By Maria Rocha-Buschel
At a meeting aimed at getting community feedback, Kips Bay residents told city officials what they want in a redesign of Bellevue South Park is a permanent, fully accessible dog run. They also want to separate the play equipment from where adults congregate.
The Parks Department’s meeting was held last Thursday, when the landscape architect for the city agency, Christopher Crowley, told neighbors this is the first step in the process for the project.
“We don’t have a concept plan in mind,” Crowley said. “That’s what this meeting is for, to find out what the community wants in this park.”
Steve Simon, the chief of staff for the Manhattan Borough Commissioner at the Parks Department, said that the input from the meeting will help the agency create a preliminary plan that will be presented to Community Board 6 in the fall.
“When we begin a capital project, we reach out to the community to solicit public input,” Simon said.
“Our primary goal is to design something that has community support.”
Residents have been pushing for a dog run that’s fully Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible and in a workshopping session during the meeting last week, multiple groups of residents suggested building the dog run in the space currently occupied by the play equipment for younger children and the adult fitness equipment, and moving the play equipment closer to where the playground for older children already is.
Multiple neighborhood groups, including the Kips Bay Neighborhood Association, KBK9 and Friends of Bellevue South Park, worked to open a dog run at the end of last year in a small pit near the play equipment but the space was meant to be temporary because there isn’t a way to make it accessible for people with mobility challenges. Residents at the meeting suggested moving the adult fitness equipment into the space being used by the temporary dog run.
Resident Pauline Yablonski, who worked with the neighborhood groups to open the temporary run, suggested putting the permanent dog run in the park’s existing seating space because there is plumbing accessible nearby.
“That would allow the run to have a water feature,” she said, noting that putting the run elsewhere would complicate the addition of a fountain for dogs to cool off during the summer months.
Kips Bay Court resident Jacquie Tellalian, who uses a wheelchair, said that although she’s not a dog owner and isn’t concerned about the dog run, she’s hoping that the plans will include making the park easier to navigate because of the surface and the pathways.
“The ramps need to be better and the cobblestones are bad. It needs to be a better surface for us,” she said, noting that the ramps are also convoluted for traversing from one side of the park to the other. “I’ve been here for 40 years and sometimes I go through and I’m like, how do I get out of here again?”
Another resident at the meeting commented that a significant problem with the current layout of Bellevue South Park is that there aren’t clear boundaries between the adult fitness equipment and the children’s play areas. Crowley explained that some fences will remain to separate the play areas and the reorganization of the equipment will help clarify the separate areas and encourage adults to stay away from the children’s equipment.
“We can’t always control social behavior with design but there are small cues we can implement to encourage behavior,” he said.
He added that parks in the city that are currently being redesigned are being redone with the “Parks without Borders” mission in mind, which aims to open the spaces and make them more welcoming by removing or lowering fences.
The representatives from Parks reiterated that the input meeting was to find out from residents what they want to see in the park but noted that the agency is pushing for a design that would include consolidating the play equipment. Residents at the meeting agreed and included this in their suggestions as well.
In the current layout, play equipment for older children is closer to the northern end of the park at East 28th Street and the equipment for two to five-year-olds is separated from that by a seating area and is adjacent to fitness equipment for adults.
“If we can, we’d like to move the two to five-year-old play area,” Simon added. “We want to move the kids away from unaccompanied adults and we’re trying to solve this with redesign.”
Residents were mainly civil and accepting of each other’s ideas during the discussion at the meeting but there was some tension due to a previous disagreement between a local dog walker and a resident of Kips Bay Court who didn’t want to be named, primarily because of his conflict with the dog walker.
The resident took issue with the proposed dog run because of the noise from the temporary run, as well as noise from the basketball courts.
“These large residential towers reflect all this sound,” he said. “The dog run is killing us because the barking starts at 6 a.m. The Parks Department has been tone deaf. The whistle every 10 second during basketball tournaments is amplified. It’s like a concrete canyon. It’s almost a perfect amphitheater.”
Aaron Humphrey, a resident of 344 East 28th Street and a frequent advocate for the park, responded that noise is often an inevitable consequence of living in the area.
“I’ve been in this neighborhood since 1976, and I’ve been here when there were crack dealers everywhere, but it’s come really far,” he said. “Changes must include the input of everyone in the community but it is a park and parks bring noise. The Parks Department does work with us when we have issues, like when the equipment was vandalized.”
At the beginning of the meeting, Simon explained that the $4.6 million in funding “was cobbled together” from four different elected officials.
The initial $800,000 from then-Council Member Rosie Mendez was meant to fix up the basketball court and add a dog run to the park, but the scope of the project expanded after Mendez asked for help from then-Council Member Dan Garodnick, who contributed $150,000 because his constituents use the park as well, and Borough President Gale Brewer also contributed $150,000.
Simon said that although these contributions pushed the funding up to $1 million, Parks was pushing to make more significant improvements because the layout is so spread out and sought out additional funding from the city. The mayor’s office then announced a $3.5 million contribution to the project during a town hall with Mendez last October, bumping the total budget to $4.6 million. Simon said that after deducting about 30 percent for “soft costs,” which include planning for contingencies, design and construction supervision, the budget is roughly $3 million.
“We think that’s enough to really do something with this park,” he said.