The Two Bridges Neighborhood Council recently received a grant from the city’s Department of Environmental Protection to create a rain garden at a residential building it co-owns at 82 Rutgers Slip. The people who run the non-profit organization believe it’s a sound strategy to deal with flooding and storm water issues during future “weather events” such as Hurricane Sandy. But the proposal is proving controversial among some of the people who live in the complex, located next door to the shuttered Pathmark store on South Street.
The garden, depicted in the rendering you see above, would replace a private playground which sits at the corner of South Street and Rutgers Slip. The play equipment typically gets very hot in the summer months because the area is exposed to direct sunlight. Kids have been burned and poked by sharp metal pieces that jut out from the play surfaces.
According to Kerri Culhane, Two Bridges’ associate director, the Green Infrastructure Grant would facilitate the construction of a porous garden, including new landscaping, seating areas, an open lawn area that could accommodate a “play space” and a bamboo wall along South Street. The garden, designed by Brooklyn’s dlandstudio, could manage about 8700 gallons of water during a storm, diverting run-off from the roof of the building and, more important, keeping it out of storm drains. The idea, in part, is to prevent sewage from draining into the East River, a goal with obvious environmental benefits.
The controversy has, apparently arisen due to concerns about the amount and kind of outreach that was done last year within the building, known as Two Bridges Towers. Elaine Hoffman, a tenant leader, asked, “What is a rain garden? What are they going to do?” In a phone interview yesterday, she said building management should “fix the playground” instead of replacing it. The plan, she indicated, was discovered by another tenant who happened to be looking at Two Bridges’ web site. A memo was distributed in the past several days describing the garden project and telling residents that “safer age-appropriate playground structures (would remain) available immediately across Rutgers Slip” adjacent to another Two Bridges building.
Trever Holland, who has emerged as a tenant leader in recent months, also expressed concerns, saying a survey conducted in January of 2012 did not make it clear management was moving to replace the playground and very few tenants were interviewed, especially Chinese-speaking residents. The bottom line, he said, is that Two Bridges, circumvented tenants, pursuing its own agenda. A petition opposing the plan is being circulated and includes, we’re told, more than 200 signatures. Local elected officials have been contacted about the situation, as well. There have been a series of contentious conversations about the project in recent days.
Culhane said, during an interview yesterday, that staff conducting the survey went door-to-door and were accompanied by a Chinese translator. A Headstart program, based in the Two Bridges complex, was also consulted. In the surveys, she explained, tenants expressed support for a green space and said there was a need for more outdoor seating. Renderings, meant for illustrative purposes, did not show the play space within the garden, but it was always the intention to have one, she added.
Work on the garden is scheduled to begin next spring after final approval from the Department of Environmental Protection.