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Controversial Hell's Kitchen Basketball Court Rejected by Community Board

By Mathew Katz | October 4, 2012 2:20pm

CHELSEA — Opponents of a Hell's Kitchen basketball court scored a slam dunk Wednesday when the local community board voted to ask the city to remove the controversial court under a park redesign plan.

Community Board 4 voted to ask the Parks Departmen to remove the court from Ramon Aponte Park as part of an upcoming renovation after complaints that it attracts rowdy, troublemaking teens.

The board originally meant to comment on the parks' redesign at its July meeting, but decided to send it back to committee after basketball-loving teens pleaded with them to keep the court on West 47th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

At its meeting Wednesday, none of those teens came to speak, but roughly a dozen parents said the court made the park inhospitable to their young kids.

"Basketball attracts men. It attracts late teens to late-20s men. If you're really good at ignoring things, it's fine to have your kids there," said Jake Taylor.

"There's a lot of garbage generated, swearing, a lot of yelling at each other, fights and smoking. There's lots of things that make it very kid-unfriendly."

The parents, who also presented the board with a petition of 120 signatures against the court, said that it attracts teens who attend nearby high schools but live outside of the neighborhood.

They added that they often see kids getting into fights there, and that trash-talking during basketball games scares children away.

Larry Roberts, president of the Midtown North Precinct Community Council, added that cops are typically called to the park three to four times a week.

"There are plenty of problems there," he said.

A Community Affairs officer from the precinct attended the meeting but would not publicly discuss any issues related to the park. The board previously alleged that drug dealing takes place at the park in a letter to the Parks Department asking for its removal.

While no regular players were on hand to defend the court at Wednesday's meeting, many turned up at a meeting dealing with the issue in September.

Over the summer, supporters said that the court gave them a safe place to play a sport they love — not get them into trouble.

Board member Pete Diaz said that when he visited the park, many of the large groups of teens there were not actually playing basketball at all.

"Even if you got rid of the courts, you're going to have the same problem. The kids will still be at that park.

"I don't think removing the basketball courts will do any good."

But opponents said there are many other places hoops fans can go to play their game. Several parents said the Parks Department needs to take into account the boom in parents with young kids that have moved into the neighborhood.

"We have a basketball court in every single playground in the neighborhood," said Megan Kelly, a founding member of parents group Hell's Kitchen Babies.

"What we really need is more space just for the children so they can play safely."

The board's recommendation to the Parks Department is strictly advisory, so it is unclear if the court will be removed in the final plan. The Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.