Thursday, February 10, 2011

20th Street Park Supporters Press Their Case

Next Generation of Park Users at the CB 4 meeting on February 2, 2011. Dozens of park supporters came out to speak-up on the need for park space at 136 W. 20th Street btw. 6th & 7th Ave. in East Chelsea. (Photos by Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on images to enlarge.


The vote may be in, but advocates for a pocket park in east Chelsea continue to press on.

On January 5, Community Board (CB) 4’s full board voted to reaffirm the use of the Department of Sanitation lot at 136 West 20th Street for permanently affordable housing for moderate/middle-income families — when D.O.S. vacates sometime later this year, according to Chelsea Now.

To cement their position, on January 18, the board sent a four-page email letter addressed to the Steering Committee of the Friends of 20th Street Park (with copies to Robert K. Steel, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, a host of local elected officials, CB5 and local block associations and conservancy groups). Signed by CB4 chair John Weis, it reiterated: “The matter has been fully debated, voted on, and will not be reconsidered.” The vote was 35 in favor, four against, two abstentions and 0 present but not eligible.

In a January 19 two-page email response to CB4 (with copies sent to the same people and organizations), the Steering Committee pointed out that the previous full board votes were unanimous. “Additionally, there were eleven votes in favor of an amendment that sought to erect a temporary park and playground on the site. The nearly hour-long debate of this resolution, combined with the substantial change in votes from what had previously been full consensus demonstrates that board members have many new questions about the best land use of this site.”

The CB4 letter went on to say that the board was “heartened to see that the outreach that began in September 2010 from residents of 139 West 19th Street concerning the future obstruction of their views grew into an active community organizing movement for a pocket park.” A footnote explained that the board received calls and emails regarding a city proposal to change the zoning to build a much taller building than normally permitted.

Supporters of the Park gather after the public session.

In a January 26 telephone interview, Geoffrey Croft of NYC Park Advocates (the media consultant for Friends) said he was “saddened for the community” by this “embarrassing statement” about protecting views. “The people fighting for the park didn’t know a building was slated for this site.”

The Steering Committee is composed of 16 Chelsea residents with representations across five buildings spanning four blocks and two avenues and has a database of over 1,000 park supporters. One supporting organization, the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA), emailed a letter to CB4 and local officials on January 27, asking the board to reconsider its position. “[I]f a park is allowed to be established on the site, many hundreds if not thousands of residents will make use of the park…low income, middle income and upper income residents. It will be much easier to add 75 units of affordable housing to make up for the ‘loss’…as compared to finding space for a park starved community,” wrote CCBA president Bill Borock.

On behalf of the West 15th Street 200 Block Association and concerned residents and property owners of the 100 Block of West 15th Street, Stanley Bulbach, chair of the former, weighed in with the hope the board and elected officials “will strongly support the dedicated efforts of the Friends of 20th Street Park to retain this tiny property for public park green space which our larger community greatly needs and deserves.” His February 2 email (sent to “Local Elected and Appointed Officials”) emphasized concerns that City Planning has not done a wise nor skillful job in guiding the recent development in Chelsea. “Our community has a deteriorating and aging infrastructure,” which includes the loss of their local hospital and emergency room, diminished fire department staffing and service, cuts to local police precincts, inadequate school budgets, mass transit cuts, etc. “The least that can be done is to provide some additional public park green space…at West 20th Street,” Bulbach stated.

“It’s such a shame this debate pits two vital priorities against each other,” said Weiss. “It’s not an issue between the have and have nots.” Weiss observed that the affordable housing proponents who spoke seemed uninformed. “People who proposed it know it’s permanently affordable moderate/middle-income, which ranges from AMI [Area Median Income] 80% to 165% — $64,000 to $132,000 for families, which is very different from low-income. Within the 24-square-blocks of east Chelsea there are 1,600 units of affordable housing, and those people lack green space for half a mile, except for a cemetery, and 220 of them are in the Associated Blind Building at 135 West 23rd Street.”

Sign of the Times. Park Please.

On February 4, Friends of 20th Street Park met with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The Speaker’s office issued this email statement to Chelsea Now on January 14: “With the rising costs of housing, it’s critical that we take every possible step to preserve and create access to affordable housing. Community Board 4 has long advocated for affordable housing at this site, and I support that position. That said, open space is still needed in Chelsea, and I encourage all residents to continue working with the Community Board to locate sites for potential open space,” said Quinn.

Croft said the half-hour meeting with Quinn and her staff was “productive and very positive.” “Our main message was how little green space there is in her part of the district.” They asked the Speaker’s office to research existing city-owned properties and other subsidized housing programs and alternatives to that site, and the park supporters agreed that the community would look at privately owned properties for housing as well. “We look forward to what both sides come up with,” said Croft.

Read More:

Chelsea Now - February 1o, 2011 - By Bonnie Rosenstock

Park Proponents Vow to Fight On for West 20th Street Green Space
DNA info - January 27, 2011 - By Tara Kyle

A Walk In The Park - January 12, 2011- By Geoffrey Croft


  1. Witnessing this sort of community activism is awesome! The neighborhood would benefit greatly from a tranquil spot of green in a vertical forest of gray. A pocket park that is public and open to everyone--low income, middle income and upper income -- is the most responsible use of the land. A park doesn't discriminate ... it's a public good for ALL!

  2. I agree, seeing this kind of involvement from communities is terrific. A park is actually more likely to build community than another building, regardless of which income bracket the inhabitants fall into. The idea that a park is gentrification boggles the mind - actually it's the opposite. A park keeps the neighborhood intact.

  3. Great stuff. I am struck by the affordable housing proponents. Their arguments are so contrary to the specific issue at hand. I am all for affordable housing. It is vital to our city. However, at an average income of $130,000 or so, this isn't affordable housing that will help out the people that got up and spoke against this park not being built. We need balance. Given the amount of affordable housing that actually already borders this lot, CB4 should jump at the opportunity of making this park. The argument for green space in this area is entirely compelling. Hopefully our elected officials will get the facts and start supporting this park.

  4. Hopefully a compromise can be reached. It seems a park could benefit more people than another building would. Couldn't the City allow a park here and pursue another site - one that is not mid-block - to erect the housing?

  5. there is so much at stake here. A truly deserving group is pitted against a truly deserving cause. Park versus housing. The good against the good. That's a hard one. I believe from the heart that a park for all is the right choice. I'm encouraged that our electeds seem to be taking the issue seriously. A livable city must attend to the needs of all it's citizens. Green space is an essential need.

  6. I have tried so often to have trees planted on my block (6th avenue and 25th street) but to no avail, probably due to the subway gratings and the independent line underneath. Still, there is plenty of room and need for trees along both 6th and 7th avenues. I am hoping that in addition to asking for a park to be built on 20th street, Chelsea residents request more trees along their blocks. Our air here is not the cleanest and trees are very helpful. Just call 311 or contact the elected officials...