Neighbors say safety first with Bellevue South Park renovations

Bellevue South Park (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.

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Stuyvesant Square Park in the dark for two months until light repairs

Light posts were left on while being tested on Monday in the park’s east section. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

After two months of darkness, over a dozen lampposts in Stuyvesant Square Park that had stopped working some time in November finally saw some repairs on Monday morning though the work is apparently still ongoing.

The lamps being out of order were reported to the city early on by the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association as well as another park watchdog, Michael Alcamo and his Friends of Stuyvesant Square Park organization. Six of the lamp posts were in the park’s east section, with another four on Second Avenue, where the park is divided.

However, as Phyllis Mangels, a board member of the SPNA, explained it, while the association had reported the matter to Parks, Parks had to refer the matter to the Department of Transportation and as of Monday morning, Parks hadn’t gotten any feedback on when the lights would be fixed.

This meant the park had remained completely dark after dusk in some sections each night until shortly after Town & Village reached out to the DOT as well as Parks on Monday morning, which also coincided with some additional email nudging from SPNA and Friends.

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Parks mulling full wildlife feeding ban

The proposal follows the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s asking park goers to stop feeding the squirrels, arguing its caused more aggressive begging and damage to the park’s tree canopy. (Photo by Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Resident bird and squirrel-lovers, beware: a popular park pastime might soon be banned. The Parks Department announced last Friday that the agency will be holding hearings this March on changes to city rules that would prohibit park patrons from feeding birds and squirrels.

The Parks Department will be holding a public hearing on Friday, March 1 for a proposed amendment to the rules regarding feeding animals in parks. The current rules on wildlife feeding don’t specifically ban the feeding of birds and squirrels but under the proposed amendment, feeding all animals in city parks would be prohibited. Under the current rule, feeding all other animals in city parks, including in zoo areas, is not allowed.

The agency said that one of the main reasons for the new rule is to reduce food sources for rats and other rodents as a humane method of pest control.

“Sharing your last slice is generally good etiquette in NYC, unless you’re sharing it with a rat or a squirrel,” a representative for the Parks Department said. “Feeding wildlife in parks creates a mess and is bad for the health of our native wildlife. Through our new policy, we’ll make sure that squirrels, pigeons, and other animals don’t rely on takeout.”

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Kips Bay residents say planned renovation of Bellevue South Park won’t make it more inviting

The renovation plan was discussed at a Community Board 6 meeting last Wednesday. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A plan to renovate Bellevue South Park that city officials presented to the Community Board 6 Parks committee last Wednesday left neighborhood residents feeling like they hadn’t been listened to.

“I don’t see much of what we talked about in the focus groups,” said Aaron Humphrey, a resident of Straus Houses and a longtime advocate for the park. “We have quality of life and safety issues. In the southeastern part of the park, we have a lot of homeless who sit on the benches there and smoke marijuana. The trees block all of it. We wanted the gate removed to make it more community friendly, and we wanted to maximize the space.”

Community organizers have been pushing the city to make changes to Bellevue South Park in Kips Bay to create an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible dog run and separate the adult exercise equipment from the children’s play equipment, primarily to discourage residents from the nearby shelters from congregating near where children play. But residents also said that the amount of tree cover in some areas of the park encourages shady behavior and had been hoping that the design would take more of this into account, possibly by opening up the park and removing some of the fences.

“I recall a conversation that one of the goals was to keep it more open so that the transient population wouldn’t stay there,” Kips Bay resident Karen Keavey said. “I know we have limited funds but I don’t see any changes to how the park is now. What we’ve been talking about is the entire ethos and vibe of the park so it’s more user-friendly and safe.”

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Some parks are still closed after snowstorm knocks limbs off trees

Nov22 gramercy park clean-up

A worker secures a tree in Gramercy Park after a snowstorm caused a still undetermined amount of damage in the park and other parks. (Photos courtesy of Gramercy Park Block Associaton)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Unexpected heavy snowfall last Thursday caused damage to trees throughout the neighborhood, resulting in park closures through this week, long after all the snow from the storm had melted.

Arlene Harrison, the president of the Gramercy Park Block Association and park trustee, sent an email to park neighbors on Friday noting that the park would be closed until further notice, and included photos of several downed tree limbs inside the park.

“Park caretakers who have been working here for decades said that it was the worst single hit to the park since they’ve worked here,” said Harrison, who made the decision to padlock the park gates for safety reasons until the debris is cleared. She said that the park could reopen by the end of the week but it had to remain closed until the crew can determine that it’s safe.

She added that the crew was pruning on the western side of the park right before the storm so there was the least amount of damage on that side, but five trees in the park were “ravaged” because of the wind and heavy snow.

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Nature-inspired sculptures now on display at Madison Square Park

This sculpture of a woman is now on display as part of Arlene Shechet’s installation, “Full Steam Ahead.” (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy has debuted a series of nature-inspired sculptures as the latest public art installation to go up at the park. The work opened to the public on Tuesday to torrential downpours throughout the morning and afternoon but the rain lightened to a drizzle in time for the installation’s opening reception that evening.

Sculptor Arlene Shechet created 11 different pieces that make up “Full Steam Ahead,” designed as an outdoor room intended to be interactive. Shechet is primarily known for her work in ceramic but the pieces in this exhibition are made from cast iron, wood, steel and porcelain.

Shechet refers to the exhibition as a “manufactured version of nature” and the installation is functional as well as a work of art, with a number of the pieces functioning as seating. Shechet said that the installation was initially inspired by memories of the living room in her grandparents’ apartment.

The pieces, located along the pathways and perimeter of the park’s reflecting pool, are human-scale sculptures that create a physical presence for visitors, and Shechet used forms suggestive of the nature around the park, such as twigs, tree trunks and other plants. Other sculptures around the pool are reminiscent of various fauna, some of which could be found at the park, such as a feather from a bird, although another, part of a lion’s head and paw, is less common in the middle of Manhattan.

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Garbage trucks to soon be parked on Mount Carmel Pl.

Mount Carmel Place between East 26th and 27th Streets (Photo via Google Maps)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Department of Sanitation has warned Kips Bay residents that the agency will be parking up to seven garbage trucks adjacent to Bellevue South Park starting next Monday.

Representatives for the agency informed members of Community Board 6’s transportation committee about the trucks’ arrival at a meeting on Tuesday, saying that the change is necessary because DSNY will soon be evicted from the current sanitation garage at 606 West 30th Street.

Between four and six trucks will be parked on Mount Carmel Place between East 26th and 27th Streets on the east side of the park. DSNY community affairs officer Iggy Terranova said that the trucks will leave their spots on Mount Carmel Place by 6 a.m. to pick up trash and return around 2 p.m.

Residents and community board members at the meeting were worried about whether or not the trucks would be parked in the neighborhood with a full load, and Terranova said that the only time full trucks will park in those spaces is if workers don’t have time to dump them during the morning shift. If this happens, the trucks will then be taken out for the 4 p.m. to 12 a.m. shift and dumped then. Trucks will then be parked on Mount Carmel from midnight to 6 a.m.

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LES ferry makes maiden voyage

ferry arrives at Stuy Cove2

The Ocean Queen Rock Star, part of the fleet of NYC Ferry’s Lower East Side route, arrives at Stuyvesant Cove at 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Despite temperatures climbing high enough to warrant an official heat advisory from the city, cool winds prevailed along the East River on Wednesday for those aboard the new ferries along the Lower East Side route that launched that morning. The ferry that made the maiden voyage took off from Long Island City at around 6:30, arriving at Stuyvesant Cove at exactly 6:45 a.m. as the sun rose, carrying a mix of Stuyvesant Town residents and reporters.

The ferry, named the Ocean Queen Rock Star, then proceeded — at around 26 miles per hour — to downtown landing Corlears Hook, named, like Stuyvesant Cove, after a park on the waterfront. There, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Member Keith Powers cheered the new route, which made its debut months ahead of the dreaded L train shutdown.

De Blasio mentioned that the city has been getting many requests from New Yorkers who want a ferry stop in their neighborhoods and said that by the end of the year, decisions will be made on where else they would go. As of Wednesday, there were already six active ferry routes in the city, all operated by Hornblower. According to the mayor, there have also already been six million riders so far on NYC Ferry.

“We know how crowded the subways are. We know the streets are congested,” he said. “We know we need new ways to get around the city. We will not be the city we were meant to be if we don’t have better options.”

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Bellevue South Park users ask for ADA-compliant dog run

Christopher Crowley, landscape architect for Parks, pictured with Kips Bay residents involved in planning for the temporary dog run (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.

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The pretty flower that’s strangling Stuyvesant Cove Park

July19 Bindweed flower

Growth of the vine-sprouting weed has exploded in the warm weather. (Photos by Emily Curtis-Murphy)

By Sabina Mollot

Though the blooming of a large, stinky flower at the New York Botanical Garden has been getting all the attention lately, there’s another plant in this city that’s starting to sound even more sinister than the aforementioned corpse flower.

A white-petaled menace that grows on vines has been described by the gardeners at Stuyvesant Cove Park as “an invader from far-off lands and nothing short of pernicious.”

That would be the field bindweed (also known as Convolvulus arvensis), a trumpet-shaped flower that looks very similar to a morning glory and has been growing like what it actually is — a weed – in green spaces across New York City. Along with parks and gardens, the hardy plant has also been sprouting up on traffic medians and vacant lots.

Environmental education center Solar One, which is located at Stuyvesant Cove Park’s north end, sent neighbors an email about the bindweed on Monday, while also making a plea for help in keeping its beastly growth at bay.

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Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association celebrating 50th anniversary

Stuyvesant Square Park these days is sitting pretty, in no small part due to the work of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

When the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association was formed half a century ago, it began as many civic organizations do — as a response to a perceived threat to the community that the residents were willing to fight. In this case, the interloper was Beth Israel, which was expanding its footprint at the time, buying up brownstones in the Stuyvesant Square neighborhood to raze and turn into larger buildings.

Rosalee Isaly, the president of the Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association, who’s been involved in the group’s efforts since 1970, said neighbors were concerned about the expansion impacting their quality of life, especially when the hospital received a federal grant to turn an empty lot at the corner of Second Avenue and 17th Street to build a 40-story building to house its staff. The group, initially just three couples (including husbands who worked as attorneys), fought this tooth and nail.

Eventually that street corner became home to the significantly smaller Hospital for Joint Diseases, and Beth Israel built the 24-story Gilman Hall on First Avenue across from Stuyvesant Town to house its residents. (Gilman has since been emptied and sold to a California-based developer as part of the hospital’s downsizing plan.)

As for the three couples from Stuyvesant Square who made up the founding members of the SPNA, they were John and Mary Tommaney, Adrian and Marisa Zorgniotti and James and Carvel Moore. Isaly, who now owns and manages a couple of local properties and is also an artist, joined the SPNA upon moving to the neighborhood when she was a newlywed. She’s lived there since then with the exception of a few years in the 1970s when she and her family lived in Paris.

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ST residents concerned about trees and organized play at Playground 1

Rendering provided by StuyTown Property Services shows how the playground will look once renovated.

By Susan Steinberg
President of the ST-PCV Tenants Association

About 35 Stuyvesant Town tenants attended a town hall on Monday night focusing on the reimagined Playground 1. Hosted by Rick Hayduk, general manager of StuyTown Property Services, assisted by Wes Richards, chief landscape designer and Kevin Wyatt, master arborist, the event took place at the community center.

Hayduk reviewed the need for improvements, including unsafe asphalt requiring resurfacing, parapet walls that were collapsing and trees in various states of decay.  Construction work has already begun on rebuilding the parapets, to the chagrin of the residents living around the playground, well represented at the meeting, who are trying to cope with the drilling. The worst of the noise is expected to be over in two weeks. When completed, the playground will consist of two major areas, an AstroTurf section (about one third of the total area) and a resurfaced asphalt area (two thirds) allowing for roller hockey and T-ball. A net will separate the two areas. The decaying trees will be replaced by Princeton Elms 22 feet high. These grow 4-6.5 feet a year and produce food for squirrels. The design showed 28 benches. The playground is envisioned as serving children ages 12 and under.

Several residents challenged the project. They said playground as it existed was one playground where there was no “theme,” no organized play, no schedules and where residents could site and enjoy quiet time. One resident said she had specifically moved to a building overlooking that playground because it was quiet.

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Parade shines light on environment

Costumed dancers from the Artichoke dance company perform as part of the procession that made 20 stops along the East Village and Lower East Side. (Photos by Kristin Reimer for Earth Celebrations’ Ecological City-Procession for Climate Solutions)

By Sabina Mollot

On Saturday, hundreds of costumed revelers walked, marched and danced their way through the East Village and the Lower East Side for a day-long event aimed at celebrating local green spaces, the East River and sustainability efforts.

The event was organized by Lower East Sider, artist and activist Felicia Young, who has a long history of similar events aimed at (successfully) saving community gardens, through her organization Earth Celebrations. Participants in the event, which was modeled after pageants in India, where hundreds of celebrants from multiple communities take part, made 20 stops throughout the neighborhood.

A few included Campos Garden on East 12th Street between Avenues B and C, El Sol Brilliante Garden an avenue to the west, the Earth School on East 6th Street and by the day’s end, East River Park for oyster planting and a river cleansing dance.

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Residents grieve for downed trees

Tree stumps line the south end of the playground on Friday. (Photos by Sabina Mollot)

SPS says removals were for resident safety

By Sabina Mollot

Though it did come with warning, a number of Stuyvesant Town residents were nonetheless unprepared for the moment when trees that were nearly as old and as tall as nearby buildings began getting sawed down and carted away.

The old oaks’ removal was explained by management in an email on Friday (and in a prior email blast) as being necessary due to disease and decay. Additionally, StuyTown Property Services CEO Rick Hayduk added in the Friday email to tenants, they’d be replaced in June by Princeton elms and the remains of the oaks would be mulched. Still, for some residents whose windows overlook Playground 1, the removal of the 18 mature trees around it hit home as hard as the loss of an old friend.

“As I speak I hear a chainsaw cutting down a 70-year-old tree,” Stuart Strong, a resident of 330 First Avenue told Town & Village on Friday. Strong, who was horrified, added, “They’re sturdy as anything. We’re looking at stumps that used to be oak trees. I don’t see any decay. They provide environment and enjoyment.”

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City holding dog run town halls

The series of events are for dog owners with questions or concerns about their local dog runs. (Pictured) Dogs and an owner at the Bellevue South Park Dog Run (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Sabina Mollot

Got a question or concern about Fido’s dog run? The New York City Parks Department is holding a series of four dog run town halls with the next one scheduled in Manhattan on April 14 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

The series, according to a spokesperson for the department Meghan Lalor, was inspired by similar public dog forums the department held in 2007 while finalizing an off-leash policy as well as a forum in 2010 when Assistant Commissioner Michael Dockett was named the agency’s “dog czar.”

Now, the department is “refreshing” the concept with the hopes of getting dog owners more involved in their local runs and to inform them about available resources. The first in the series on dog runs took place in Queens last weekend without about 40 people in attendance. The Manhattan venue will be the Tony Dapolito Recreation Center at 3 Clarkson Street, and dog owners should note that the event is for humans only.

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