Red Hook's Valentino Park - Comfort Station 9-24-14 community meeting

January 2018 update

DOT has approved a sidewalk toilet.   Red Hook, we have been heard! Remember all those meetings about a big, expensive "comfort station" proposed for our charming waterfront park Valentino Park? That concept was defeated, and a small, sidewalk toilet is coming via the DOT. Thanks to everyone for participating in public meetings, on-line discussions with us, and other modes. Community action worked! A special shout out to Anne Griepenburg who researched the Portland Loo which presented an alternative that appealed to many and may have swung government decision around to that kind of solution. Toilet Party any one? It has the great acronym of TP. We hear that there is a spring installation expected, but we are still waiting on confirmation.

September 25, 2014

Our Director Carolina Salguero attended the following meeting last night and wrote the following summary. Notes were taken by others, and we will make them available as we get them

From Parks Department PDF. See link at left for full PDF.

From Parks Department PDF. See link at left for full PDF.

Wed 9/24 7:30pm, 351 Van Brunt St.
Carolina Salguero notes

Here is a PDF with Parks proposal for the comfort station


A meeting of about 40 people was held over about two hours. The meeting was designed as a community conversation meaning Community Board 6, Parks, elected officials or media were not invited. The Red Hook Star Revue was asked to leave.  However, Peterson Napoleon, a staffer from NYS Assemblyman Felix Ortiz office was there which was only made clear after he spoke up midway through the meeting. He stayed.  Given the request for the media to leave and some of the passions in the room,  we do not mention names of speakers below when describing proposals, questions or statements people made.

There was little interest in the meeting in the idea that one would be able to see the Statue of Liberty from the proposed Comfort Station as shown in this rendering. Saving the lawn was a far greater priority.

There was little interest in the meeting in the idea that one would be able to see the Statue of Liberty from the proposed Comfort Station as shown in this rendering. Saving the lawn was a far greater priority.

A significant portion of the beginning of the meeting was spent venting frustration with Parks, CB6, the City, etc for not being sensitive to Red Hook.  This was intertwined with discussion about how do we discuss this? Who moderates? Passions ran high.

Things settled down and discussion got into various aspects of the Parks planning and outreach process, the status and amount of the whopping $2.4MM for the comfort station, who wants toilets and not, who is represented at the meeting and not, etc.

Towards the end of meeting, there was a lot of discussion about how to capture the points in the meeting, share the info about the meeting and the Parks proposal with the community, whether to have another prep meeting before a meeting with Carlos Menchaca on 10/8 or 10/9; and discussion, pro and con, about the way Red Hook tackles planning issues and when to use anger or not.

(correction added 9/27/14. It was decided to write a press release. Once we get that, we will post it here.)

Toilets yes or no

There was a lot of concern that the Parks plan took up alot of popular lawn space with the building, the access ramps and with the landscaping

There was a lot of concern that the Parks plan took up alot of popular lawn space with the building, the access ramps and with the landscaping

Early in the meeting there was a show of hands vote which showed that about half the room, maybe a tad more, was for no toilets at all, the other half for some toilet but not this version in this location.  (correction, first draft here omitted that there was a later vote that came out in  favor of a smaller toilet in a different location so there was some evolution in the course of the meeting.)

Criticism of the toilet form (as opposed to its planning process):

Too big, too expensive, in the wrong place in the park, bad for taking away green space, ugly, not sensitive to 19th Century buildings.

Specific Points for Follow Up:

Questions about Parks Process

View from the ADA ramp or Ferris Street side

View from the ADA ramp or Ferris Street side

What are the stages of this process? Meaning what happens moving forward so RH community can understand how we can or how much we can influence?  “Can CB6 rubber stamp this without RH involvement?” was asked in various ways.

There were many questions about how did this come about? Is there a documented request? What metrics does Parks use to prove need for toilets? (Comparisons were made to Red Hook Ballfields and Central Park that are much larger and have more visitors and would have a lower toilet-tovisitor ratio than Valentino would have if this 4-stall comfort station were built.)

There was some discussion about whether it was locals or visitors who needed toilets. Some people were of the “who cares about the visitors” persuasion, others not.

Can a survey be conducted of the park users to see how many want toilets? This was a popular question.

Finance questions

How locked in is the $1.4MM? Is it locked into that park? That project?

View from the stair side or western side.

View from the stair side or western side.

$50,000 to use for Valentino Park is paid annually by Hughes Marine (a give back for the Police evidence lot on the Erie Basin breakwater).  We were told this is supposed to be for Valentino Park but has been put in Parks general fund. It was suggested, too much agreement, that we need to get that pulled out of general and applied to Valentino.

There was general, strong agreement that the price tag for this thing was too high.

Planning parameters

Design criteria: what are they for this design (from FEMA, to DEC, zoning, building code, etc) so we can propose informed alternates.

Portapotties: Can seasonal portapotties be used rather than anything permanent?

Property lines:

  • There needs to be more clarity about where street end and private property lines are on the Van Dyke Street side.

  • Is there anything that can be used in that asphalt area or is that all private property?

  • [Note: the DOT, at least under Bloomberg, had a Street End program that supports public uses; and if the street end abuts the park, there might be some way to use DOT space as public open space.]

Love the lawn: The room was strongly for protecting the green and either wanted an absolute “don’t build on the green” or had a strong primary interest in avoiding building on the green. Those two points covered just about everyone there.

There was strong appreciation for “natural” plantings and style of the park.

Heavily used site wiped out by toilets There was a strong sense that Parks did not understand how heavily used the section where they’ve placed the comfort station is.  It was referred to as a children’s play area, BBQ area, area heavily used by “poor people who are not represented here.”

DEC Do they have jurisdiction here or not? One speaker said that DEC has signed off,  and that they did not.

Wish list:

There was considerable discussion covering “If we could spend this money on what we want, or get money for what we want.”  This was held partly in the hope that some of the $2.4MM could be directed elsewhere but also to be able to make Parks better understand the community use and needs relative to this park:

Garbage cans.  More of them and cans for recyclables. One person said could those be bundled with toilets under category “waste” as a way to use the allocated funds for things other than bathrooms.

Hose: Some way to wash down the fish guts etc on end of the pier left by fisherman. A hand-pump was proposed that used salt water to cut down cost (and disruption to park) of installing a line connected to City water mains.

Beach: A way to make the beach more suitable for toddlers/small children. How was not clearly defined; the comment was that it seemed iffy for little ones.

BoatBox  PortSide’s BoatBox plans to turn the container used by the Red Hook Boaters into a better amenity for all park users, visiting kayakers, and the Boaters themselves. The current container came to service the park via work done by PortSide and the Red Hook Boaters; and the agreement was that Boaters had use of the inside and that PortSide’s program space was the outside of the container and that PortSide would take the lead there, consulting with the Boaters during the process.


Bush Terminal Piers Park in Sunset Park toilets were mentioned a few times at tonight's meeting.The architects site for them is here

Est4te Four – there was a proposal to approach them and ask them to build the comfort station solution. There was a variation whereby someone proposed that, when Est4te Fou asked for their variance to build, that the community demand that they build bathrooms as their give back in the way that O'Connell had to provide public access to the waterfront and an esplanade.

Brooklyn Bridge Park toilets by Jane’s Carousel  These photos were requested but for some reason Benjamin Peikes photos posted on the Facebook page for Mary A. Whalen  were not visible on the iPad or a phone.  They are in this two-photo slide show.

That concludes our notes from the meeting

With the goal of informing the discussion, here are some links from comments on our Facebook page about existing small-footprint, lower-cost toilets

The City of Portland, Oregon has had a public toilet design process. Here are several links. Thank you Anne Griepenberg for the info about Portland's work posted to our Mary A. Whalen Facebook page.

City of Portland Parks & Recreation public loo webpage

A blogpost describes the design and reveals that there is a public restroom competition in Canada, a source of more info, though the Portland unit won, they say.  The Portland Loo

Tech specs for Portland Loo

Tips for making Loos that Last - Blogpost
 Article revealing that they cost $60,000 each

More on FEMA Given some discussion about whether the comfort station could be wetproofed rather than raised Here is FEMA ino on wet floodproofing

Other groups discussing public toilet design

PHLUSH is also out of Portland. "PHLUSH believes that toilet availability is a human right and that well-designed sanitation facilities restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils."

The Poop Project

American Restroom Association

NYC's own public toilet design