Turning Back the Clock:
Private Development is Still Not an Acceptable Solution for Pier 40
Analysis & Reflections | Krystal Portalatin | Wednesday July 11, 2012 3:07
On Tuesday, June 12 at 7pm, I walked into the Community Board 2 Waterfront Committee meeting expecting to see a room full of at least 100 or more concerned residents, business owners, community members, youth organizations and elected officials. I was shocked and dismayed see only about 40 faces. The topic at hand: a public hearing about the Hudson River Park Trust’s interest in opening the Hudson River Park Act to allow for changes that would enable the Trust to do such things as issue bonds, pursue mixed-use development, and to offer extended leases with the hopes of generating income for the park. Only a few short years ago, this was a topic that generated passionate opposition from West Village community members, who organized a united front to stop mega-private-development from reeking havoc on the park and community.
While the changes being proposed by HRPT on Tuesday may sound like a great solution for generating income for maintaining the park, we know that putting profit before people will never yield positive outcomes. To contemplate such ideas without weighing the price that users and the community surrounding the park would face, is a huge detriment to any community development process and often has devastating impacts on the lives of community members.
In 2008 when Related Companies proposed to build a mega-entertainment complex on Pier 40, we saw the West Village community unite against big private development. We saw business owners, families, LGBTQ youth, residents, and park-goers demand that community voices and needs be at the center of what happens on Pier 40. Related Companies’ proposal failed due to their inability to work within the limits of a 30 year lease, as decreed by the Hudson River Park Act, and their failure to produce a proposal that supported community building, prioritized public space and ensured accessible to all members of the community.
Residents and community members in attendance at the recent CB2 meeting brought up several concerns: timing and desire to have a longer process that would allow for more discussion and deeper understanding of the impacts changing the Act would have, wanting a process that would allow for community participation in brainstorming what development opportunities might be available, and exploring alternative solutions that could generate income for the park. At the meeting, HRPT admitted that they began organizing the committee that would create these new amendments in October, yet they only started discussing this with the public a few short months ago. Furthermore, in the feasibility study they conducted to explore various development options, they looked exclusively into what income hotels, residences and retail would generate if built on Pier 40. They did not explore schools, cultural space and medical facilities, development that the community stated they wanted and needed in years past.
Even more troubling, when concerns were raised at the meeting, they were either met with silence or defensiveness. In one particular incident, residents were asking for more time to review the proposed changes and to not make a hasty decision on amending the Act. The Hudson’s River Park Trust current CEO and President Madeline Wils remained silent and Arthur Schwartz, Chair of the Waterfront Committee, stated, “I bet if we have this conversation a year from now we’d still have people who wanted more time.”
This blatant disregard for the necessity of a longer, more public process, points out one of the key flaws to the current HRPT Act—that it does not contain measures of accountability to ensure community decision making in the process. At the moment, HRPT does not seek meaningful council and feedback from the public, but does hold the power to ultimately make final decisions. This is made obviously clear through the recent example of the Spectra Gas Line project. HPRT did not consult the community or the public on their thoughts and opinions on allowing a gas pipeline to run through the Hudson River and under the park, which has been a highly debated issue which large amounts of organized opposition. HRPT does not have plans for a public dialogue on the approval of the pipeline, evidenced by the fact the board is meeting on Monday 6/18 to vote.
If the Hudson River Park Trust is serious about opening the Hudson River Park Act, they need to be serious about ensuring that the needs of the community are met and that community stakeholders are part of the decision making process. FIERCE’s White Paper Policy “Expanding Access to Public Space at the Hudson River Park” outlines two solutions for the Act that would help ensure this:
1) Expanding community access to public space and increasing quality of life for adjoining communities, including having more public space determined by the community, expanded community uses, public management and no extension on the 30 year lease term, which would ensure that private development is limited.
2) Community Involvement in Decision Making about the park, which would allow for increased community representation on HRPT’s Board, who is the ultimate decision maker on the park. This would also give the larger community broader voting power and veto power in decisions about the park.
It is imperative that HRPT prioritize the voices and needs of the community. We all want a safe, accessible, and stronger West Village where community members, residents, students, families, LGBTQ youth, community organizations and local business can thrive. HRPT must put the West Village community before profit margins and mega-development. As community members, FIERCE is ready to engage in this process. HRPT, how about you?
--Krystal Portalatin, Co-Director, FIERCE
FIERCE is a community-based organization building the leadership and power of LGBTQ youth of color in NYC. Since 2000, FIERCE has organized campaigns to keep the West Village a safe space for LGBTQ youth. FIERCE is also a member of the Hudson River Park Trust Advisory Council.