By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Dog owners in Kips Bay are pushing the Parks Department to consider a temporary solution for the lack of a dog run in Bellevue South Park. Members of multiple neighborhood groups made their case at a recent Parks Committee meeting of Community Board 6, arguing that a temporary run near the basketball courts would give residents an immediate place to play with Fido instead of having to wait at least five years while the Parks Department completes additional renovations on the park.
Kips Bay Neighborhood Association member Karen Lee said at the meeting that there is an area north of the basketball courts that is already fenced in and the group has submitted an application for a grant for $280,000 from Borough President Gale Brewer’s office to make changes to the space, such as an access ramp, a nonskid surface and automatic openers for the entrance gates. Lee said that the funding is mainly necessary to make the space accessible for residents with disabilities, which she said is one of the main motivations for pushing for the dog run in the first place.
“Dog runs in the city aren’t ADA compliant,” she explained prior to the meeting. “This would be the first dog run in the city that is ADA compliant. Hospital row is right there and there’s a huge community of disabled people in this neighborhood who already use this park.”
Disability advocate Naomi Jones noted at the meeting that such a space is a necessity for some residents who have dogs that aren’t pets but are service animals.
Councilmember Rosie Mendez and Manhattan Borough Commissioner for the Parks Department Steve Simon were both at the meeting to clarify budgeting confusion that has also plagued the project in the last few months. Members of the Kips Bay Neighborhood Association, KBK9 and other community groups working on the run were shocked to learn in February that the project would be put on hold because the budget ballooned from around $1.25 million to $6 million.
As Town & Village previously reported and as Mendez explained at the meeting, this was because the Parks Department changed their estimates and advised Mendez to move the funds to a different project since the Bellevue South Park project reportedly couldn’t be done in phases and needed to be fully funded in order to start the process.
Simon said at the meeting that he would take “full responsibility” for the change because he advised Mendez to move the funds to a different project but added that Parks went back to redesign the project and the most recent estimate is $4.15 million, and that it will be possible to complete in phases.
Simon and Mendez explained that the reason for the increase at all was due to the desire to include renovations to reconfigure the play equipment. The current layout separates equipment for older and younger children with space in between where men from the nearby homeless shelter often congregate. The first phase, estimated at $2.3 million, would be to remove and replace play equipment for older children closer to the equipment for young children and have everything fenced in.
If the project goes forward as planned, Mendez does currently have $2 million in funding for the project and said she is hoping that Brewer’s office might be able to contribute additional funding to get through the first phase. She added that she has also been speaking with Councilmember Dan Garodnick about contributing funding for the $300,000 difference because even though the park is outside his district, some of his constituents use the area as well.
Mendez said that it would be helpful if the temporary run through the grant from the borough president’s office is feasible, but she added that she would prefer to include reconfiguration of the play equipment into the project.
“We’ve had issues in different parks where kids are molested and the play equipment for ages five to 12 (in Bellevue South Park) doesn’t have a fence and is right next to the adult equipment for calisthenics,” she said. “It’s a very ambiguous park. I think it’s in the best interests of the community to move all the play equipment together.”
Lee explained that neighborhood groups began speaking with the borough president’s office about the grant when it looked like funding initially fell through, looking at areas of the park that wouldn’t require moving any equipment. However, she added that she was supportive of the plan from Parks mainly because the community’s plan would be temporary due to budgeting constraints and the goal is to have a permanent run that is fully ADA compliant.
Lee disagreed, though, about renovating the equipment being the only way to prevent men loitering in the playground, arguing that having a temporary dog run could alleviate the problem as well.
“Children don’t play in that park now anyway because of the guys that are there,” she said. “You want to get rid of the bad element in the park first, and when you have a lot of people that use the park with their dogs, the bad element tends to move away. A dog run is active and is usually active all the time. The first step should be to get safety in the park even if it’s temporary so at least we’ll have an active dog run for those five years before the second phase.”