Thursday, December 3, 2009

No Dog Run For Roosevelt Island's Blackwell Park Mentioned In Southtown Development Agreement - New RIOC Directors Effectively Monitoring Staff

Image of Blackwell House and Park

Last night's scheduled RIOC Operations Committee meeting was not held due to a lack of a quorum present resulting from the illness of several Committee members. However, an information gathering meeting took place under the Chairmanship of RIOC Director David Kraut focusing on the status of the Blackwell Park Master Plan.

As indicated in post earlier this week:
... A new issue in the Blackwell Park Master Plan Redesign saga was raised by Ms. Abramson during November 20 RIOC Real Estate Development Committee meeting. Ms Abramson claimed that in addition to the Southtown Tot Lot being moved to Blackwell Park when construction of Riverwalk Buildings 7-9 commences, the Southtown Development Agreement requires RIOC to also move the Southtown Dog Run to Blackwell Park as well.

Ms Abramson did not say what feature currently in Blackwell Park such as the Basketball Courts, Fountain, Lawn or trees would have to be removed to accommodate the dog run.

The RIOC Directors present at the meeting (Kalkin, Polivoy and RIOC nominee Smith) were not pleased at the Dog Run news and were highly skeptical that this was part of the Agreement. They asked Ms. Abramson to show them where this provision compelling RIOC to install a Dog Run in Blackwell Park was in the Agreement. She was not able to do so at the meeting...
Image of Southtown Dog Run From Roosevelt Island 360

During yesterday's meeting we learned from RIOC General Counsel Kenneth Leitner that Ms. Abramson was incorrect when she stated that RIOC was legally obligated under Southtown Development Agreement to install a dog run in Blackwell Park. According to Mr. Leitner, after reviewing the Agreement he found no mention of a dog run in the Agreement and concluded that no such obligation existed. Ms Abramson did not say what the basis was for her earlier conclusion that there was such an obligation.

Mr. Leitner also indicated that the Southtown Riverwalk Developers, not RIOC, were obligated to replace the current Southtown Tot Lot in Blackwell Park upon construction of Buildings 7-9 on the Queens side of East River.

This incident is a small but telling example of the importance of having Roosevelt Island residents on the RIOC Board who are knowledgeable and caring enough to effectively monitor the actions and decisions of RIOC staff as it pertains to the quality of life here on Roosevelt Island. In the past, the RIOC Board would probably have accepted Ms Abramson's statement regarding the dog run as fact and moved on to another matter. THOSE DAYS HAVE CHANGED!

It was also decided that the ad hoc Blackwell Park Task Force Committee, composed of Roosevelt Island residents, will be brought in under the authority of RIRA so that RIRA will continue to be the official voice of the community to RIOC. RIOC will move forward on the Blackwell Park Master Plan based upon the recomendations contained in the Blackwell Task Force November 6 letter to Ms. Abramson.
November 6, 2009
Dear Rosina,

Since the Saturday Walk-through with Lee Weintraub, a Task Force Committee has met several times for many hours over the past two weeks to formulate a response to what was presented and provide feedback on our priorities. The committee has remarkable consensus on virtually all of the recommendations that are presented below.

A) The committee is enthusiastic about the proposed placement and design of the new Tot Lot on the south side of the park. We feel strongly that the park should be a place for pure recreation and play and that it should not have a “science-theme”. We concluded that the best place for the future dismantled tram pieces is the glass enclosure of Motorgate, especially because of the need to continue protecting them from the effect of the elements and since Motorgate is a natural extension of the industrial art motif.

The elements that we most appreciate are
• The consolidation of facilities – so that caregivers can supervise kids of all ages
• Well designed bench locations
• Ambitiious sprinkler plan – we hope you splurge on this, should be great fun
• Ample shade
• Varied elevations

B) The committee is unanimously opposed to relocating trees. Such relocation is costly and unsafe to the trees. This is not to say that we oppose moving one or two trees to fulfill a specific objective, but we believe that the wholesale relocation that was presented at the walk-through was very undesirable and unnecessary.

C) The committee is also almost unanimously opposed to relocating the basketball courts. We are certain that the basketball courts’ present location is optimal. The 40 to 50 trees that ring them are appealing and block some of the view of the power plants. The courts should be resurfaced so that they drain properly and so that drains are not so prone to clogging by leaves and other debris.

D) We applaud the plans to make the park entrance more appealing, and encourage bold efforts in this regard. We all agree that the green fence next to 504 - the former Lillies Blackwell School and the unused area that it encloses should be removed in favor of a more open southwest vista. Benches should be replaced with more appealing and durable ones – such as those in and around Octagon Park or LIC park in Queens below the Pepsi sign.

At the entrance, we also encourage consideration of a pergola, arbor area, trellis or garden, to direct the attention of passersby to the direction of the park.

E) The sloping lawn next to the Blackwell school already has a nice open feel to it, and will become larger once the area inside the fence is integrated into it. The grade extending to the river can be modified by terracing. Terrace walls can be used as natural bench backs.

F) The former “Castle playground” should be considered as the locale for a fitness area for teens and adults.

G) The western border overlooking both basketball courts should be wheelchair accessible. The area between the two courts (the red pergola) can be remodeled but should continue to provide ample seating.

H) The ambience of the park would be enhanced with the addition of appropriate sculptures – perhaps in the area just south of the Blackwell House back deck.

I) Park lighting needs to be upgraded, both at the basketball courts and along the paths and playgrounds, and by any sculptures. Improved lighting around Blackwell House has already made it more attractive at night and has reduced the risk of vandalism.

J) The path of stairs leading from the courts to the back of Blackwell House is attractive and should remain. This area would benefit from a less cluttered appearance. Hedges should be trimmed back. Flowers or a garden should be considered if there is a suitable location either here, or at the Park entrance. All the walkways would be improved by use of wheelchair accessible brick or dense gravel material.

K) The committee feels strongly that significant expenditure around the 504 building should be deferred until its final use is resolved. Clearly, requirements for this area will be different for a library, than it will for, say, a restaurant.

L) The committee wants to see nearby bathroom facilities, but not in the park. Ideally, the new tenants for 504 Main Street or other nearby storefronts would offer facilities.

M) The “Castle” had a quality about it that challenged imaginations and was beloved by generations of kids. We’d like to see something like it replace the play equipment currently in place, possibly a “cityscape” or some other equipment that lends itself to exploration the way the Castle did.

N) Blackwell Park renovation needs to be considered in the context of the Island as a whole. While the Task Force, as per your request, has focused on Blackwell Park, the committee does not believe that it should take priority over other pressing issues such as the repair of rusted promenade railings or rehabilitation of the lighting and grounds at the pier south of the Meditation Steps.

The committee extends a very warm invitation to you and Mr. Weintraub to discuss these recommendations any weekday evening or weekend at either the RIVAA gallery or Rivercross Community room.
The task force will have continued involvement throughout the project.

RIOC Director Fay Christian remarked that she thought it unfair that Southtown residents had dogs while it was banned from most other parts of Roosevelt Island. We learned that the reason for this is not any policy enacted by RIOC but by the individual building owners who have incorporated "NO Dog Policy" in their leases. Here's a great video about Roosevelt Island - A Place Without Dogs.

As to if or where the current Southtown Dog Run will be relocated, that has yet to be decided. Stay tuned!


M. J. Petersen said...


Anonymous said...

Why would Abramson want to move a dog run in blackwell Park if it is not required to be there?

Anonymous said...

Ms. Abramson wants to involve the community in master planning for Blackwell Park as a consensual matter and has convened several meetings to that end. One of the items on the list was the location of the dog run, now not an issue at all, having been resolved by agreement with the Southtown developer. It is to bbe remembered that the dog run came about by request of the Northtown residents in order to deal with the then threatened invasion of Southtown dogs. Now a moot issue and the "crisis" averted.
Steve Shane

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