Opinion: That moment when you’re poked by a squirrel on a park bench

A similar offender in Stuy Town in 2016 (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Squirrels have been a hot topic in this community and in this newspaper over the years. Each side has been unexpectedly passionate in defending its position, to say the least: one of the most recent controversies involved a resident who received a threatening postcard because of a lukewarm annoyance at the rodents’ ceaseless begging. But the debate has finally become personal because on a weekend earlier this summer, I had an encounter that tipped my bias in favor of a ban on squirrel-feeding.

I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a Saturday afternoon, minding my own business, when I felt something tap against my shoulder. I turned and realized I was almost face to face with a squirrel, not the expected human hand, perched on the back of the bench, who for some reason thought I had a treat for him.

I’ve never had particularly strong feelings about this topic before and could see both sides of the argument. Squirrels can be a bit ratty-looking but also cute in their own way and I can understand the appeal of communing with nature in a city where nature is scarce. And if someone wants squirrels surrounding them or even climbing all over their body, that’s their business.

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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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Letters to the editor, June 7

Cartoon by Jim Meadows

Darth VDER is cheating NYers

Did you know that a recent decision by New York State energy regulators means that 32 percent of all New York City residents are not treated equally when it comes to accessing renewable energy as compared to other New York state residents? This affects all of us who do not pay our energy bills directly to Con Ed, including everyone living at Stuy Town, Waterside and most people living in large multifamily buildings, even though we pay the same amount as the other 68 percent of New York state residents to fund the state’s clean energy programs.

For most of us in New York City, remote renewable energy – also known as community distributed generation (CDG) – is the only option we have if we want to purchase clean renewables energy. Recently the Public Service Commission – a board of utility regulators appointed by Governor Cuomo – changed the rules for valuing clean energy generated at locations remote to where is consumed.

This new method, called VDER (Value of Distributed Energy Resources), applies to solar, wind and hydro-electric generation and is intended to succeed the current net meter value methodology. VDER differentiates between those of who pay their Con Ed bill directly to Con Ed, known as Direct Metered and those that do not, known as Master Metered or Master/Submetered, crediting Direct Metered residents almost 50 percent more value. It’s not fair.

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City breaks ground on new entrance at Madison Square Park monument

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new park entrance was held last Thursday at the Eternal Light monument. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy officially broke ground at the Eternal Light Memorial Flagstaff on the renovation project to create an entrance by the monument last Thursday. The project, the budget for which is $2 million, is expected to be completed in time for the centenary of Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I, on November 11.

The renovations are part of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s “Parks Without Borders” initiative intended to open up park edges and create inviting entrances into city parks. The plan is also part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program and the Department of Transportation’s ongoing effort to enhance safety around parks and public plazas. The adjustments at the monument are meant to enhance pedestrian circulation and safety at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Avenue by directly aligning the new entrance with the 24th Street crosswalk. The project will also give the memorial increased prominence in the park in honor of the veteran community.

The renovations will include demolishing the pavers and fencing around the memorial’s base and constructing a new plaza, as well as installing new gardens, fencing and benches around the plaza. The pavers and electrical infrastructure around the southern end of the park will be replaced and upgraded as part of the renovations.

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Historic tree removed from park after being deemed hazardous

“Old Stumpy” at Madison Square Park, which has actually been around longer than the park has, was considered by arborists to be a falling hazard. (Photo courtesy of the Madison Square Park Conservancy)

By Sabina Mollot

A nearly 300-year-old tree at Madison Square Park that had been popular with visitors has finally faced the chopping block.

It had technically already been dead for years but was kept carefully preserved until recently being deemed a falling hazard.

“We loved that tree but because of pedestrian safety we had to bring it down,” Eric Cova, a spokesperson for the Madison Square Park Conservancy, told Town & Village. “The arborists told us the tree was hollow and had become a danger.”

The English elm had been known as “Old Stumpy” since it was really just the remnants of a tree, a trunk with a few limb stubs remaining.

The relic’s heart-wrenching removal occurred on Valentine’s Day after the conservancy got the nod from the Parks Department.

Cova said some planters will be put in the tree’s place in about 4-6 weeks. In the meantime, the now smoothed-over, empty spot is surrounded by a barrier.

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Tree-cycling action in Stuyvesant Town

MulchFest in Stuy Town

MulchFest, the Parks Department’s annual event aimed at getting New Yorkers to “tree-cycle,” took place on Saturday and Sunday at various locations in the city.

As usual, there was a chipper stationed on Stuyvesant Town’s 20th Street Loop Road, where discarded Christmas trees got mulched one by one. The mulch made from the trees gets used in future city plantings, or if participants, like, they can take some home to use to make potpourri. Mulch helps spur tree growth by keeping roots warm and moist. The wood chips also add nutrients to the soil and helps prevent weeds.

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Mayor: Bellevue South Park getting $3.5M for upgrades

Mayor Bill de Blasio with Councilmember Rosie Mendez at last week’s town hall meeting for residents of Gramercy, Kips Bay, the East Village and Lower East Side (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

Long requested improvements to Bellevue South Park, including a dog run, will be getting made, thanks to an infusion of $3.5 million in funding announced by the mayor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the allocation of cash during a town hall hosted by Councilmember Rosie Mendez last Thursday for her constituents in Gramercy, Kips, Bay, the East Village and the Lower East Side.

“This is a park that Councilmember Mendez has put resources into as well as the borough president and Councilmember Garodnick,” the mayor said. “We’ll be able to add a dog run, upgrade the plaza and add a large play area.”

Natalie Grybauskas, a representative for the mayor’s office, added that the renovations also include upgrades to the basketball court, but could not provide specifics on the exact scope of the project, including where in the park the dog run will be located.

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New entrance at Madison Square Park will highlight monument

A landscape renovation will make the Eternal Light monument, pictured during a Memorial Day ceremony, a focal point of the park. (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park Conservancy has announced it will be creating a new park entrance at 24th Street for the Eternal Light Flagstaff.

The conservancy shared the plan at a flag-raising ceremony that was held just ahead of Memorial Day last Thursday.

The conservancy will be working with the United War Veterans Council and the Parks Department to renovate the landscape in the park and give the monument, which is located inside the park facing Broadway at 24th Street, street-facing prominence.

“We have to honor our veterans,” City Councilman Dan Garodnick said, who was at the event. “This is the single most important monument for veterans in New York City and it should be a focal point in the park.”

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Historic park fence finally repaired

A section of fence gets lifted into the park late last month. (Photo by Mark Thompson)

By Sabina Mollot

After years of delays due to budget and contractor related issues, work finally began to complete the restoration of the historic cast iron fence that surrounds Stuyvesant Square Park’s east section.

Starting late last month, large sections of the landmarked fence were hoisted in via crane as were the fence posts, which were placed temporarily on the lawn.

At some point in the coming months there will be a ribbon cutting, but in the meantime, the construction itself is something to celebrate for community activists who’ve been pushing for this project’s completion for 20 years.

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Kips Bay dog run delayed due to city budget errors

Bellevue Park South (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

Bellevue Park South (Photos by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

A dog run for Bellevue Park South has been stymied by bureaucratic funding woes and miscommunications between the City Council and the Parks Department, Town & Village learned last week.

The Kips Bay Neighborhood Association had been working with City Councilmember Rosie Mendez on the project and last year, Mendez allocated $1.2 million for the new dog run. However, Mendez said she was later told by the Parks Department that the project would ultimately cost closer to $6 million.

She said officials at the city agency told her last May that the project wouldn’t be able to move forward unless it was fully funded and in the meantime, she learned that McKinley Playground on Avenue A and East 3rd Street needed about the same amount that had been allocated to the Bellevue South project, so before the city’s budget was approved in June, she decided to move the money to the McKinley project instead.

“I figured that I could either put the $1.2 million into the Bellevue South Park and have no projects move forward, or I could have another project get completed,” Mendez said. “I decided to move forward with the other project and that’s the decision I would make again today.”

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Santacon’s organizers deny it’s a pub crawl

Revelers at an East Village bar during a previous year’s Santacon (Photo by Allegra Kogan)

Revelers at an East Village bar during a previous year’s Santacon (Photo by Allegra Kogan)

By Sabina Mollot

Santacon, the annual event in which revelers stumble from one watering hole to the next while dressed as Santa, is apparently not a pub crawl at all.

So say the organizers in an open letter to local elected officials who on Monday, in their own letter, had asked the organizers to rein in the massive event, and publicly disclose its route ahead of time.

Santacon’s letter was signed by the group’s attorney Norman Siegel and nameless “NYC Santacon organizers,” who wrote, “Santacon is not a bar-crawl as you call it. Thousands of your constituents participate in and enjoy Santacon.”

The organizers have steadfastly remained anonymous. This letter, sent to the media via email, came from “Kristopher Kringle” and an interview with a head organizer in Gothamist would only reveal that he was a 40-year-old resident of the East Village.

The letter also claimed that the organizers had disclosed the route for this year’s event, which takes place on Saturday, to the NYPD.

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Flatiron plazas to be redeveloped

The city is seeking community input on the redesign at an upcoming workshop. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

The city is seeking community input on the redesign at an upcoming workshop. (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Flatiron pedestrian plazas and Worth Square (just north of the plazas) will be redeveloped, The Flatiron Partnership and New York City Department of Transportation have announced, and the city will be seeking input from the community at a public workshop on November 10.

Flatiron Partnership Executive Director Jennifer Brown said that development of the plazas has been theoretical for a while, but earlier this year there was enough funding through the city to officially start the design process and consider options for more permanent fixtures for the spaces.

Brown said that the plazas, which stretch along Broadway from East 21st to 23rd Street and north of 23rd Street between Broadway and Fifth Avenue adjacent to Madison Square Park, have been the way they are since 2008 using temporary materials like the epoxy gravel surface that is starting to wear out and the temporary granite blocks that protect the spaces from street traffic. The workshop, which will be held in the Porcelanosa building at 202 Fifth Avenue from 6 to 8:30 p.m., is geared towards getting input from the public about different design elements.

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Police Watch: Arrests for robberies, ‘Drunk’ driver busted near Stuy Town

TWO NABBED FOR ROBBERY NEAR UNION SQUARE
Police arrested two people for a robbery in front of 3 East 17th Street last Wednesday at 3:41 a.m. Amara Camara, 22, and Ibrahim Johnson, 21, were charged with robbery and possession of stolen property. Police said that Camara and Johnson hit the victim in the face and grabbed his bag, which contained credit cards, cash and other personal effects. The pair then allegedly threatened a second victim and stole his Nikon camera. Police said that the two men were seen in front of the location and were positively identified by a witness. They were allegedly found in possession of all the stolen property, including the bag with the wallet and the camera.

VICTIM CHOKED IN ROBBERY ON SECOND AVENUE
Fifty-year-old Charles McKinley was arrested for robbery in front of the Central Deli at 515 Second Avenue last Thursday at 10:02 p.m. Police said that McKinley choked the victim and then stole his cash. Police then searched the area for McKinley and found him as well as the victim’s cash. McKinley was also charged with obstruction of breath and possession of stolen property.

APPLE ‘SCAM ARTIST’ BUSTED
Police arrested 61-year-old Lamont Knight for fraudulent accosting at the corner of Broadway and East 22nd Street last Saturday at 12:48 p.m. Knight allegedly approached an undercover officer and offered him a MacBook Air and an iPad Air for $400 for both of them. After the officer identified himself, Knight allegedly told him that the boxes contained cut up newspaper and not the MacBook or iPad.

FIGHT OVER MASSAGE ON LEX
Police arrested a man and a woman for fighting outside Top Nail Salon at 133 Lexington Avenue last Monday at 3:23 a.m. Thirty-nine-year-old Daniel Chinault, who was also charged with criminal mischief, got into an argument with 29-year-old Isabella Ricci over massage services and allegedly damaged the nail salon’s door by punching it. Police said that Chinault and Ricci started fighting and Chinault allegedly wrestled Ricci to the ground, causing a cut on her head and causing his nose to bleed.

‘DRUNK’ DRIVER BUSTED OUTSIDE STUY TOWN
Police arrested 32-year-old David Acquaye for intoxicated driving last Thursday at 3:31 a.m. in front of 545 East 14th Street. Police said that during a vehicle safety checkpoint, Acquaye had a 200 ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue on him and had slurred speech. He was allegedly unable to walk steady when he got out of his car and had watery eyes, as well as a “moderate smell” of alcohol. Police said that he blew a .141 on a Breathalyzer at the scene.

MAN BUSTED FOR PHONE ‘THEFT’
Police arrested 34-year-old Shawn Mayes inside the 13th Precinct last Tuesday at 12:25 p.m. for possession of stolen property. Police said that Mayes was in possession of a stolen phone that was taken in a burglary that occurred inside Reiko Wireless Accessories at 18 West 27th Street on April 21.

PARKS DEPARTMENT ELECTRICIAN ARRESTED FOR ‘FLEEING’ ACCIDENT
Police arrested 48-year-old Roman Klyshko at the 13th precinct last Friday at 8 a.m. for leaving the scene of an accident. Police said that Klyshko, an electrician, ran over a co-worker’s foot with a Parks vehicle and after realizing that he did so, did not wait around to file a report but left the scene.

MAN ARRESTED FOR ‘STOLEN’ WALLET
Kadeem Turner, 35, was arrested for grand larceny and theft in front of 111 West 28th Street last Tuesday at 3:50 p.m. Turner was walking down West 28th Street from Eighth to Seventh Avenue. He appeared to be looking around and looking back towards Eighth Avenue. Police said that he was holding a black t-shirt in his hand, which had a black wallet inside it. He looked inside the wallet and then wrapped it back up in the t-shirt. Police said that he is not the owner of the wallet and did not have permission to have it.

6 TRAIN ‘ROBBER’ NABBED
Police arrested Percey Freeman, 38, for robbery at the Park Avenue South/23rd Street station last Friday at 4:16 a.m. The victim told police that Freeman approached her while she was on an uptown 6 train. He allegedly attempted to grab her purse, pulling it away from her, and police said that he also put his hand against her throat to choke her while still pulling at her bag. Freeman was also charged with obstruction of breath and possession of a controlled substance.

CREDIT CARDS STOLEN FROM GYM LOCKER
Police arrested 21-year-old Shawnice Bettis inside the 13th precinct last Wednesday at 2 p.m. for grand larceny and possession of stolen property. Bettis was allegedly in possession of credit cards that she didn’t have permission to have. Police said that the cards had been removed from a gym locker.

MAN BUSTED FOR OFFICE ‘ASSAULT’
Police arrested 37-year-old Tony Wright inside the 13th Precinct last Monday at 11:30 a.m. for assault and menacing. Police said that Wright chased the victim around their office with a chair, attempting to hit him, and also allegedly picked up a vase and threw it at him. The incident occurred on May 11 at 7 p.m.

ASSAULT ON EAST 25TH STREET
Police arrested 69-year-old Dennis Griggs for assault in front of 208 East 25th Street last Thursday at 11:49 p.m. Griggs allegedly grabbed the victim by the hair and began punching him/her in the chest and right arm (the gender of the victim was not made clear in the report), causing pain and swelling to the victim’s head, chest and arm.

MAN ARRESTED FOR ‘THEFT’ INSIDE CAR
Police arrested 55-year-old Robert William for criminal mischief, petit larceny and unauthorized use of a vehicle in front of 5 East 26th Street last Thursday at 5:45 a.m. The victim told police that he saw William in his car and when he got closer to the vehicle, saw that the front driver’s side window was smashed in. When William noticed the car’s owner, he allegedly ran off and was stopped in the uptown 6 station at Park Avenue South/East 23rd Street. When the victim went back to the car, he realized that $20 to $30 was missing.

GROCERY ‘SHOPLIFTER’ ARRESTED
Police arrested 69-year-old Frank Ho for petit larceny inside the Gristedes at 355 First Avenue last Sunday at 6:43 p.m. Police said that he took one salmon steak, a pint of Haagen Daaz and two candy bars, which he hid in a shoulder bag and allegedly attempted to leave without paying.

Ribbon cut at newly expanded Asser Levy Playground

Feb5 Asser Levy Garodnick equipment

Council Member Dan Garodnick tries out the adult fitness equipment. (Photo by Sabina Mollot)

By Sabina Mollot

Last Friday morning, in near-freezing weather following the second snowfall in a week, local community leaders and politicians cut the ribbon on the newly expanded Asser Levy Playground.

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver joked that “It’s a pleasure to cut a ribbon on this warm and sunny day,” as the politicians on either side of him sat bundled up for the cold. He then went on to say the project had been successful in terms of being both “on time and on budget and that gets a double round of applause.”

New features along the two-block-long park that was formerly a street include a track, adult fitness equipment, a synthetic turf field, drinking fountains, lighting, trees, tables and benches.

The work was funded with allocations of $1,175,000 from Council Member Dan Garodnick, $500,000 from the UN Development Corporation, and $670,000 from the mayor.

While at the podium, Silver joked that Garodnick was so enamored with project, “he named his son Asher.”

In response Garodnick confided that he’d actually told his son that the playground had been named after him.

“There are no limits to my deception,” he quipped. “I told him it was a typo on the sign.” He added that since he also has another son, “We’ll have to see what we can do for Devin.”

While construction had been underway at the site, the Council member said he and both of his young sons would pop by each day from their apartment in Peter Cooper Village and ask the project supervisor for status updates. And, he added, the supervisor was very nice about it.

The playground work was tied to a land deal that would allow the United Nations to put a building on space occupied by Robert Moses Park.While naturally the plan to remove that park space has been met with some opposition from neighbors, Garodnick said Robert Moses Park is underutilized, as the space now occupied by Asser Levy Playground was when it was a street.

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Coyote visits Stuy Town as urban sightings are on the rise

Jan29 coyoteBy Sabina Mollot

While Stuyvesant Town has become known for its wildlife, in particular its famous black squirrels, on Sunday morning, the complex was visited for the first time by a coyote.

The coyote, a young female, which has been named Stella by Parks officials and has since been captured and released into a wooded area in the Bronx, had likely traveled south into Manhattan.

She was captured on the property on the Avenue C side by police officers, who then brought her to Animal Care and Control, where she was given a clean bill of health.

Meanwhile, a Parks official T&V interviewed about the incident said that coyote sightings in the city are becoming more common, and she expects that this trend will only continue. Just a couple of weeks ago, another coyote was found in Riverside Park, and in 2011, another coyote had wandered into Tribeca.

Sarah Aucoin, director of NYC Parks’ Urban Park Rangers, said the coyote’s visit last weekend was “not entirely unexpected.

“We know that many coyotes have been expanding their range,” she said. “Not in Stuyvesant Town obviously but New York City provides a good habitat.”

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