By Maria Rocha-Buschel
The Parks committee for Community Board 6 voted to support a new plan to renovate Bellevue South Park in a meeting last Tuesday.
Representatives for the Parks Department returned to the community board multiple times with revisions to the plans for the park, which the Borough Commissioner’s Chief of Staff Steve Simon said in a previous meeting was an unprecedented move since the agency usually only presents to community boards once for such projects before moving forward.
Residents and park advocates had requested that the Parks Department return for revisions to the plan due to what they perceived as safety issues that the original design did not adequately address.
While many attendees mostly approved of the plan presented by the agency, some dog owners at the meeting still had objections to the department’s unwillingness to use the temporary dog run space as part of the permanent dog run.
Parks Department landscape architect Chris Crowley noted in previous meetings that using the fenced-in area where the temporary dog run is located as a permanent spot becomes problematic because of the changes in elevation around that particular plot of land, meaning that making it ADA-accessible would be difficult and costly. Park advocate Karen Lee argued that the spaces could be connected but it would be fine if the second space were not technically ADA-accessible because the rules only stipulate that one part of the park needs to comply. Crowley was skeptical and said the design would be difficult regardless.
“That’s a really careful interpretation because we are providing a public facility and that public facility, which would be that ‘upper dog run,’ would need access,” he said, adding, “We did some drawings (to connect the two areas). It involved a ramp coming up and it was just a lot of money and a lot of effort.”
Leslie Peoples, director of landscape architecture for the Parks Department, also noted that if the temporary dog run space were to be included in the plans for the permanent run and the land were to be asphalted over, all of the trees would need to be fenced in and protected.
“You’re going to lose a lot of run-around space up there so there are a lot of issues,” she said.
Dog owner Kevin O’Brien expressed frustration at the agency’s response to the idea.
“This area is growing, it seems, with the Target and the Bed Bath and Beyond and this is the one chance you can get the dog park right,” he said. “And more so than children, people go to the dog park every single day. I’m there three times a day, much more than you’ll ever have children there. You’re making this decision for the community. This is supposed to be a democracy.”
Additional adjustments to the plans include a community garden space near the central plaza but off to the side from the main walkway and repainting the basketball court. Residents had requested that the Parks Department make the space being used for the temporary dog run available for a community garden space, but Crowley said that the lack of accessibility limits this kind of use as well, in addition to being able to use the space for the permanent dog run. Crowley said that the agency plans to use that space for other plantings, but residents will not have access to the area.
Park advocate Aaron Humphrey had encouraged the agency to include card tables in the plans and although the current park already has tables, the new designs show that the tables have been removed. On this, Crowley noted that the agency has been moving away from putting game tables into park designs because they attract “undesirable” behavior.
“The agency has very sensitive issues with game tables, and when and where and how we put them in. We generally haven’t been putting them in recently in any park, not just this park,” he said, advising committee members to include this concern in the community board’s resolution.
A later question at the meeting addressed how long the park would need to be closed for the project and whether or not parts of the park could remain open during any of the construction. Crowley said that the park will need to be closed for a full year, which equals two planting seasons so that the agency can prune and fertilize the existing trees at the beginning of the first planting season, then plant new materials at the beginning of the second planting season.
Crowley also said that the Parks Department tends to favor completing projects all at once rather than phasing them because it increases the cost but noted that since Bellevue Park South is a major access point that residents can walk through, the agency will consider phasing for this project. The full board was scheduled to vote on the resolution at this month’s full board meeting, but the meeting took place on Wednesday night after T&V’s press time for this week.