Residents Make Last Stand at Final Public Forum on East River Greenway
By Mary Johnson
KIPS BAY — The final public forum to debate the proposed East River Greenway project drew a hefty crowd of more than 300 people on Tuesday night with residents still divided over the best fate for the project.
Most of those present testified in favor of the deal, which could bring to life a project that has been decades in the making: filling in the gaping hole in the East River esplanade from East 38th to 60th streets.
The UN tower would be built as part of a complicated land swap in which the international organization would purchase the western portion of Robert Moses Playground from the city for their new building. It could then move employees from two city-owned buildings across the street, freeing up the city to sell those structures and use part of the proceeds from the sale to fund the East River greenway.
But a substantial and vocal number of residents from Tudor City have expressed concerns ranging from blocked views to added traffic to security concerns. They raised a new problem on Tuesday night — problems obtaining affordable insurance. Residents said Tuesday they were worried their insurance rates would shoot through the roof if a new United Nations tower rose across from their homes.
A potential terror target in the neighborhood could spark an increase in insurance rates for Tudor City buildings, added Vivienne Gilbert, president of the Windsor Owners Corporation at 5 Tudor City Place.
“I don’t think we’re being petty,” Gilbert told DNAinfo. “I think [supporters are] being a little unkind in not realizing that it’s awful easy to let someone else pick up your tab.”
Senator Liz Krueger said this was the first she heard about potential insurance rate increases and promised to look into the matter.
“That may be in violation of state law,” Krueger said at the forum.
Other residents cited security concerns if a UN building is erected directly across the street from their properties.
“It’s the perfect spot for a terrorist to bomb under,” one Tudor City resident said, noting that the Midtown Tunnel and rail lines run underneath the site of Robert Moses Playground.
Krueger went on to assure those in attendance that the NYPD and the Department of Homeland Security would weigh in on the project before it broke ground.
“None of those security agencies are going to allow this deal to go forward if, in their expert opinion, this will pose a problem,” Krueger said.
She said that she appreciated hearing from the opposition but noted that most of that came from two specific Tudor City buildings.
“For me, as an elected official, I need to balance the needs and demands of a much larger universe than two buildings,” Krueger said.
According to a new poll, that broader spectrum of constituents is willing to sacrifice the one-block stretch of blacktop on First Avenue between East 42nd and East 41st Streets in exchange for an esplanade.
Friends of the East River Greenway, an organization founded to support the greenway project, polled 402 East Side voters and found that 73 percent support the plan to alienate the western portion of Robert Moses Playground if it means getting an esplanade.
At the meeting on Tuesday, the organization also handed the elected officials 3,500 signed pledge cards from those in favor of moving forward with the deal.
This deal can only move forward if elected officials can agree to the terms and outline them in a memorandum of understanding before Oct. 10.
After listening to nearly four hours of testimony, state Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh — who hosted the event with Krueger and City Councilman Daniel Garodnick — said he was “optimistic” that a deal addressing many community concerns could be reached by that deadline.
Opponents have said they didn’t want to lose the Robert Moses playground, a black-topped site favored by roller hockey leagues and other fans.
Although the elected officials agreed that the park is underused, several people made impassioned arguments about the park’s value, with some escorting their children to the podium to speak.
Amanda Vallon, 11, lives in Tudor City and came to the forum with her 8-year-old sister, Cassandra, and her mother, Mary. As Amanda craned her neck to reach the microphone, she said she loves playing in Robert Moses Playground.
Amanda asked the elected officials why they couldn’t get people to donate money to finance the esplanade, instead of selling the playground. She even offered to give up her whole savings account if it meant keeping the park.
“In seven years, I’m going to be able to vote,” Amanda said. “If you take my park away, I’ll never forget it.”
“I will get all my friends to vote against you too,” she added, as the elected officials and the crowd burst out laughing at the preteen’s biting words.
“And this is my little sister. Her memory is just as good as mine, and she has as many friends as I do, and she’ll remember you, too.”
But many people at the forum raised questions about how many people actually use Robert Moses Playground.
“It’s empty most of the time,” one man said. “All of a sudden when the whole city can gain something out of the property, all these people come out of the woodwork like it’s a precious piece of property.”