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Hell’s Kitchen sues to rid Pier 76 of police tow pound

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A group of West Side residents is laying down the law with the cops — and they’re sending a message loud and clear: Get your illegal tow pound off Pier 76 already!

On Nov. 20, the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Alliance filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court against the New York Police Department and New York City, demanding that the police remove their tow pound from the pier.

Pier 76 stretches between W. 35th and W. 37th Sts. along 12th Ave., just west of the Javits Center.

Under the Hudson River Park Act of 1998, the roughly 8-acre pier is supposed to be redeveloped with 50 percent of it set aside for recreational park use and 50 percent for commercial use. 

The Park Act says the Police Department must use its “best efforts” to relocate the tow pound and other police uses on the pier, including a vehicle repair shop, plus police parking. The tow pound is used to store cars caught parking illegally in Manhattan.

The lawsuit summarizes the ongoing negative impact that the tow pound and other police uses on Pier 76 have on the H.K.N.A. plaintiffs.

According to the suit: “The noise, increased traffic, air pollution, the overall visual impact and the added danger created by the frequency with which N.Y.P.D. vehicles cross the Park’s walking and biking paths, and the fact that the pier closest to the southern part of the neighborhood — half of which is by law to be contiguous to water and used solely for recreational park uses (passive and active public space) — is still being used for N.Y.P.D. purposes and not able to be developed as parkland for a neighborhood which is one of the more significantly ‘park starved’ neighborhoods in the City, over 20 years after the passage of the Park Act, greatly impact all of these [plaintiffs] in a substantively and qualitatively different way from that of the general public.” 

Although the lawsuit does not mention it, in 2006, Carl Nacht, an Upper West Sider doctor, while cycling on the Hudson River bike path, was fatally struck by an N.Y.P.D. tow truck outside Pier 76 when the truck crossed the path. Nacht’s tragic death highlighted the danger of municipal uses along the West Side waterfront as it increasingly had become a busy recreation destination. That was 14 years ago. Since then, the usage of the bike path and park has only increased.

In October, it was announced that the N.Y.P.D. would do a study on how to get its much-maligned tow pound off of the pier, which would include an analysis of how much space it needs and a look at possible alternative sites. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who represents District 3, which contains the tow pound, badly wants it off of Pier 76, and reportedly pushed the Police Department to initiate the study.

But the plaintiffs say a study is not enough. They want action.

“There has been press about a study to assist the N.Y.P.D. in planning for new pound facilities, but there are no attempts by the N.Y.P.D. to actually acquire a site,” charged Kathleen Treat, chairperson of H.K.N.A. “And while we heartily support efforts to move the tow pound, the N.Y.P.D. has blown away 20 years that could have been a waterfront public park — that’s a generation of children! We have seen no evidence of ‘best efforts’ from the N.Y.P.D.” 

Architect and urban designer Meta Brunzema, a founding member of H.K.N.A., stated, “Hell’s Kitchen has shown its ‘best efforts.’ There was enormous community input for our plan for an open space/active sports park; and it is H.K.N.A.’s intention to invite local groups to enter the ongoing planning process to present a comprehensive design to the Hudson River Park Trust, which owns the land.” 

The plaintiffs are being represented by the law firm of Alterman & Boop.

“Recent history has proved that only litigation provides the pressure to ensure that removing incompatible uses from the Hudson River moves forward,” Boop said.

She was referring to the litigation, brought by the Friends of Hudson River Park, that forced the Department of Sanitation to move its garage off of Gansevoort Peninsula, located on the waterfront west of the Meatpacking District. As a result of the settlement of that lawsuit — and the very steep financial penalties it imposed for keeping the garage on Gansevoort — the city built a new multi-district Sanitation garage at Spring and Washington Sts. to house the garbage trucks from the peninsula. Sanitation vacated Gansevoort a few years ago and the process of building a park there is now finally underway.

The Pier 76 lawsuit is asking for the N.Y.P.D.’s continued use of the pier to be declared illegal, alleging that the department has failed to “use best efforts” to find another site.

The suit also asks for an order for the police to remove their operations from the pier — or, as an alternative, for a fixed schedule to be set for when the police will vacate the pier.

In addition, the litigation asks — similar to the Gansevoort lawsuit — for “a fair market sum” to be set that the Police Department must pay to the Hudson River Park Trust, the park’s governing state-city authority, should the department continue to occupy the pier.

The lawsuit also maintains that the N.Y.P.D. should pay the Trust damages “for any increased costs” incurred in creating the park on the recreational part of the pier that are caused by the police not vacating the structure.

The Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Speaking to The Village Sun, attorney Boop said the lawsuit seems necessary at this point and the community is frustrated with the endless delay by the cops.

“It’s great they’re doing a study,” she said. “It’s probably needed. But it’s been 20 years. The study is trying to figure out what space they really need.

“Look what happened to Sanitation,” she added, referring to how it took legal action to pry the entrenched garage off of Gansevoort. Alterman & Boop also represented the plaintiffs in that case.

She said her understanding is that the Police Department has been investigating high-tech parking systems, such as robotic vertical stackers, to try to squeeze its tow pound into a smaller footprint.

“The study is supposed to be done in February,” Boop noted.

But the community just can’t wait any longer — especially not anything like another 10 years — for some headway to be made, she said, adding, “As Kathleen said, ‘It’s a generation of children.’”

Boop said that two years ago there were proposals for adding vertical semi-automated parking at Pier 76.

“But it doesn’t look like there were any bites,” she said.

The N.Y.P.D. initially protested that it didn’t want to separate the vehicle-repair shop from the tow pound, but Boop said she doesn’t understand why it’s so hard to relocate the repair shop somewhere else.

The attorney said Speaker Johnson strongly backed the idea of a study to get the Police Department to clarify exactly how much space it thinks it needs for the tow pound.

“I know his office really pushed them to get moving,” Boop said. “Johnson made it clear this was his legacy project. He does want the tow pound off [the pier].”

A spokesperson for the Hudson River Park Trust said, “We look forward to the day Pier 76 becomes part of Hudson River Park and to working with the community on a long-term plan.”

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