Ideas for waterfront by Stuy Cove include cafes, elevated park

Area residents listen to a discussion about potential use of the waterfront at a meeting at Washington Irving High School. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Area residents listen to a discussion about potential use of the waterfront at a meeting at Washington Irving High School. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The coastal resiliency project backed by the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency has announced new possible plans for the waterfront by Stuyvesant Cove Park, with ideas including cafes or an elevated park.

The Tuesday evening workshop held at Washington Irving High School was more interactive than the previous gathering, which was mainly a presentation from ORR director Dan Zarilli and Jeremy Siegel, a project designer with the consultant team of Big U and director of Rebuild by Design.

Rebuild by Design was launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and held a competition for resiliency ideas, which resulted in the Big U project to protect the coastline known as the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.

ORR senior policy advisor Carrie Grassi said this week that there was a short gap between the end of the contest and the beginning of the design process, but the project is now gaining more momentum.

“The first meeting was really more of a re-introduction to the idea of the project so now we’re working on honing in on ideas and getting feedback on those ideas,” she said.

Siegel gave a short presentation at the most recent meeting, which was held in the school’s cafeteria this time rather than the auditorium to allow residents to separate into groups at the tables and discuss the different options.

Even this section of the project, which spans from 14th Street to 23rd Street along the East River, was broken into its own separate segments, but most of the presentation focused on options for the area around Stuyvesant Cove Park and outlined the various possibilities for flood protection. The three options include some kind of berm or levee, which is a raised land form that would be a permanent fixture, a floodwall, which would also be permanent but that Siegel said would be ideal for narrower spaces, and deployables, which would be temporarily erected to protect the area from flooding. Siegel noted that they would ideally be using more passive options rather than deployables, which end up being more unreliable because of the human involvement required to operate them, but added that the structures can be a good alternative in areas where there needs to be access most of the time, such as at pedestrian crossings or roadways.

Siegel explained eight different design options for the area around Stuy Cove Park and underneath the FDR, although three of those involved a similar design — a flip-down canopy that would be deployed in the event of flooding — that could be placed either on Avenue C, underneath the FDR or behind Stuyvesant Cove Park. The downside to using this option Siegel said is the overarching concern about deployables in the first place, which is that they would require maintenance and operation.

“It would also complicate maintenance of the bridge for the Department of Transportation,” he added, noting that a positive of this option is that it would maintain visibility to the water.

Another deployable option would offer retail opportunities in the area, through protective pavilions with integrated deployable gates. Siegel noted that putting up a passive element like a permanent floodwall could become isolating and unsafe but public programming, retail and the bustling activity that would come with these options could mitigate concerns about safety.

One question to address in respect to this suggestion is whether or not there is enough demand for retail in the area.

Community Board 6 Chair Sandro Sherrod, who was at the workshop, said that he isn’t necessarily sure how much retail would be successful there but is open to the possibility of something commercial in the area.

“It would be nice to have something for the residents who have to walk all the way to First Avenue (from Avenue C) just to get to a couple stores,” he said.

Siegel said that an inland berm directly outside Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village was also discussed but he mentioned this option without including many details, saying that it was not the best course of action because it would interfere with ground floor apartments in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.

Another permanent possibility would be a median on Avenue C but Siegel noted that one of the downsides of this option is that it would disconnect pedestrians from the FDR. A passive element on the FDR could include benches that are berm-like but that would displace the parking, which Siegel said the revenue from helps maintain Solar One and Stuyvesant Cove Park.

An elevated park would be one of the most cost-effective options and would maintain the existing parking, but the construction would have to integrate the future incarnation of the Solar One building, Solar 2, into the design plans. One disadvantage of this possibility is that it would block views from Avenue C to the water but the plan could potentially integrate deployables in certain sections and create dips to offer more accessibility.

One of the main points the team at Big U is considering with any of the design options is the importance of social infrastructure.

“The majority of the time, there won’t be any flooding going on so we want to make sure the investment is put to the best possible use,” Siegel said. “It’s really a juggling of alternatives, but the first priority is reliability, to protect the city from a storm event.”

The previous workshop held in March asked residents to give feedback on their interaction with the waterfront, and 48 percent of respondents from the workshop on Stuy Cove Park would be interested in kayaking facilities and a café, with 34 percent interested in community services, 16 percent interested in some other kind of retail and 15 percent interested in sports facilities. Other suggestions included an LGBT education facility, a performance space for the summer months, a paddleboard dock and a sledding hill.

The area between 14th and 23rd Street is only one segment of the entire project. Two other community workshops are being held this week and next week to discuss Project Area 1, which spans south from 14th Street to the tip of Manhattan at Montgomery Street. Siegel noted, however, that there are very diverse conditions to consider for this area, unlike in Project Area 1, because of Con Edison, considerations from the Department of Transportation because of the FDR, various waterfront access points and the VA Hospital, as well as anticipating future uses in the area such as the planned kayak launch at Stuyvesant Cove Park.

The next workshop will be sometime in July, although a date has not yet been chosen. The next meeting for the task force is on July 9, with the time and place to be determined.

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