea Now - September 21, 2011 - By Bonnie Rosenstock

Vacant Chelsea lot closer to becoming park
The Real Deal - September 21, 2011

Curbed - September 21, 2011

A Walk In The Park - May 2, 2011 - By Geoffrey Croft

20th Street Park Supporters Press Their Case
A Walk In The Park - February 10, 2011

A Walk In The Park - January 12, 2011

1 comment:

  1. This is fascinating. Good move for Quinn re: win-win.