Waterside celebrates 40th anniversary

By Sabina Mollot

On Thursday night, hundreds gathered at Waterside Plaza for a celebration of the complex’s 40th anniversary that included a concert by the George G. Orchestra, dancing under the stars and a fireworks display over the East River.

Waterside owner Richard Ravitch, between schmoozing with tenants and local politicians, said he never could have imagined the evening’s landmark celebration when, close to 50 years ago, he was trying to convince city officials that the building of a four-tower complex east of the FDR Drive would be a good thing.

“Never in the world,” he said. But he kept pushing for the plans and eventually succeeded in getting federal legislation passed so that Waterside’s buildings could be constructed directly over the water.

“(Mayor) Lindsay was excited about this,” recalled Ravitch. For a while, he noted, Waterside also rented apartments to the FBI “so they could eavesdrop on North Korea.” These days, Waterside is home to 4,000 people, including 200 employees of the United Nations, and there are also two onsite private schools, United Nations International School and British International School of New York.

Over the years, Ravitch said the biggest challenge of running the property is staying on top of its upkeep.

“If you do this responsibly, you have to preserve the infrastructure, even if it means less money in your pocket.”

Ravitch lives uptown rather than at Waterside, explaining, “Every time I raise the rent, some tenants get… unhappy. So it’s never a good idea.” Tenants seemed receptive to the landlord on Thursday though, even greeting him with cheers when he addressed the crowd briefly to discuss the history of the complex and the land it was built on.

He noted the fact that Waterside, the first property to be built east of the FDR Drive, was designed by Lewis Davis, whose son Peter Davis is today the general manager of the property. When introducing him, Ravitch said, “When I was dabbling significantly in public service, I knew I’d have to find an extraordinary person who could raise tenants’ rents, but remain beloved by tenants. That person turned out to be the son of the genius who designed Waterside.”

Ravitch also had words of praise for Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal. Though he admitted she “gives me agita several times a year,” he also called her a tough leader for tenants.

He then went on to discuss how long before Waterside was even a concept, the area that now houses the four-tower complex was an important part of international history. In the 1940s, when the United States was trying to help the British with supplies, the ships they were delivered in, which could not return to the U.S. empty, used rubble from the ground in English city of Bristol as ballast. That rubble was then emptied in the area that now houses Waterside before the ships would take on more supplies. Waterside management was made aware of this bit of history a couple of years ago through the English Speaking Union and now has a plaque on the Plaza to commemorate it.

Also joining Ravitch to discuss the history were a couple of special guests, Edwina Sandys, the granddaughter of Winston Churchill, and Ava Roosevelt, the widow of William Roosevelt, David Roosevelt’s half-brother. Local politicians also appeared at the event, including Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Dan Garodnick and Council Member (and borough president Democratic primary winner) Gale Brewer.

Along with the brief ceremony, the evening included complimentary hot dogs and burgers grilled outside on the Plaza, music, dancing as well as dance performances by the Syncopated City Dance Company, a video tribute to the complex and entertainment for kids.

Pols: Sanitation garage plan rushed, incomplete

A tour of the 57th Street sanitation garage was held last Wednesday. (Pictured) A DSNY rep, Bob Qu, a rep for Council Member Dan Garodnick; Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Assocation; Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Gerard Schiffren, a resident of East 23rd Street Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick

A tour of the 57th Street sanitation garage was held last Wednesday. (Pictured) A DSNY rep, Bob Qu, a rep for Council Member Dan Garodnick; Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Assocation; Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and Gerard Schiffren, a resident of East 23rd Street
Photo courtesy of Dan Garodnick

 

By Sabina Mollot
Local elected officials are calling on the city to come up with a more comprehensive plan on its intended use for a block where a planned sanitation garage is to be built. More details, they’re saying, are needed about what the east and west parcels of the property on the current Hunter College Brookdale campus, would be used for, as well as other factors. Only the center area is slated to be used for the garage.
This comes after a tour was held last Wednesday of an existing garage facility on 57th Street in an attempt by the Department of Sanitation to answer questions about the one intended for 25th Street and First Avenue. The tour was attended by Council Member Dan Garodnick, Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and representatives for State Senator Brad Hoylman and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, as well as a few community leaders. Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, was present, as was the property’s general manager, Peter Davis, and 23rd Street resident Gerard Schriffen, president of a group called the Rose Hill Community Association. Leading the tour at the 57th Street facility was Dan Klein, director of real estate for DSNY.
Following the tour, Kavanagh and Garodnick echoed concerns previously made by community residents about the Brookdale facility plan, which was first announced close to a year ago, being sped along to get necessary approvals while Mayor Bloomberg is still in office. The city announced the plan as part of a land swap that would give Hunter property on 73rd Street for a new school and medical facility to be built in collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Kavanagh, however, called the DSNY’s hope to get a ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) for the garage “premature,” considering the garage isn’t even going to begin construction until 2018. The ULURP, he added, should wait “until they can tell us what they want to do with the entire building. And they have no idea what they want to do with the rest of the building. There are a lot more questions than answers at this point.”
Garodnick said the tour was “useful in that you can get a sense of the potential structure,” but, he added, “We think this proposal is being rushed and it has not fully contemplated the entire block be tween the FDR Drive and First Avenue.”
The Brookdale campus takes up a full city block from 25th to 26th Streets and First Avenue to the FDR Drive. “It’s impossible to evaluate an incomplete plan,” said Garodnick, “and that’s what we have.”
He added that he thought the discussion should continue as it has been at Community Board 6 meetings. The last public meeting on the subject was held in late June and an extended public comment period ended on August 14.
In response to a question from a reporter of whether the DSNY would delay its ULURP request, Belinda Mager, a spokesperson for the department, indicated it wouldn’t.
“DSNY needs to advance the site selection and design process of this garage so that construction contracts can be awarded as soon as the city has site control in 2015,” she said. She added that, “DSNY would only control the part of the site required for the garage.”
The department has said previously the west and east sides could be leased out by the city to private developers. Meanwhile, the lack of available information on the plans for the east and west parcels has led at least one neighborhood resident, Schriffen, to draw his own conclusions — that the city will be using one side to store fuel tanks, the other for a salt shed. The DSNY has however said that while there will be fuel storage onsite, there won’t be a salt shed.
“No salt shed is included with this project,” said Mager. “Salt spreaders would be loaded at existing salt sheds.”
Still, Schriffen, a former prosecutor turned private practice attorney, said he thinks that’s what’s coming because there isn’t yet one nearby and the department’s own scoping document, dated May 24, notes that the department wants to rezone the block from its current R8 (mixed residential and institutional status) to M-16, which is for “large scale special development” and to get “various bulk waivers.”
As for a salt shed, he said he was opposed to that use for the property as well as the storage of diesel fuel due to the dangerous chemicals that are found in both.
To store the fuel tanks, Schriffen said he was told on the tour that there would be a berm made of pebbles with a concrete lid. Handal said it was explained that it would be placed below ground but appear to be above ground inside and “above the flood plain.” She added that she’s been asking for a drawing of the plan since she and others on the tour found the explanation confusing.
Later, Mager said the tanks would be stored underground “and would be constructed to adhere to all applicable city, state and federal codes.”
On the tour, Sanitation reps noted that there were vents in the garage for pumping out fumes for the safety of people in the building, but Schriffen, who lives on East 23rd Street, later said he wondered about the safety of the surrounding community.
“Where do those fumes go?” he said. “Bellevue? The V.A. hospital? NYU Medical School is going to be sucking all that in?”
Other area residents have also expressed concern about the presence of onsite diesel fuel tanks at the garage and how they would affect security and air quality. Additional concerns have been raised about traffic on the surrounding streets due to sanitation trucks competing for space with V.A. and Bellevue hospital ambulances, odors from garbage emanating from the site and excess noise once construction begins.
Handal said she was particularly concerned about traffic congestion around the facility since Waterside Plaza, which is located right across the FDR Drive from the site, has two onsite schools. Additionally, a nearby street, Asser Levy Place, is eventually going to be closed to traffic following the Asser Levy Playground’s planned expansion.
“They say they’ve done traffic studies already, but I want to see copies of those because they need to do that during the school year,” said Handal.
Area residents have also been vocal about their opposition to the garage based on the fact that such a facility is completely inconsistent with the rest of First Avenue in the East 20s and some of the 30s, now a corridor housing three hospitals as well as numerous other medical and science-related facilities.

Watersiders campaign against sanitation garage

Residents worried about onsite fuel tanks

Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal Photo by Brightsmith

Waterside Tenants Association President Janet Handal
Photo by Brightsmith

By Sabina Mollot

Along with extra traffic from garbage trucks and noise from construction, residents living near 25th Street and First Avenue, the site of a planned Department of Sanitation garage, are now saying they are also concerned about safety due to the presence of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel, which are expected to be stored at the property.

Janet Handal, president of the Waterside Tenants Association, which has been opposed to the garage plan, said this week that she was concerned about the potential for explosions due to an accident or arson. Meanwhile, she said tenants at Waterside have compiled around 300 letters in opposition to the garage, based on a form letter prepared by the WTA with their own comments added. The public comment period on the project ended on Wednesday. At some point after comments are reviewed, the Department of City Planning will issue a final environmental impact statement.

Though the letters mention more than one reason for their stand on the city project, which was first announced last year, the fuel tanks, said Handal, “are a very serious concern. It poses a security risk.”

She noted how she recently strolled down to a similar facility located at 57th Street around 10:30 in the evening, also where fuel tanks are stored, “and there was no security guard and the doors were wide open. A fire could break out or an explosion from fumes, from something purposeful or someone doing something careless.”

Handal said the issue was raised at the last public scoping meeting, which took place on June 25, but she hadn’t gotten a response.

As for whether or not any fumes or odors could be a nuisance to Watersiders, Handal said it would depend on what the winds are like that day. The garage, which is now located on CUNY’s Brookdale campus, is also in front of the main entrance/exit at Waterside, the 25th Street footbridge over the FDR Drive. Traffic there, where the SBS bus stops, is also a concern to residents, said Handal, since trucks are expected to start leaving the facility each day before 6 a.m.

The Department of Sanitation has said early on the 135-foot-high facility would accommodate space for 170 DOS trucks and 145 other vehicles, including those owned by department employees over a total of 108,600 square feet.

The WTA, like the garage’s other detractors, has also attempted to argue that the garage is also just out of place for a neighborhood that’s better known to residents as Bedpan Alley due to all the hospitals and other medical facilities, including the City Office of the Medical Examiner.

Another neighbor of the Brookdale campus, the East Midtown Plaza co-op complex, has also made this argument in recently submitted written testimony.

Jerry Fox, president of the co-op board, said residents at EMP have also had concerns about future weather-related floods and outages in the area, including at the garage site. “Where are you going to put those fuel tanks?” asked Fox. “You can’t put them on street level. If it floods, you’re going to have major problems.”

In response to the residents’ concerns, DOS Public Information Chief Keith Mellis said safety was a top priority with regards to the fuel storage and there was also a plan for noise mitigation.

“All fueling operations will meet stringent local, state, and federal regulations and will be regularly inspected to ensure not only the safety of our workers but of the overall community,” said Mellis, “just as we have done over the years at all DSNY facilities citywide.”

He added that the building would be staffed “24/7, providing security at all times, and the garage will be designed to meet flood risk standards. In our continuing effort to work with the community to minimize any inconveniences, a noise mitigation plan also will be implemented during construction.”