Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Update On Roosevelt Island's Blackwell Park Master Plan - More At Tonight's RIRA Meeting

Aerial View Image Of Blackwell Park From Judith's Gallery

During the May 2010 Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Meeting, Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. (RIOC) VP of Planning & Inter-Governmental Affairs Rosina Abramson

and Landscape Architect Lee Weintraub

presented RIOC's updated proposal for a Blackwell Park Master Plan

that they say complies with the features endorsed by a prior RIRA resolution on subject.

Image of Blackwell Park Master Plan Site Map

I asked Ms. Abramson to summarize RIOC's Master Plan for Blackwell Park. Ms. Abramson writes:
The community planning process for creating a new masterplan for 40 year old Blackwell Park began summer 2009 when RIOC convened a meeting with Roosevelt Island community group representatives. The composition of the planning group expanded from 8 or 9 members to a total of 18. In preparation for its work, the community planning group met with RIOC's landscape architect, Lee Weintraub and associates including experts in children's play. The group visited other parks and playgrounds as examples of current design principles and the playground experts held focus groups with children from the Youth Center and PS/IS 217 and their teachers. Masterplanning to update Blackwell Park began for several reasons, including: Blackwell House interior is being renovated and a handicap accessible ramp, running from the East Porch into Blackwell Park is required; the Southtown developers are obligated to re-locate the tot lot, as it sits in the footprint of building 7; the Park - designed 40 years ago doesn't meet modern standards of universal handicap accessibility; pavers on the Kiley Bosque - the cluster of trees between Blackwell House and 504 Main Street, surrounding the children's play fountain - are buckling creating tripping hazards and impacting tree roots.

After a series of meetings, the community planning committee recommended a masterplan design to the RIRA Common Council, which passed a resolution at its Feb. 2, 2010 meeting endorsing a masterplan including the following features: All trees are preserved; Grouping the playground on the north end of the park with the tot lot on the southern end, so that parents can supervise children playing in both areas and releasing the northern lawn for use for picnics and passive recreation and as a sledding hill in winters; Creating a handicap ramp approved by the RI disabled association and seniors, along with a "kitchen" garden featuring herbs and plants contemporaneous with the Blackwell family; re-aligning grades and paths in the Park to meet current universal accessibility standards; Maintaining the two basketball Courts with upgraded seating; removing the pavers in favor of a more tree friendly pavement finish and creating an area for outdoor cafe tables and chairs; outdoor adult fitness equipment will be located at various points along the East Promenade, facing the water.

On May 5th, landscape architect Lee Weintraub presented the master plan for Blackwell Park, incorporating the planning principles of RIRA's resolution.

Plan Description
The Master Plan proposes that the area around the Blackwell House be modified to include ADA and related improvements that include a modest period residential landscape at the east facing porch and a ramped access to the porch. The existing paved area under the "Kiley" bosque will be changed removing the current frost and root heaved pavement, and replacing it with compacted gravel and cafe seating. The Master Plan proposes to preserve and protect the bosque planetrees and existing fountains.The plan also proposes to extend this bosque north to the terrace at 405 Main. Longer term vision includes a location for a food service cafe located within the bosque.

The basketball courts and stepped spectator seating are left in the exact location they currently occupy. These will be updated. Walls and access points are proposed to be modified so an ADA compliant path is achieved. The area just south of Roosevelt Landings, currently occupied by walls and a mix of play equipment will be modified. The play area is proposed to be relocated and the topography modified to allow for a sledding and sunning east facing hill that largely respects the existing planting and appropriately allows for seasonal use. Trees remain in place. The landscape edge is modified to allow for a sequence of areas for outdoor fitness and exercise equipment.

The Master Plan proposes that the southern area of Blackwell be allocated for a children's adventure playground. The playground is planned to take advantage of and respect existing mature trees. It is proposed to be a set of terraced spaces respecting existing site topography and trees. An array of play opportunities and modes are set on the linked terrace, including play for disabled children. The Master Plan proposes that the play area be accessible to children of different ages, different skill sets, and different interests. It also includes discrete areas for caregivers, serving as "eyes" on the entry point to the playground. The play area (and the basketball courts) will be accessed from a path that aligns with the Blackwell House Porch modifying the existing steps and grades to allow for ramped wheel chair access under the existing and preserved gingko allee.
I asked members of RIRA's Blackwell Park Task Force for their thoughts on RIOC's plan
There's More!

but they were not yet ready to comment.

Blackwell House Park Lawn

One person who was ready to comment was Roosevelt Island resident and RIRA Common Council Delegate Steve Marcus. Expressing his personal opinion and not that of RIRA, Mr. Marcus writes:
This plan has not changed appreciably since December, when the expanded committee of interested residents made it clear that they didn't want trees felled and basketball courts moved. In fact, the committee likes the park, pretty much as is, and wants to see minimal changes.

Rosina however, needs to justify her ... (amount deleted by blogger because not confirmed) ... salary on a bloated RIOC payroll by inventing work that requires her involvement. What we have here is a bureaucracy that burns such enormous amounts annually that we will likely be bankrupt in 20 years. Of course, Shane and Abramson will be long gone by then, and we will have little to sell off or pave over in order to cover our expenses.

In the last 10 years, RIOC managed to give mega-developers Hudson and Related the rights to build Southtown 1,2 and 3 for a net of one million dollars - RIOC paid four million for infrastructure and got back five million from H&R. By comparison, Manhattan Park pays RIOC five million dollars each and every year for the foreseeable future. RIOC then sold off Octagon Park for a grand total of $10 million one-time - they will likely make 700 million in profits over the next 50 years - RIOC managed to sell this land in an up market for the merest fraction of what Manhattan Park was sold for in a down market.

Flush with all of this imaginary money from one-time payments, RIOC has seen fit to expand staff, take on at least 8 more Public safety officers, blow 22 million on a tram we didn't need, another 3.9 million on a roof for the Tram station that we don't need, 1 million for astroturf on the Octagon field - a field we can't even use because RIOC usually rents it out. The astoturf needs to be replaced every 9 - 11 years, so we are spending 100,000 a year to get $100,000 year in rentals.

So, lets return to Blackwell Park, where the tot-lot that needs to move whenever Hudson and Related feel like breaking ground on the 28 story monstrosity that will abut the park. A perfect opportunity to blow what Shane estimates to be anywhere from 2 to 11 million dollars.

What I think we need is a return to sanity - lets re-open some stores on Main Street, at affordable rents so that merchants needed by the elderly and island-bound can afford to stay open and serve them. Lets cut back on all the grandiose plans that we don't need and can't afford. Lets cut RIOC's administrative staff that does administer too well, and Public Safety, that doesn't add to our public safety.
And lets put the south tot-lot next to the north tot-lot that RIOC just built last year next to Eastwood and save Shane's "2 to 11 million dollars"
Blackwell House Lawn

Blackwell Park Basketball Courts

Blackwell Park Fountain

We should be learning more about the plans for Blackwell Park later tonight at the RIRA meeting since Landscape Architect Lee Weintraub is scheduled to speak during the public session.

Below is the RIRA Blackwell Park Resolution:
Let it be known that the following Action was taken at a Meeting of the Common Council of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association on February 3, 2010:

Adopted by the RIRA Common Council – February 3, 2010

Whereas the Roosevelt Island community was invited to participate in the conceptual planning for Blackwell Park, and

Whereas a small Task Force, including two RIRA delegates was convened last July for that purpose, and

Whereas that Task Force has expanded to include more Islanders who are stakeholders in the Park and/or experts in various aspects of park planning, and

Whereas that expanded Task Force has coalesced into the Blackwell Park sub-committee of the RIRA Planning Committee with Matthew Katz and Judy Berdy as co-chairs, and

Whereas the sub-committee has been asked to present its findings to Rosina Abramson and RIOC, therefore

We resolve that the following conclusions be factored into the conceptual and design planning for Blackwell Park:

• That changes to Blackwell Park be considered more as renewal and maintenance upgrading rather than rethinking a park that has served the needs of Islanders well for decades. Less is more.
• That the Blackwell Park project be considered in the context of Roosevelt Island park planning as a whole and that budgeting for this project be considered as just one component of the Island’s capital needs.
• That the two basketball courts remain in their current positions and will be accessible and barrier-free. The area between the courts will contain spectator seating.
• That the playgrounds for both older and younger children will be in such proximity to one another that parents can monitor children in both from a single vantage point. This flat area will include seating and stroller storage for those supervising children in the playgrounds.
• That a water fountain for children to play in must be included.
• That the entrance to these playgrounds will be within Blackwell Park rather than at the periphery for safety and within a controlled space.
• That the wholesale moving or removal of mature trees will not be considered but that other landscaping, such as trimming back hedges, will be accomplished.
• That the significant slope of the area will be utilized to provide green space for mixed use and to provide an appropriate sledding hill. Slopes will be wheelchair accessible.
• That, to accommodate surface tree roots, an appropriate surface will be found to replace concrete walking areas.
• That areas adjacent to the East Channel steam vents will be set aside for exercise equipment.
• That no overpass should be considered to the East Channel Promenade.
• That an ADA/Landmarks Commission compliant, barrier-free ramp for disabled access to Blackwell House, similar to “Plan A” (as presented to the sub-committee) but including additional area for plantings and endorsed by RIDA, will be included.
• That the “Kiley Bosk” area just north of Blackwell House will have room for future food service, including tables and chairs.
• That bathroom facilities will be a part of the final plan, either within the Park or adjacent to it at 504 Main Street, if a use for this building that would include public rest rooms can be arrived at prior to the drafting of construction plans.
• That components of the old Tram, to be replaced starting in March, will be use to create an industrial sculpture facility preferably at Motorgate, but in any event, will not be placed in Blackwell Park.

That the committee shall be included in all subsequent planning stages such as design and construction elements.
UPDATE 6/3- The RIRA Planning Committee reported to the June RIRA Common Council Meeting the following in regard to RIOC's proposed Blackwell Park Master Plan:

Planning Committee Report – June 2, 2010

RIOC Vice President, Rosina Abramson, has made available an artist’s rendering by landscape architect, Lee Weintraub, which conforms to the RIRA Resolution vote on last January. We shared it with the Blackwell House sub- committee members for their consideration and comments. There being no substantive objections to the drawing, sub-committee chairs, Judy Berdy and I have sent the following comment to Ms. Abramson:

Blackwell Park Sub-Committee of the RIRA Planning Committee Response to the Recent Artists Rendering June 1, 2010

We have shared the Weintraub drawings with the sub-committee members along with a copy of the RIRA Resolution that codifies our expectations for the conceptual planning phase of Blackwell Park. We received no negative comments or requests for clarification or more information. Based on that, we believe that the rendering conforms to the general preferences of the participating community members. Of course, we understand that the conceptual plan encompasses only broad strokes and that the practical details will be found in the design elements to be considered next. Until we understand what those design elements are, where they will be placed and what they (and the entire project) will cost, our support may be construed only for the overall conceptual plan. We look forward to working with you to develop and cost-out those design elements.
Respectfully submitted, Matthew Katz, Chair