By Maria Rocha-Buschel
A dog run for Bellevue Park South has been stymied by bureaucratic funding woes and miscommunications between the City Council and the Parks Department, Town & Village learned last week.
The Kips Bay Neighborhood Association had been working with City Councilmember Rosie Mendez on the project and last year, Mendez allocated $1.2 million for the new dog run. However, Mendez said she was later told by the Parks Department that the project would ultimately cost closer to $6 million.
She said officials at the city agency told her last May that the project wouldn’t be able to move forward unless it was fully funded and in the meantime, she learned that McKinley Playground on Avenue A and East 3rd Street needed about the same amount that had been allocated to the Bellevue South project, so before the city’s budget was approved in June, she decided to move the money to the McKinley project instead.
“I figured that I could either put the $1.2 million into the Bellevue South Park and have no projects move forward, or I could have another project get completed,” Mendez said. “I decided to move forward with the other project and that’s the decision I would make again today.”
Meanwhile, area residents only learned of this recently and the Kips Bay Neighborhood Association sent an email to neighbors last week blasting Mendez for pulling the funds.
“As has been for the last 24 years, once again, Kips Bay is ignored by our so called ‘council member,’” the KBNA fumed.
Asked about the group members’ frustration, the councilmember admitted that it was a mistake on her part for not communicating the budget complications with the community. She told T&V this was partially due to timing, since the budget issue occurred when her office operations were chaotic after being evicted from her longtime address on East 14th Street.
Despite initially being told it wouldn’t be possible to complete the project in phases, however, Mendez said that in a meeting with Parks Department Borough Commissioner William Castro last month, the commissioner said that the project could be completed in phases after all.
When asked why she was told otherwise last year, a frustrated Mendez just said, “This is what I’m dealing with.” She added that she understood her constituents felt let down but she explained that it was sometimes necessary to make snap decisions without necessarily having all the required information available.
“The challenge is trying to decipher everything and get everyone on the same page,” she said. “When you’re dealing with someone else’s deadline, you can’t always get the answers you want before you’re making these decisions.”
As for why the cost of the project increased so dramatically, Mendez said that there were “physical challenges” with the space. She noted that there were two prospective spots in the park where the park where the dog run could be placed but one of the options would require the removal of trees and park benches, which would be against park rules and regulations, and the other would qualify if play equipment was moved.
Of the two options, Mendez said that the second was most viable. However, since children’s play equipment has a higher priority for the Parks Department than a dog run, the project is required to have funding to remove, replace and relocate the play equipment to a different area in the park before the dog run can be built. The project would also require the removal of adult play equipment but Mendez said there is no requirement to replace that.
On top of the uncertainty about whether or not the Bellevue Park South project could be funded in phases, Mendez said that there has been confusion about the money meant for McKinley as well, with the councilmember saying that the funding amount appeared on the budget for a McKinley Park in Brooklyn instead of the one in her district.