By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Community Board 12 approved plans to renovate Orville & Wilbur Playground in Washington Heights, a plan that will allow residents to use benches and game tables outside of the child-only area of the playground.
Since the plan's initial presentation in September, the board worked with the Parks Department to find a compromise between residents who said tables only attract drug users and late night parties and others who said those problems have been blown out of proportion.
The new resolution aims to resolve the conflict by relocating the tables to a fence on the northern perimeter of the playground that borders the New York City Housing Authority senior housing development, Bethune Gardens.
The board also took into account the brouhaha involving men ticketed for playing chess at game tables inside a restricted access playground in Inwood Hill Park, making sure to provide seating and table access to adults without children as part of the overall playground reconstruction.
"The tables will be put to the side of the playground area so as to not get into what I like to call an 'Emerson Playground' problem," CB12 Parks and Cultural Affairs committee chair Elizabeth Lorris Ritter said at the full community board meeting on Nov. 23.
Because of the playground’s location beside P.S. 28 Wright Brothers School on West 156th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, children from the school use the space as well as community members.
Some residents say the playground is a positive resource for the community, while others say it attracts crime and drugs at night.
"There are heavy narcotics in the area and late night parties and drinking during the summer," longtime Washington Heights resident Richard Lewis said at the meeting. "The entrance of the park presents a problem, we have to make it as welcoming as possible to the community while protecting the area’s quality of life."
Damon Sebastian, another longtime area resident, said complaints about drinking are unsubstantiated and that the community has utilized the benches and tables for years without problems.
"It’s the only space we have for people to enjoy the outdoors for blocks and blocks," he said. "If it’s just a matter of drinking every now and again, we shouldn’t punish people in the neighborhood for that."
The playground renovation is part of a $2.3 million overhaul approved by CB12 in September, which is funded by monies allocated by City Councilman Robert Jackson. It includes a new play space modeled with the Wright Brothers’ first flight in mind, new basketball courts and accessible restrooms for the disabled.
The playground is near several high-profile public developments that are planned for completion in the coming years, including a new high school on Amsterdam Avenue and 157th Street, a renovated staircase that once provided access to the former Giants Stadium, Northern Manhattan's first children's museum called the Faith Ringgold Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling, and 124-units of affordable housing.
The next step for the playground is for the Planning Design Commission to give its approval before the Parks Department moves forward with the one-year construction it expects to begin in the spring of 2011.