CB4 Attuned to Community Needs

In alignment: CB4 boar members expressed solidarity with those who spoke during the public comment session. Photo by Eileen Stukane.

In alignment: CB4 boar members expressed solidarity with those who spoke during the public comment session. Photo by Eileen Stukane.

BY EILEEN STUKANE | As host to spirited debate on everything from quality of life concerns to massive city planning projects, verbal fireworks are not unusual displays at the monthly full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4). Fortunately, during April 6’s session (held at Hudson Guild’s Fulton Auditorium on Ninth Ave.), CB4 Chair Delores Rubin frequently expressed solidarity with the concerns, and causes, brought to the fore by local residents. Various board members also let the public know that CB4 was focused on the preservation of a W. 20th St. building, and was keenly aware of Port Authority’s ambitious expansion plans for a redesigned bus terminal. The meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m., when the public hearing session on permits and variances was easily dispatched.

CB4 unanimously approved a letter to the LPC recommending the rejection of a proposal to alter 404 W. 20th St., widely regarded as the oldest house in Chelsea. Photo by Scott Stiffler.

CB4 unanimously approved a letter to the LPC recommending the rejection of a proposal to alter 404 W. 20th St., widely regarded as the oldest house in Chelsea. Photo by Scott Stiffler.

PRESERVING CHELSEA’S OLDEST HOUSE | Considered the oldest house in Chelsea, 404 W. 20th St. (btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.) was purchased in April 2015 by a new owner, who is proposing extensive renovations. The 4,700-square-foot historic house was built in 1829-30 for Hugh Walker on land leased from Clement Clarke Moore.

During the public speaking session, Adam Taubman of Kramer, Levin, Naftalis, Frankel, the law firm of the owner, and Bill Suk, architect for the owner, spoke about the proposed changes. Taubman said that the building had a DOB violation due to deterioration and lack of maintenance by the prior owner, and that there were “bulging and leaning walls, cracked walls, sloping floors. In response to this violation the owner and his engineer are working in consultation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission [LPC].” He requested that CB4 reconsider its recommendations. It did not.

Later on in the meeting, CB4 unanimously approved a letter to the LPC that stated the proposed alterations “would demolish the entire house except for its street facade, and do further violence to this house and to the most historically sensitive and architecturally distinguished block in Chelsea.” The letter recommended “that the LPC reject this proposal and request that the applicant prepare and submit an entirely different design for alterations to 404 West 20th Street.” The board suggested that a new design should retain “to a meaningful extent the substance — not just the façade — of the house.”

BARNEYS, PARK, MOM & POP CONERNS | At the start of the public comment session Paul Groncki, representing the 100 West 16th Street Block Association, thanked CB4 for its successful efforts in preventing Barneys from transforming three parking locations into a loading zone on a narrow strip of W. 16th St. Prior to the meeting, Barneys had agreed to withdraw its request.

As other speakers brought issues to the podium, however, it became clear that there was an audio problem. Whether the standing microphone in front of the podium was too far away, too high, too low, or the speakers were just not used to talking directly into a microphone, audience members (and this reporter) strained to hear what was being said.

Among those who approached the podium, Jelena Pavlovic spoke about a proposed renovation by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation on Clement Clarke Moore Park. On behalf of herself and her two small children (ages two and four), she advocated for maintaining the height of the surrounding fence, which Parks wants to lower. She also asked — even though locals refer to the area as “Seal Park” — that the signature seal-shaped water features be eliminated due to insufficient drainage. She explained that her concern is the possible presence of the “tiger mosquito, the second most prevalent mosquito to carry the Zika virus,” which thrives in standing water.

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Representing the 100 West 16th Street Block Association, Paul Gronkcki thanked CB4 for helping to prevent Barneys from transforming three parking locations into a loading zone. Photo by Eileen Stukane.

CB4 Waterfront, Parks, and Environment Committee member Lowell Kern assured that the board’s letter to the Department requested that the fence height remained, and “my understanding from the hearing we had is that the drainage system is going to be addressed in the water feature area.” Rubin added, “This community is very engaged and knowledgeable about this park. Stay involved because the Parks Department has already responded to changes we have suggested. There were problems with drainage last year, and they put in temporary measures very quickly.”

Tom Cayler, for 517-525 W. 45th St. Tenants, brought up the issue of owners falsifying building applications with the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) in order to obtain illegitimate building permits. He had forwarded falsified documents relating to his building to the NYC Department of Investigation (DOI), and was asked to prove intent of falsification.

“Oddly, I was able to do that,” said Cayler. “Now the DOI does not want to speak to me again. It’s kind of like going to the Wizard who says, ‘Kill the Wicked Witch of the West and then come back to me.’ ” Rubin said that CB4 has been speaking with the DOB “for several months, and with our local elected officials, and we do happen to have a meeting planned with DOB. These are issues that we’re going to be talking about.”

Bill Borock, president of the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA), and Miguel Acevedo, president of the Fulton Houses Tenants’ Association, both spoke about the struggle to save small businesses in the district. Acevedo urged, “It’s not about rallies. Rallies are not stopping small businesses from closing. Find a resolution to work with the City Council; a bill.” The City Council’s Small Business Committee has yet to act upon the Small Business Survival Act, sponsored by 28 councilmembers in 2014. This act would establish a fairer environment for negotiating lease renewals. Rubin commented that CB4’s Balanced Businesses Task Force was looking at ways to work with local officials to resolve the small business crisis.

Borock also encouraged residents to adopt a micro-garden along the route of a bike lane coming to Sixth Ave. Borock warned that the NYC Department of Transportation will turn the areas into “concrete” if several sites are not spoken for soon. To adopt a micro-garden, contact Bill Borock by sending an email to wborock@hotmail.com.

Principal Ed Gilligan spoke for his school, PS 111 (at 440 W. 53rd St.). The school is phasing out its middle grades and becoming a pre-K to Grade 5 elementary school. Gilligan reminded those assembled that the school’s state-of-the-art playground with a running track, basketball courts, outdoor ping pong tables, a forest walk and play equipment is open to the public on weekdays after school until dusk, and from 8 a.m. to dusk on weekends and holidays.

IMMINENT BUS TERMINAL SPARKS EMINENT DOMAIN CONCERNS | Representing New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, Eli Szenes-Strauss announced a Town Hall meeting to address the impending redesign and development of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Major community concerns have arisen over how the Port Authority has initiated a design competition that allows for the use of eminent domain in order to create a new, much larger terminal that is projected to cost over $10 billion. Designs can differ in configuration and size, and may include demolishing the present terminal and taking over private property on Ninth Ave. (btw. W. 39th & W. 40th Sts.). This would destroy about a dozen private properties, both residential and retail, as well as the Metro Baptist Church (which will host Hoylman’s Town Hall, 6:30 p.m. on Mon., April 18, at 410 W. 40th St., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.). The event will bring together Port Authority design competition representatives and the community for a Q&A session.

In a strongly worded five-page letter (with maps), to John Degnan, chair of the Port Authority of NY and NJ, CB4 denounced any plan that would demolish blocks of Hell’s Kitchen. The letter, which was unanimously approved by the board, states: “MCB4 believes that the convenience of commuters should not come at the price of this neighborhood’s homes, businesses, community institutions, and houses of worship.” JD Noland described the letter as “an opening salvo.” Rubin added, “There will be plenty of opining on this project; other opportunities to get to the fever pitch where our voices are heard.” She urged everyone to go to the Port Authority website to take the agency’s design survey.

“Most of the respondents are commuters, and if they are the only ones responding, they’re going to be the ones to sway the votes,” she said. There are nine questions and all must be answered for a response to count.

Jelena Pavlovic, mother of two, favors maintaining the current fence height of Clement Clarke Moore Park, but wants its signature seal features eliminated because mosquitoes thrive in its standing water. Photo by Eileen Stukane.

Jelena Pavlovic, mother of two, favors maintaining the current fence height of Clement Clarke Moore Park, but wants its signature seal features eliminated because mosquitoes thrive in its standing water. Photo by Eileen Stukane.

NEWS FROM ELECTED OFFICIALS | Representing Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Drew Lombardi said Brewer, Councilmember Corey Johnson and a few other elected officials undertook a walking tour of Elliott-Chelsea Houses to investigate subpar conditions and make plans for change. Also, Brewer has requested that state officials meet with elected officials together in a Penn Station working group, rather than individually as state officials have indicated. Brewer also is continuing to follow up with Con Edison about investigating and fixing the loss of cooking gas to tenants.

Gaby Dann-Allel, representing New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, reported that the Assembly blocked Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $485 million cut of state support for CUNY. There will be no tuition increase at CUNY and SUNY schools. She also highlighted the minimum wage increase to $15, to be carried out in increments and attained by 2018, and the 12 weeks paid family leave to begin in January, 2018.

CB4 LETTERS APPROVED | Bundled according to committee, 31 letters were approved by the board, most unanimously. Discussion centered over a letter to the Ninth Avenue Association in regard to its street permit application for the Ninth Avenue International Food Festival. After discussion, it was decided that the permit would be approved — with the understanding that within 60 days CB4 would be apprised of nonprofits receiving monies from the Festival. Another discussion concerned an application to the Board of Standards and Appeals, for a special permit for Avenues, The World School, to use 519 W. 26th St., in a manufacturing zone, for classroom space for two years, while the school expands at another address. This was ultimately approved. The meeting was adjourned.

The next CB4 full board meeting is Wed., May 4, 6:30 p.m. at Mount Sinai West (1000 10th Ave., btw. W. 58th & W. 59th Sts.). Visit nyc.gov/mcb4. Facebook: Manhattan Community Board 4. Twitter: @manhattanboard4.

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