Scoopy’s, Week of March 13, 2014
Taking it to the strips: After the recent court victory against N.Y.U.’s 2031 superblocks development plan, parks and open-space advocates from across the city, joined by local politicians, will celebrate with a party at LaGuardia Park (on LaGuardia Place, between Bleecker and W. Third Sts.) on Sat., March 15, at 1 p.m. Actors Matthew Modine and Susan Sarandon will lend their voices to the cause, along with elected officials, including Congressmembers Carolyn Maloney and Jerry Nadler, Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Corey Johnson, among others. In her Feb. 7 ruling, Judge Donna Mills said that three of the superblocks’ open-space strips — including Mercer Playground, LaGuardia Corner Gardens and LaGuardia Park — are parkland, and that N.Y.U. can’t use them for its construction projects without the state Legislature first “alienating” them, as in, make them not parks.
Rosie and the roses: Well, we finally got Rosie Mendez’s take on Judge Mills’s decision. The East Village city councilmember came to last month’s Community Board 2 meeting, and after she had finished giving her report to the board, C.B. 2 member Lois Rakoff asked her opinion on the ruling. Mendez responded generally, but said she was giving it a lot of thought and even doing extra research on the decision. Rakoff, who said she, too, considers herself a “sister” of Mendez’s, told us she was satisfied with the councilmember’s answer. “She came out smelling like roses,” Rakoff said. Of course, Mendez, before casting her vote for the N.Y.U. 2031 superblocks project in July 2012, said she was doing it for Councilmember Margaret Chin, her “sister.” The hotly disputed project is in Chin’s district, and Chin was the Council’s lead negotiator on it. We spoke with Mendez at greater length outside the C.B. 2 meeting, and from the sound of it, she supports most of Mills’s ruling, but isn’t sure whether the LaGuardia Corner Gardens is, in fact, parkland. Mendez said it seems to her that Mercer Playground is clearly “implied parkland.” She cited the fact that former Councilmember Kathryn Freed allocated $200,000 in capital funding toward what she understood to be a permanent park. “And that’s not an easy thing to do,” Mendez said. “And they had a ceremony with elected officials… . The signs that were there with Parks Department leaf symbols. If it looks like, acts like a park, it probably is.” As for LaGuardia Park, she supports Mills on that one, too. “Allowing a group to put in a statue,” she noted, citing the Fiorello LaGuardia monument. However, she said, “There’s one that I want to read a little more about — the GreenThumb garden.” She was referring to the LaGuardia Corner Gardens. She said that back when Eliot Spitzer was attorney general — when the battle was raging to save the East Village and Lower East Side’s gardens from development — there were some distinctions cited, as she recalled it, between GreenThumb gardens, for example, and other types of community gardens. “There are different types of garden structures and I just want to do a little more reading on that,” she told us. As for the strip with the Mercer-Houston Dog Run, Mendez said Mills’s position — that it is not parkland — is correct. “I think her decision was very persuasive, in terms that the dog run was private and you have to be a member,” Mendez remarked. Asked if she now regrets supporting Chin on the N.Y.U. 2031 project, in light of the lawsuit victory, Mendez answered, “I backed Margaret for several reasons. She did negotiate a better project than what was proposed, bringing down the height, scale and bulk. And she saved 505 LaGuardia Place. Getting permanent affordable housing at 505 LaGuardia — that to me was huge. Those families would have been displaced.” The affordable housing wasn’t part of the development project, but was being negotiated with N.Y.U. simultaneously. We told C.B. 2 member Sean Sweeney — who is the director of the Soho Alliance, a plaintiff in the community lawsuit — of Mendez’s uncertainty on the LaGuardia Corner Gardens. “What!” he exclaimed. “They’re growing plants and vegetables! What, is she crazy? That’s more of a park than anything.”
Resolute against N.Y.U. plan: In addition, Sweeney’s political club, Downtown Independent Democrats recently passed a unanimous resolution, which was also approved by the Village Reform Democratic Club, which they sent jointly to Mayor Bill de Blasio, demanding he drop the city’s “misguided appeal” of Mills’s decision. The resolution reads: “Whereas most elected officials, thousands of citizens, N.Y.U. faculty, Community Board 2 and over 35 community and civic associations support the legal ruling that the New York City Council did not have the right to transfer publicly owned land to New York University and that only the New York State Legislature has such right; Whereas New York University is appealing this significant ruling and New York City has now also joined the appeal; Whereas if Mayor Bill de Blasio and our elected officials truly support the people they represent and stand on the principles for which they were elected, they will drop their appeal; Whereas we and the community ask New York University to return to the drawing board and present a plan that is accountable to and respects the community, and not continue to take public lands illegally; Therefore be it resolved that the Downtown Independent Democrats demand Mayor Bill de Blasio and our elected officials drop this misguided appeal and respect the court’s ruling in favor of the people.” In fact, only notices of appeal — not actual appeals — have been filed at this point.
Look Eastward! St. Mark’s Bookshop is doing an online fundraiser at Indiegogo to help foot its moving costs to its new East Village location. So, does that mean they have a new spot nailed down? Not quite, Terry McCoy, the store’s co-owner, told us. “We have a draft lease for a space, and we have a lawyer reading the lease on our behalf,” he told us last week. The fundraising target is $50,000. “But we’d like it to be double that, really,” McCoy said. As a result, they’re thinking of doing a mid-June benefit concert. The musicians will be “people we know,” he said. As for the hoped-for space, it’s near Avenue A and smaller than their current location. “We feel good about relocating, and it’s close to the rent we have here,” he said. “And it really feels like the East Village over there.” As for the Astor Place / Cooper Square / Third Ave. area, he said, it has lost its soul due to “all these big, glassy buildings springing up.”
Movin’ on out: The School of Visual Arts will be leaving the building it has been leasing for a 100-bed residence hall at Third Ave. and E. 10th St. at the end of the spring semester. Javier Vega, S.V.A. director of admissions and student affairs, said the school is building a new 500-bed, 14-story residence at E. 24th St. and First Ave., and that while the E. 10th St. dorm had a good 10-year run, it’s more cost effective for them not to lease it anymore. S.V.A. houses about one-third of its 3,500 students, including 353 at its new dorm at Delancey and Ludlow Sts. Vega said the L.E.S. dorm is for older students, since “there are a lot more distractions down there.” N.Y.U. spokesperson Philip Lentz said they’re not interested in the E. 10th St. building.
Park prison? Intrepid blogger Cathryn Swan recently reported that the Police Department may have a space inside the new park building in Washington Square Park. For around 15 years or so, there has been a police trailer outside the park, with monitors (but not always a police officer) for the park’s plethora of surveillance cameras. Swan cited a rumor that the building will have a police holding cell. We asked Parks spokesperson Phil Abramson for clarification. “There will not be any police holding cells inside the Washington Square Park building. That is a false rumor,” he told us. “We are currently communicating with the N.Y.P.D. on how we can best facilitate public safety in the park and the surrounding area. I can’t comment on what use there may be [in the park building].” We’re told by a reliable source, however, that “a small room is likely” for the police in the park building.