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Pint-sized Advocates Plead Their Cases to Community Board

By DNAinfo Staff on February 3, 2011 3:05pm

By Tara Kyle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CHELSEA — A crew of pint-sized neighborhood residents joined a battle over the fate of a Chelsea vacant lot at a community board meeting Wednesday night.

A smattering of kids, placed front and center by their parents, carried signs reading "Park Please" to Wednesday's meeting of Community Board 4 at the Fulton Houses, where park advocates called on members to resurrect the debate over a vacant lot at 136 W. 20th St., which some want to see turned into park space.

CB4 has already declared an end to the fight over the lot, reaffirming its position that the lot remain secured for affordable housing. But advocates on both sides of the issue aren't giving up, as some of the roughly 150 people in attendance sounded off on the issue again Wednesday.

On the one side, members of the 20th Street Park group sounded off Wednesday on why they think it's still an important unresolved issue.

"No decision is etched in stone, no construction is imminent," said the group's chair Matt Weiss, a resident of East Chelsea — where parks are scare — who has said he worries about the lack of outdoor play space for his 18-month-old son. "There is precedent for change."

But advocates for affordable housing told the crowd they had their own sets of fears for their children, nieces and nephews.

"I feel compassion for you," said Fulton Houses Tenant Association President and CB4 member Miguel Acevedo, whose family has a 75-year history in Chelsea but is watching a younger generation get priced out. But, he said, "If we continue to let Chelsea get gentrified, we're going to lose."

The battle over the proposed park has grown increasingly heated over the past month. After one park proponent accused the Board of a "land grab," the co-president of neighborhood advocacy group Save Chelsea, Justin Hoy, urged everyone involved in the debate to tone down the rhetoric, and pledged to take the issue up again at his organization's February meeting.

The kids who turned out to debate the vacant lot issue weren't the only next-generation advocates present on Thursday — more than 30 mothers and children from Holy Cross School turned up to beg CB4 to help save their school.

Last month, the Archdiocese of New York made an unexpected announcement that the catholic school must merge with another Hell's Kitchen parochial school, the 'at-risk' Sacred Heart of Jesus, sending parents and students into an uproar.

Advocates have been fighting to stop the closure ever since, including launching an emotional campaign on Facebook.

"I love my school very much…it will be in my heart forever," graduating eighth grader Joshua Mesfin told Community Board 4 on Wednesday, while his younger sister passed out origami flowers to each member, and other students held makeshift posters scrawled on white printing paper. "What will happen to my sister? Will my teachers have jobs?"

The Community Board 4 members have no say over the decisions of the Archdiocese, members said Thursday.

CB4 will address the future of Holy Cross School at an upcoming joint meeting between the Quality of Life and Health, Housing and Human Services committees (date TBD, check the CB4 website for updates). At present, the Board has announced no plans to reconsider the park issue.