The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) will host an “Open Community Meeting” tonight (Wednesday, November 9), from 6:00 to 7:30 pm, at Six River Terrace (opposite the Irish Hunger Memorial and next to Le Pain Quotidien restaurant).
Residents are urged to attend, hear a presentation from Authority staff on their vision for the community, and seek answers to questions that are crucial to future of everybody who lives here, such as resiliency, affordability, and security. This meeting is expected to focus particularly on the BPCA’s process for redesigning Wagner Park, so that it will be better able to withstand future extreme weather events.
The most recent session of this kind took place on July 20, and was the third in a series of quarterly meetings through which the BPCA is seeking to repair its relationship with the community it governs, which was widely perceived to have been sundered by a serious of controversial decisions in recent years.
BPCA chairman Dennis Mehiel said of Open Community sessions earlier this year, “we’re wide open to suggestions, to ideas about how we can continue to execute our responsibilities to the best of our judgment and in conformance with our fiduciary responsibility to the tax payers of New York City and New York State.”
The Broadsheet asked a range of elected officials, community leaders, and residents to frame such suggestions and pose questions for the Authority to answer at tonight’s meeting. Here are their responses:
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer asked, “what steps is the BPCA taking to ensure disabled access to the Rector Street Bridge, as its elevator has been erratically in and out of service?” She also wanted to know, “is there any way for the Rector Street Bridge to remain open until the West Thames St. Bridge is complete?” This was a reference to a plan, announced by the City’s Economic Development Corporation, to demolish the old span before the new one is open. This proposal has sparked criticism from community leaders who fear that the lack of a bridge crossing over West Street during any gap between demolition of the Rector span and the completion of the West Thames bridge may prove to be a grave safety hazard to handicapped pedestrians and to parents escorting small children, in strollers or on foot.
Ninfa Segarra, who chairs the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1), voiced reservation about the BPCA’s approach to engagement with residents. “Prior community meetings have been more ‘show and tell,'” she said, “which could have been presented to the Community Board’s Battery Park City Committee.”
On a positive note, she added, “after the change of policy regarding public comment and the arcades, this is a great opportunity to continue building positive relationship with the community.” (Ms. Segarra was referring to recent BPCA policy changes that will allow residents to speak at Authority board meetings, and the decision not to pursue a plan to create new retail space by filling in sheltered pedestrian walkways behind the colonnades along South End Avenue.)
“This is a good time to add sunshine to their major capital projects,” Ms. Segarra continued. “Such capital projects can dramatically change the character of the community. The Authority should fully present objectives of the projects, specifics and time tables for both South End Avenue and Wagner Park. Additionally, they should accept the invitation by the Battery Park City Committee to present the Wagner Park project at our December or January meeting.”
Jeff Mihok, co-chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said, “I would simply ask why must Wagner Park be changed? And why, when the Authority decided to change it, did they not immediately hold a meeting about it, stating the reasons for why it would be changed?”
Mr. Mihok continued, “my larger question would be, given the animus toward the Authority from within the Battery Park City community, is the BPCA willing now to agree that it will henceforth notify our residents as soon as any plan for infrastructural or policy changes are being considered? Such a statement would go a long way toward mending fences with the community.”
Maria Smith, a member of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said, “I am very concerned about traffic, including tour buses, livery cars, MTA buses, cyclists, runners, vendors and tourists all converging at Wagner Park on weekends. There is absolutely no enforcement of traffic rules and regulations.” She added, “as the popularity of the area grows with the Statue of Liberty, Battery Park, Pier A, Wagner Park and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, we need dedicated traffic enforcement agents who can issue tickets. For security reasons, for safety reasons and for quality of life reasons, the BPCA must provide a solution.”
Bob Schneck, who also serves on CB1, observed that, “the BPCA was formed to manage the build-out of Battery Park City, before there were residents with interests of their own to represent themselves. Once the build-out was completed, who decided, or how was it decided, that the Authority would continue? Under what principle does it possess the power and prerogative to resist the expressed will of the residents and the authority of their elected officials? Why does it retain the power to freely spend the people’s money and issue bonds for more? Whose interest does the BPCA truly represent?”
John Dellaportas, president of the Liberty House Condominium board of managers, said, “because of the design and location of Battery Park City, both north and south, there are very few access points into and out of our community. Nevertheless, seemingly every weekend, and sometimes multiple weekend days, various events — for mostly non-Battery Park City residents — cause the police to limit access to the neighborhood for those of us who live here. The community itself has little say in the scheduling of these events. Would the BPCA consider more community input before agreeing that our community host such events?”
These questions, and the Open Community Meetings in which they are being raised, come against the backdrop of a series of concessions and gestures by the BPCA in recent months, which appear intended to reestablish trust in the Authority among residents. These include (in addition to the policy about public comment at Board meetings and the decision not to destroy the South End Avenue arcades), the establishment of working groups (the membership of which includes residents) to study bicycle safety and programming for elderly residents, and affordable sailing programs during the summer aboard the vintage yachts Ventura and Shearwater.