(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

(Photo: Daniel Maurer)

The city’s move to activate the abandoned trolley terminal under Delancey got off to a rocky start last month. The space has long been discussed as the ideal location for the Lowline‘s subterranean park and some felt the city was moving full steam ahead, without involving the community enough (an ongoing issue for the project).

At the December meeting, CB3 members and neighborhood groups complained that the city wasn’t working closely enough with the community board to ensure that a wide variety of proposals would have a crack at submitting ideas for the space.

“There should be a community process. Some of us feel so strongly about this that you will be hearing from us,” said Damaris Reyes, the executive director of Good Old Lower East side. “This is not a closed matter.”

Now the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is trying to make nice. They extended the deadline (now through February 1) for community members to submit their own proposals, and offered another visit to the site for interested parties. Lusheena Warner, a rep for the EDC, attended CB3’s land use meeting last night to listen to concerns and ideas.

Still, the meeting made clear the board isn’t appeased by these small concessions – they want to ensure they’ll have a real say in the outcome. While many thanked EDC for extending the RFEI deadline, the long evening saw another round of questions and concerns from board members, who say the city hasn’t addressed their beefs with the process itself.

“What is a community benefit and who gets to decide what that benefit is?” asked Reyes. “It seems like an afterthought and I’m honestly concerned. What I think is a benefit for the community may not be what EDC thinks is a benefit. And I’m pretty sure that’d be the case, because we don’t have the same mission or the same interests, necessarily.”

Warner acknowledged the objections over the process as it now stands, but countered, “Why we are here tonight is because we want to hear: What is it that you consider a community benefit? What are the community’s priorities?”

She said she envisioned the board’s priorities and concerns becoming part of a resolution that EDC could refer to when negotiating with community members who contribute their ideas.”There’s definitely a role for the community in this,” she said. The timeline isn’t clear just yet– EDC will start reviewing the proposals after February 1, the new deadline, and make a decision about the next step within a few months. Any potential candidate would go on to a public review procedure that necessarily involves a community board review.

But Reyes countered that the busy holiday period between the last meeting and this one was not enough time to solicit ideas from neighbors and come up with a roadmap for a CB3 resolution on priorities.

“This is a representative body but we are not the be-all, end-all,” she said. “We have a responsibility to our community to have a fair and open process that’s well publicized, that people understand what they’re talking about […] it’s not fair to ask us to do that tonight and to ask us to present a resolution.” She also pointed out that it’s difficult to understand and imagine what is feasible in such a specific space, one that’s quite literally buried underground.

In the end, the board did adopt a resolution, but only a sorta-resolution, that determined CB3 was not ready to provide a list of community priorities, and requested more community engagement with EDC like “visioning” workshops and outreach to residents and businesses.

Tim Laughlin, Executive Director of the LES BID, tried to temper some of the anxiety about the RFEI. He said that CB3 still had a “backstop” if any unwanted proposals came out of it, through voting against it in the public review process and encouraging elected officials to do the same.  “So let’s figure out what’s feasible and then make sure that we memorialize EDC’s commitments to engage with the community,” he said. Look forward to some trolley-visioning workshops coming soon.