Madison Square Park dog run to get fully renovated

The Madison Square Park dog run as it appears today (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

The Madison Square Park dog run is getting a makeover, courtesy of a project from the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which presented its plans for the run at a Community Board 5 meeting on Monday.

Tom Reidy, a senior project manager for the Conservancy who presented the project at the recent meeting, said that one of the main goals of the renovations was to expand the small dog area in the park by flipping the orientation.

“Right now, the small dog area mostly gets used as a time out spot for bigger dogs,” Reidy said of the current configuration. The small dog section of the run is currently on the northern end, so the plans would have the area for small dogs in the southern end, giving them more space to run around.

Both the small and big dog areas would include small berms, or hills, with K-9 turf, a type of artificial grass designed specifically for dogs that is supposed to offer better drainage than the surface currently in the dog run.

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Protesters slam squirrel feeding ban

song

Wildlife feeders, including a performance artist dressed as a pigeon, sing protest songs at the gates of City Hall on Tuesday. (Photos and video by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

With a full wildlife feeding ban expected to start this summer in city parks, animal rights activists rallied against the Parks Department’s proposed ban on Tuesday on the steps of City Hall.

Bronx resident Lucia Maria led the rally with her group, Bronx Animal Rights Electors, and said that the mayor had responded to a caller during Brian Lehrer’s “Ask the Mayor” segment on March 22, saying he would more closely examine the opposition to the ban. However, he has since approved of the ban, agreeing with the Parks Department’s argument that feeding birds and squirrels is also feeding the city’s rat population.

“The mayor made it sound as if city parks were over-run by hordes of wildlife feeders who littered parks with all kinds of debris from balls to balloons to bottles to old shoes,” Maria said. “It’s true, parks are littered with these items, but they are not from bird or squirrel feeders. The truth is that less than one percent of park-goers feed birds or squirrels. Of this percentage, most of the people who do feed them are senior citizens, the disabled and families. These are the people the Parks Department and the mayor now want to label as criminals.”

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New renovation plan for Bellevue South Park gets support from Community Board 6

Bellevue South Park (Photo by Maria Rocha-Buschel)

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.

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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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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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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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