Furious Residents Demand Plan to Build Parking Lot on Playground be Dropped

By Mathew Katz on July 11, 2013 7:05am 

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  The project was certified earlier this week, starting off a limited time for the public to comment on it.
Residents Demand Developer Pull Playground-For-Parking Lot Plan
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CHELSEA — Enraged Fulton Houses residents and elected officials demanded a developer scrap plans that would bulldoze two children's play areas and turn the area into a parking lot.

At a raucous Wednesday night meeting at the Fulton Houses' Community Center, more than 100 people railed against representatives of developer Artimus Construction, demanding they withdraw the proposal from the City Planning Department's rezoning process.

Both the developer and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is funding the project, refused to do so.

"The notion that a playground would be demolished for a parking lot is so appalling it defies credibility," state Sen. Brad Hoylman said to a loud applause.

"The fact that it was even an idea is such an insult to all these good people here."

The builder had been tasked by the city to build a new affordable housing development on West 18th Street and had originally promised to replace two displaced parking lots with an underground garage.

Under a recently discovered plan certified by the City Planning Department, the developer hoped to move those parking lots into two children's play areas — building over a playground, two sprinklers and two community gardens.

Artimus would also build more units of affordable housing under the modified proposal.

The new plan has entered the city's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which means there is now a ticking clock for the community board, borough president, city Planning Commission and City Council to weigh in on it.

Hoylman was joined by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried in calling for Artimus to withdraw the plan.

"I think HPD should think about finding a new developer to designate [for the project]," Gottfried added.

Beatriz De La Torre, assistant commissioner for planning at the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development, which is funding the project, said the decision to get rid of the originally planned underground parking space was a financial one.

"There was a plan — it was financially unfeasible — so that's why nothing has happened since 2007," she said.

Robert Ezrapour of Artimus admitted that his company had gotten off on the wrong foot with the community, but claimed the project was certified so quickly — and without public consultation — because of pressure from politicians.

"Nothing is going to get built without proper input," he said.

"The ULURP process is the right forum for that. There are many opportunities for you to voice your concerns." 

A furious Gottfried accused the developer of creating a smoke screen by threatening to destroy the playground to distract the community from other aspects of the plan — which have yet to be made public.

"All the junk that’s in that plan, that we’re not focusing on because we’re focusing on the playground, you’re going to do," he said.

"We want to see a real proposal so we can see the other bad things that are buried in it."

According to Fulton Houses Tenants' Association President Miguel Acevedo, the group has hired an attorney to look into its legal options to challenge Artimus, but some locals were not hopeful that it would do much.

“No matter what goes down, we’re going to get screwed. Because we’re the projects,” resident Irene O'Connell said.

Locals at the meeting said they just wanted what they called a "half-baked" plan to go away.

One angry resident, who identified herself as Rosario, had a single message for the developer:

"Pull the ULURP — stop the clock," she said.

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