The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) will host an “Open Community Meeting” tomorrow night (Wednesday, March 22), from 6:00 to 8:00 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 ongoing analysis of resiliency, so that the community will be better able to withstand future extreme weather events.
BPCA chairman Dennis Mehiel said of these Open Community sessions last 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 cross-section of elected officials, community leaders, and residents to frame such suggestions and pose questions for the Authority to answer at tomorrow tonight’s meeting. Here are their responses:
State Senator Daniel Squadron asked, “what is the strategy to get more local representation on the Authority board?” This has been the focus of a years-long push led by the Senator, in conjunction with other elected officials, and Community Board 1 (CB1). Earlier this year, the Mr. Squadron introduced a bill in the State Senate that would require Governor Andrew Cuomo (who controls the BPCA) to appoint Lower Manhattan residents to a majority of seat on the Authority’s board. (Currently, only one of the seven board seats is held by a Battery Park City resident.) Senator Squadron also asked, “what are the Authority’s plans for storm resiliency, and how is it coordinating with the City?,” touching upon a theme that has repeatedly arisen at CB1 meetings, and is expected to be the centerpiece of a presentation by Authority staff tomorrow night.Deborah Glick, who represents Battery Park City’s northern section in the State Assembly, is the sponsor of a proposed law in her chamber of the State legislature that echoes Mr. Squadron’s bill in the Senate. She said, “local representation on the BPCA Board is imperative. The Battery Park City Authority Bill would guarantee that a majority of the members of the Board are also residents,” of Lower Manhattan. “As the Assembly sponsor of this bill, my staff has communicated the urgency in getting this through committee and to the floor for a vote as soon as possible to ensure the community’s voice is front and center on the issues that impact their lives the most. My hope is that the committee will hear this bill shortly after the budget passes, at the end of this month. In the meantime, I appreciate that the Battery Park City community continues to make their needs and voices heard both at local community meetings as well as BPCA Board meetings.” Ms. Glick’s college, Yuh-Line Niou, who represents Battery Park City’s southern half in the State Assembly, asked, “is the Authority willing to support State legislation to increase resident representation on its board?” She also wanted to know, “what action steps is the Authority planning to gather input from as many residents as possible?”
Ninfa Segarra, a former Deputy Mayor who now chairs CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said, “resiliency is one of the most urgent issues affecting our community. The major concern raised about the Wagner Park redesign was the lack of an overall resiliency plan for the community.” (This was a reference to the outlines of a plan, first unveiled in late 2016, to revamp the park at the community’s southern tip to harden it against storms and climate change.) “Where is the plan to protect the residential areas of the community to prevent future disasters? Why start with Wagner Park?”
Ms. Segarra continued, “in 2014, the BPCA awarded a $1.1 million contract for an infrastructure and resiliency study to Parson Transportation. We assume the results of the study would include proposed measures that are required to protect this highly residential community. We hope the report at Wednesday’s meeting will include an update on what protections have been put in place by the residential buildings, an evaluation of those efforts, and the gaps that must be filled. Therefore, a holistic discussion on resiliency, including how to finance the measures, is a welcome discussion. We look forward to continuing the discussion with BPCA officials,” at the next meeting of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee — which, in recent months, has been the forum for a series of contentious exchanges between BPCA officials and community leaders on this subject.
Tammy Meltzer, co-chair of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, “I am sure I will have questions once the BPCA staff presents on overall resiliency for all of Battery Park City, and any changes proposed to the Wagner Park plans — if they have incorporated changes based public-stakeholder feedback. It would be good to have a clear outline on which projects take priority, timing and planned funding ideas.”
Maria Smith, a member of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee said, “it’s a pretty pointed question, I guess but I do want to know: What exactly is the Authority’s mission now? Everything is built out. Most of the quality-of-life issues, we handle ourselves through the community board and elected officials.”She added, “I give [BPCA spokesman] Nick Sbordone a lot of credit for his work with the community, but I don’t see that senior staff or the BPCA board itself ever gets involved, except for quarterly meetings. Why is the staff still so large? I don’t understand the need unless something really big is going to happen, like a new sustainability plan or some sort of new development. That is my thinking these days.”
Rector Place resident John Dellaportas asked, “whose idea was it to replace the classic New York City-style metal garbage cans on the Esplanade with those hideous black plastic contraptions? They look like something one might see in the parking lot of a roadside Burger King. Maybe once in a while the Authority might wish to consult the community before imposing its terrible aesthetics upon us.”
Bob Schneck, a member of CB1’s Planning Committee, asked, “is it true that residents and property owners may lose 100 percent of the value of their property when the lease hold expires, on June 17, 2069?”
This was a reference to the exotic nature of property ownership in Battery Park City, where homeowners, landlords, and developers do not own outright the land they occupy, but instead lease the space (through the year 2069), in exchange for yearly payments of ground rent, as well as so-called “payments in lieu of taxes.” Concerns about this arrangement have grown acute in recent years, as more residents have come to realize that, under the current terms of the ground lease, their homes will disappear in 52 years, as ownership of all the real estate in Battery Park City reverts to the Authority. For condominium owners, this will mean that their property is effectively confiscated, while renters will face the prospect of eviction. Both owners and tenants will be rendered homeless under this scenario.
Mr. Schneck also asked, “how will the BPCA support local mortgage-seekers and owners when banks will not approve loans, pending the ground lease expiration? Is BPCA prepared to address these problems with a long-term solution favoring the residents and protecting the value of their homes, which is, in many cases, their principle life investment?”
Dennis Gault, a member of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, noted that, “the Irish Hunger Memorial has been undergoing waterproofing repairs since August, 2016,” and asked, “is the project still on schedule and will it reopen to the public in spring, 2017, as planned?”
Tom Goodkind, also a member of CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said, “the BPCA lost all functionality in our area years ago. These people, the Governor’s cronies, need to step aside and allow our elected representatives to govern our area.”
Rector Place resident Maryanne Braverman said, “I have two areas of concern. First, we need more attention to detail in this neighborhood by the BPCA. Our streets need to be monitored and cared for seven days a week. Curb cuts need to be cleared of snow in winter and then maintained. Some buildings keep up the effort and others do a half-hearted swipe and then ignore what happens as plows come through again and as snow melts. In all seasons, puddles should be swept out of the curb cuts, for mosquito control, and because strollers and wheelchairs need to get through.”
“Second,” she said, “this community deserves to know details about the existing bonds and the bond process. We should know more about how the excess income that the Authority gives to the City is used. And we should see what the Authority takes in and how it is spent within our community.”
“The BPCA has completed is original mission of building this neighborhood,” Ms. Braverman concluded. “Now they need to open up to substantive community input on how OUR neighborhood is managed.”