First new park for Chelsea in 40 years opens

The new park was constructed on a lot formerly occupied by a sanitation garage. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson joined State Senator Brad Hoylman along with other local elected officials, community board members, park advocates and neighborhood residents for the ribbon cutting on a new park on West 20th Street at the end of July.

The quarter-acre park between Sixth and Seventh Avenues was built after the former Sanitation facility on the lot was demolished by the Department of Design and Construction.

Local elected officials and community residents had been working to open the park for almost 10 years, since the space became available after the city was no longer using the Sanitation Garage on the lot.

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Park’s late champion to be honored for service

Rosalee Isaly, who died last July from cancer, helped revitalize Stuyvesant Square Park after a period of decline.

By Sabina Mollot

Last July, Stuyvesant Square Park lost its top overseer for half a century with the death of Rosalee Islay, the longtime president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, from pancreatic cancer at age 81. This year, the organization for which she volunteered will honor her posthumously at its annual benefit gala. The theme will be “Sowing the Seeds for the next 50 Years.”

“We’re honoring Rosalee for all she achieved over the decades,” said Phyllis Mangels, a board member of the SPNA. Additionally, going forward each year’s event will be named for Isaly though the name hasn’t yet been established. Miriam Dasic, the organization’s vice president, joked to Town & Village that with a name like Rosalee, the potential for flower puns are endless, though she promised “nothing too corny” after this reporter suggested “Everything’s coming up Rosalee.”

Meanwhile, the flowers that bloom consistently in the park today are there in large part due to Isaly’s efforts, which involved starting — and later expanding — volunteer gardening events. They’re now held around the year at least twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Work ranges from cleanup to planting to making sure bushes are kept at safe heights for visibility purposes.

The gardening program was part of a larger effort spearheaded by Isaly to revitalize the park after a long period of decline. This also included implementing free summer programming like tango classes and jazz concerts and pushing for years to see a multi-million project to restore the park’s historic wrought-iron fence restored.

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Some parks are still closed after snowstorm knocks limbs off trees

Nov22 gramercy park clean-up

A worker secures a tree in Gramercy Park after a snowstorm caused a still undetermined amount of damage in the park and other parks. (Photos courtesy of Gramercy Park Block Associaton)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Unexpected heavy snowfall last Thursday caused damage to trees throughout the neighborhood, resulting in park closures through this week, long after all the snow from the storm had melted.

Arlene Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association and park trustee, sent an email to park neighbors on Friday noting that the park would be closed until further notice, and included photos of several downed tree limbs inside the park.

“Park caretakers who have been working here for decades said that it was the worst single hit to the park since they’ve worked here,” said Harrison, who made the decision to padlock the park gates for safety reasons until the debris is cleared. She said that the park could reopen by the end of the week but it had to remain closed until the crew can determine that it’s safe.

She added that the crew was pruning on the western side of the park right before the storm so there was the least amount of damage on that side, but five trees in the park were “ravaged” because of the wind and heavy snow.

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City proposes reconfiguring 2 playgrounds as part of East Side flood protection plan

nov24-asser-levy-playground

Asser Levy Playground (pictured) and Murphy’s Brother’s Playground will be impacted by the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. (Photo courtesy of Parks Department)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The city has been exploring options to redesign Asser Levy Playground and Murphy’s Brother’s Playground, since both will be affected by the construction of flood protection along the East Side of Manhattan from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street.

Earlier in the month, representatives from the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency discussed the proposals at a community meeting held at Washington Irving High School.

Carrie Grassi, the deputy director of planning for the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, mentioned how the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project will run adjacent to both parks and construction will disturb activities there.

However, since the city is only in the concept design stage with the project, Grassi said that decisions for all aspects aren’t necessarily final yet. One such instance is the placement of the floodwall as it approaches the Asser Levy Playground. One configuration has the wall bordering the park along the FDR Drive, turning along East 25th Street and connecting with the floodwall that the VA Hospital is working on.

“But some feel that would be too imposing,” Grassi said.

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Elevated park option for East River waterfront

Those in attendance at the  meeting last Tuesday sat at tables while the pros and cons of each option for the project were discussed. (Pictured) Guests seated before the presentation began (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Those in attendance at the meeting last Tuesday sat at tables while the pros and cons of each option for the project were discussed. (Pictured) Guests seated before the presentation began (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

 By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Neighborhood residents recently learned that the East River may be getting a new elevated park along with flood protection. The discussion about the park took place at the most recent workshop for the East Side Coastal Resiliency project, held at the Stein Senior Center last Tuesday. Representatives from the mayor’s office and BIG U, the winning design firm in the Rebuild by Design competition in 2013, said that this type of flood protection was one of the most popular with residents, according to feedback from the community at the previous workshop in May.

Carrie Grassi, senior policy adviser at the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency, also discussed the three options for flood protection in the area along the East River between 14th and 23rd Streets, which includes a berm, which would have a park on top, a flood wall or a deployable, and noted that community members saw the advantages of all three depending on the area.

The area along the river from 14th to 23rd is known as Project Area 2 and Project Area 1 extends south from 14th Street to Montgomery Street. The workshops have been split along these boundaries to focus more on the specific needs of each area.

Grassi noted that there is a need for compromise when considering different characteristics even within each designated project area and the specifics of each kind of flood protection, and they’re hoping the workshops will help find the right balance for Project Area 2.

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Ribbon cut at newly expanded Asser Levy Playground

Feb5 Asser Levy Garodnick equipment

Council Member Dan Garodnick tries out the adult fitness equipment. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Friday morning, in near-freezing weather following the second snowfall in a week, local community leaders and politicians cut the ribbon on the newly expanded Asser Levy Playground.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver joked that “It’s a pleasure to cut a ribbon on this warm and sunny day,” as the politicians on either side of him sat bundled up for the cold. He then went on to say the project had been successful in terms of being both “on time and on budget and that gets a double round of applause.”

New features along the two-block-long park that was formerly a street include a track, adult fitness equipment, a synthetic turf field, drinking fountains, lighting, trees, tables and benches.

The work was funded with allocations of $1,175,000 from Council Member Dan Garodnick, $500,000 from the UN Development Corporation, and $670,000 from the mayor.

While at the podium, Silver joked that Garodnick was so enamored with project, “he named his son Asher.”

In response Garodnick confided that he’d actually told his son that the playground had been named after him.

“There are no limits to my deception,” he quipped. “I told him it was a typo on the sign.” He added that since he also has another son, “We’ll have to see what we can do for Devin.”

While construction had been underway at the site, the Council member said he and both of his young sons would pop by each day from their apartment in Peter Cooper Village and ask the project supervisor for status updates. And, he added, the supervisor was very nice about it.

The playground work was tied to a land deal that would allow the United Nations to put a building on space occupied by Robert Moses Park.While naturally the plan to remove that park space has been met with some opposition from neighbors, Garodnick said Robert Moses Park is underutilized, as the space now occupied by Asser Levy Playground was when it was a street.

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Op-Ed: St. Vartan’s Park should be considered as alternative site for sanitation garage

The Brookdale campus is the city’s proposed site for a sanitation garage. A firm hired by Community Board 6 has recommended Con Ed property. J.G. Collins however suggests a portion of St. Vartan’s Park. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The Brookdale campus is the city’s proposed site for a sanitation garage. A firm hired by Community Board 6 has recommended Con Ed property. J.G. Collins however suggests a portion of St. Vartan’s Park. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By J.G. Collins
Town & Village has recently reported on the alternative proposals that city and East Side public officials are considering for a garage that the Department of Sanitation (“DSNY”) has proposed to serve Community District Six.

In reviewing alternatives, it’s important to give due weight to those suggested by Community Board Six, Community District Six residents, neighborhood groups, and individuals who might propose viable options that officials have not have otherwise considered. Community Board Six has already offered wise alternatives by engaging a planning firm. But officials shouldn’t consider these (to be the “only” alternatives. Instead, they should welcome all practicable alternatives to best accommodate the required garage within District Six. (Local officials might even consider sponsoring a design exhibit, and perhaps even offer a small cash prize, for viable alternatives proposed by anyone wishing to take up the challenge.)

As an example of proposals that should be welcomed, consider the black-top and tennis court on the western portion of St. Vartan’s Park, between East 35th Street and East 36th Street, just east of Second Avenue. The space is nearly 70 percent of the 83,000 square feet the DSNY proposes to build, including the “Tunnel Entrance Street” that bifurcates the tennis court and the black top.

If a garage were built on the site of the St. Vartan’s Park tennis court and blacktop, Tunnel Entrance Street between 35th and 36th Street could be eliminated and made part of the building footprint. Alternatively, if traffic required, the street could be left open through to the Queens Midtown Tunnel entry and the street could be converted as an underpass with the garage built above it. (The underpass would be suspended and joined above a base built on the current blacktop and tennis court.)

The current tennis court and blacktop playing area could be replicated in a “sky park” on the roof of the garage and covered with netting, like the Sol Goldman Y rooftop play area, or permanently enclosed, like the “bubble top” play space above the United Nations School. The facility could be made accessible by an elevator and a stairwell.

St. Vartan’s Park has several advantages. First, it has minimal impact on noise and zoning because the area is not as heavily residential as either the Brookdale or the Con Edison sites. The north border, on East 36th Street, has no nearby residences as it sits above the the Queens Midtown Tunnel. East 35th Street, the southern border, is the rear side of St. Vartan’s Cathedral, as well as some apartment buildings, but traffic could be directed so that sanitation trucks never cross in front of them.

Second, the land is already “city-owned,” so the land to build a DSNY garage would come at no additional cost.

Third, construction of a DSNY garage on the St. Vartan’s Park site with a sky park on the roof would actually increase the footprint of the total park space on the site by the addition 3,500 square feet of “Tunnel Entrance Street.” It might be made into a “rain or shine” play area if it is enclosed.

Traffic for the St. Vartan’s Blacktop location is somewhat a problem, but not overwhelmingly so. South- and west-bound sanitation trucks could exit the garage behind St. Vartan’s Cathedral to avoid Queens-Midtown Tunnel traffic and the few residential apartments on East 35th Street. Northbound trucks would avoid tunnel traffic completely by exiting the garage at East 36th Street, where there are no nearby residential buildings, and turning left onto First Avenue to go uptown.

Ingress to a St. Vartan’s garage when the trucks return from their shifts could be limited to East 35th Street, but west of Tunnel Entrance Street (so that trucks don’t pass in front of the apartment buildings on the block) and to East 36th Street via Second Avenue, so as to minimize disturbance to neighborhood residents and the already heavy traffic on East 36th Street west of Second Avenue.

This traffic arrangement would keep sanitation trucks almost entirely away from the entrances to the St. Vartan’s “kiddy park” that would remain intact on the eastern