INWOOD — A set of $1.4 million renovated basketball and tennis courts that open this week can't be used after dark because of a deal between a local community board and the Parks Department that some on the board are now regretting, officials said.
Parks Department officials confirmed that there won't be lights at the nine Inwood Hill Park tennis courts and two basketball courts because Community Board 12 members favored putting all of the cash into the courts, at the expense of lighting.
But now that same community board is looking to reverse its request and ask the Parks Department to install lights, CB12 members said.
"Lighting at night is a deterrent to crime," said Pamela Palanque-North, board chair for Community Board 12. "It is in the best interest of the residents."
Palanque-North said the board now plans to ask the parks department to add lights, which will cost an estimated $340,000, according to the city.
Elected officials have called for an increase on security in Northern Manhattan parks after a high-profile rape case took place in Inwood Hill Park after dark last year, DNAinfo.com New York reported.
With that in mind, residents in the neighborhood are concerned that a lack of lighting will attract crime and suspicious activity around the courts.
The courts close at 1 a.m., according to a Parks Department sign. The basketball areas opened Tuesday, while the tennis courts are expected to reopen this week.
"I would think that Inwood residents would rather hear the sound of kids playing basketball than a woman screaming because of a mugging," said Inwood resident Michael Jimenez.
Roberto Salcedo, 70, an Inwood resident of 20 years, said the lack of lighting was also a waste of city renovation funds, given that most people prefer to play after work hours.
"A lot of people are at work during the daytime and when they come home at 6 or 7 they like to play too."
Salcedo and his wife, Carmen, have been playing tennis in the park for the last 10 years and said they even pay for the park's annual tennis membership even though most locals use the courts without paying the yearly fee.
"It's not good. It's too dark," said Carmen Salcedo, who brought three of her grandchildren to the park Tuesday. "It's important to have it open, especially now with everyone trying to keep the teenagers busy with baseball, basketball, and exercise."
Erick Pena, 19, who grew in the neighborhood and has been playing on these courts since he was 6, said "We always wanted light and thought that we were going to get them this time, but we didn't."
"We heard that they didn't want to get them because people around the neighborhood would complain [about the noise]," he added.
Pena said there used to be non-working lights around the courts when he was little, but the lights attracted a lot of birds, which nested in the fixtures.
Recent high school graduate Saveo Jesus, 18, who plays basketball on the courts, said the courts are popular after classes or work hours.
"We can't play at night," said Jesus, who added that "sometimes we play at night even without lights."
Frances Lantigua, 17, a local high school student off for the summer, was playing on the newly-opened courts Tuesday.
"Last summer, my cousin and I got used to practising in the dark, but it would have made a difference if we had lights. "
A Parks Department rep said they had not received any request for lighting in the courts from the Inwood and Washington Heights Community Board as of Tuesday.
"If they want to revisit the issue, we would suggest that they send us a resolution from the full board for guidance in any future developments at the park," Philip Abramson, a spokesman for the Parks Department, said in an email.
He added that the project was discussed extensively in the Community Board 12 Parks Committee meetings in June 2011 and September 2011, before CB12 opted to forego the lights.
"During the public design review at the Community Board, people were very vocal about there being no lights. (They wanted the limited funding to get directed to the reconstruction of all 9 tennis courts and two basketball courts)," Abramson wrote in an email.
"All agreed that when basketball tournaments or other tournaments necessitated it, temporary light towers could be brought [in]."
There were no working lights at the Inwood Hill tennis and basketball courts, even prior to renovations, he said.
Elizabeth Lorris Ritter, who was the Chair of Community Board 12's Parks and Cultural Affairs Committee when the project came before the board several years ago, said that given the limited funding for the project, committee members supported the Parks Department's plan to renovate the courts.
"The community clearly prioritized more tennis courts [getting renovated] as being the most important thing," Lorris Ritter said, adding that the Parks Department agreed to bring in lights for tournaments when and if needed.
However, Lorris Ritter, who is no longer the chair of the committee, said the board's decision to ask parks for lights is part of "a dynamic process where needs and resources often change."