By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Community organizers and the Parks Department got closer to an agreement about renovations planned for Bellevue South Park in Kips Bay after a Community Board 6 Parks committee meeting last Tuesday. The meeting was scheduled because park advocates were unsatisfied with designs the city had presented to the committee last month.
Manhattan Borough Commissioner Chief of Staff Steven Simon, who expressed frustration at the last meeting when met with resistance about the plans, at first balked at the idea of coming back to the committee next month, saying that it was unusual for Parks to even come back to the community board a second time, but ultimately agreed that the architects could make additional adjustments to the design and return to the committee in March.
Kips Bay residents Aaron Humphrey, Karen Lee, Pauline Yablonski and Courtney Bird offered suggestions to the plans that the Parks Department presented to the committee in January, which includes an ADA-compliant dog run and updated play equipment that will also be moved away from the adult exercise equipment.
Lee said that the motivation for her and other community members has primarily been about making the park safer for nearby residents.
“We look at it as a safety-first issue,” she said. “Councilmember Rosie Mendez first came to us and asked if we would support a dog run because a constituent with MS had approached her about it, and that started the idea of having a dog run as a safety measure because it would also bring in an entirely different population.”
Lee said that separating the adult exercise equipment from the children’s play equipment was a somewhat workable solution but she noted that the main concern for a number of residents is the current layout of the park because it attracts drug dealers and other individuals that she said make residents feel unsafe.
“People who live there have said that if the park doesn’t look different, we’re not going to get rid of the population we don’t want and there will still be safety concerns,” she said.
Humphrey added that changes to the park that make it more inviting can also be helpful in shifting the population, such as making room for programming.
“When you have more activity, there are fewer people doing these illicit activities,” he said.
Another component of changing the atmosphere of the park includes reconfiguring the center path and expanding the planted areas, in addition to exploring a space for a community garden somewhere in the park. The designs from the Parks Department did not include a community garden space residents at the meeting suggested one of the planted areas that is currently closed off for this purpose.
Architect Chris Crowley said that Parks could look into making this space accessible for community plantings but noted that one of the challenges would be that the space has to be ADA-accessible, which could be difficult due to the elevation changes in the park.
Other small additional changes that Lee and Humphrey had worked on included the removal of benches to discourage people from sleeping in the park for long periods.
Humphrey noted that one of the especially shaded areas next to the basketball courts in the southeast corner of the park often attracts drug dealers, and he and Lee suggested that the space might be put to better use if card tables could be installed there. Crowley said that Parks would be open to that suggestion as well but noted that, again, the changes in elevation might prevent this from being possible.
Humphrey noted that they were hoping that Parks would be able to paint the basketball court a different color to rejuvenate it and Crowley said this likely wouldn’t be a problem.
Advocates at the meeting also requested that the Parks Department keep the temporary dog run that’s open now functional even once the new dog run is open, but representatives for Parks said that the run could only stay open if it can be made fully ADA-accessible as well. One of the challenges of the spot as a location for a dog run to begin with was the elevation changes but Leslie Peoples, the director of landscape architecture, said that the Parks Department would be willing to look at it and see if it’s possible. The project for Bellevue South Park has received $4.6 million in funding from the city that started with an $800,000 contribution from former Councilmember Mendez and includes $3.5 million in funding from the mayor’s office.