Three years after initial funds were awarded for a new park at Pier 42, officials with the New York City Park’s Department went before a Community Board 3 panel last night to unveil plans for an interim recreational area. They did not receive a warm welcome from tenant leaders representing buildings along the East River.
A conceptual scheme for the 8-acre parcel just below East River Park at Montgomery Street was approved by the community board in December of last year, and also by the Public Design Commission. While the renderings presented last night were remarkably similar to those previously brought before CB3’s parks committee, city officials said the new plans “fill out the bones” for the interim facility.
The presentation was led by Noriko Maeda of Mathews Nielsen, the landscape architectural firm hired by the city to design the project. Phase 1, budgeted at slightly over $10 million, entails tearing down most of a large storage shed on the site, planting grass and other greenery, establishing a 7-foot-high knoll, repaving the bike/walking path bordering the area, removing asphalt and lead paint and repainting the deck. A new chain-link safety fence will go up along the waterfront, blocking off a four-foot high deck that is unstable. While it was not mentioned last night, a Parks Department spokesperson told The Lo-Down this past summer that construction is scheduled to begin in the spring in 2016 and be completed in the fall of 2017.
Residents in attendance last night had no objection to the interim park proposal. They have major problems, however, with the $94 million master plan already approved. Nancy Ortiz, tenant leader at the Vladeck Houses, ripped into Parks Department officials for a Pier 42 vision that she said fails to meet the needs of the low and middle income community that lives in the immediate area. “This is the first time we are seeing the plan,” said Ortiz. “We are tired of being ignored. We have children. We have families and we have no amenities.” During a series of meetings in 2013, Ortiz and others said, they were emphatic about their desire for a swimming pool at Pier 42. It is not part of the short or long range plans.
City officials and community board members heard similar concerns from Aixa Torres, tenant leader of the Alfred E. Smith Houses. Speaking to parks committee members, she said, “you need to revisit this plan.” She was very critical of the decision to add an area for kayaks at Pier 42. “I don’t want to be bothered with a kayak,” she said. “I want a pool… We pay taxes and we do not want to become strangers in our own community.”
Lawrence Mauro, the Parks Department’s Lower Manhattan project manager, said there had been ample opportunities for community members to weigh in about the master plan, including 14 meetings (most very poorly attended) with the community board and with other groups, including tenants at the Vladeck Houses. He said residents repeatedly told them the biggest need was for open green space, since it’s severely lacking in East River Park. Mauro added that several features envisioned at Pier 42 cater to the local neighborhood, including a possible film screening area, a water play station and a space where ice skating could take place. Mauro said Mathews Nielsen looked at the possibility of adding a swimming pool, but dismissed the idea for technical reasons. He could not recall exactly why the location was ill-suited for a pool. Another parks official, Steve Simon, said the master plan was brought to the parks committee for approval because “that’s how the process works” and “that’s the guidance we were given.”
Residents, however, expressed sentiments often heard at these types of meetings — that the city seeks out community input only to create the illusion of engagement with local neighborhoods, rather than actually incorporating community wishes into their plans. Thomas Yu, parks committee chairperson, asked city officials if the master plan could be revisited. William Castro, the department’s Lower Manhattan commissioner, stepped in to say many more community meetings are ahead on Pier 42. “I am confident we can work this out,” he added.
In the end, the committee approved a resolution in support of the interim plan and asking the Parks Department to make “good faith efforts” to investigate the possibility of adding a swimming pool to the Pier 42 master plan. The resolution also called on the agency to take another look at the merits of kayaking and to reach out to a broad cross-section of the community beyond Community Board 3.
Lost in last night’s discussion was this fact: it’s taking six years from the time money was awarded just to create a temporary park at Pier 42. That’s assuming (a huge assumption) the Parks Department stays on schedule.
If you’re interested, in looking at the complete presentation from the Parks Department in December of 2013, here it is: