By Tara Kyle
CHELSEA — The city plans to convert an empty lot on Chelsea's eastern edge into affordable housing, but neighbors who would rather see a park there are employing new strategies in their fight against the project.
The fate of 136 W. 20th Street, formerly used as a parking area for the Department of Sanitation, has sparked emotional debate since last fall, when area residents first saw the opportunity for green space.
While no one denies that Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen need more and better green spaces — Community District 4 ranks last in Manhattan for parks access — the problem with this particular 10,000-foot site is that it was long ago committed to affordable housing, another critical neighborhood need.
CB4 has repeatedly declared the debate closed. But members of the 20th Street Park advocacy organization, a group that includes seniors and parents of young children, are now taking their campaign to the streets.
"The beat goes on — we remain very busy and excited with the momentum we're generating," said chair Matt Weiss, 33, whose own involvement stems from a desire to maximize play space for his nearly 2-year-old son.
Last weekend, approximately 200 park supporters rallied in front of the site for a photo promoting the cause. The campaign's total support base measures around 2,000, according to Weiss.
Every Sunday afternoon through the close of spring, they will continue to maintain a table in front of the Lyons Wier Gallery at 175 Seventh Ave. (at 20th St.). where they will pass out literature, gather sign-ups for a petition, and sometimes raise money for a symbolic future park maintenance fund through a children's lemonade stand.
More large and small scale rallies are on the way, Weiss said.
While the group counts a number of neighboring small businesses as supporters (including City Treehouse), they are now reaching out to big box retailers and real estate brokers from firms including Corcoran and Prudential Douglas Elliman.
They are continuing to seek the backing of a local politician. Members have met with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's office to provide ideas for alternative affordable housing sites, and are now trying to arrange a sit-down with Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
Although the endgame is to compel the city to create a park, Weiss said there has already been at least one fringe benefit. The simple effort to spread the word and gather support has led members to meet many more of their neighbors than they otherwise would in the shuffle between home life and work.
"We have formed such a community," Weiss said. "It's very easy in New York to live in your own little world."