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City Promises Clearer Rules for Park Performers After Busker Crackdown

 Washington Square Park musicians said May 1, 2013 that policies are inconsistently enforced by the Parks Department's peace officers.
Washington Square Park Performer Rules to Be Clarified, Official Says
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — The city is fine-tuning its rules for where musicians can jam out in public parks.

Amid rampant complaints from musicians who say public-performer regulations are unclear and inconsistently enforced, the head Parks Department administrator for Manhattan said at a recent meeting that buskers can expect to see clearer rules soon on where they're permitted to play.

Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner Bill Castro told dozens of concerned performers at a community meeting Wednesday that that Parks Enforcement Patrol officers who oversee the park will be given new guidance on what musicians and other street performers are allowed to do.

"We are going to make it clear within a matter of a few days," he said. "You will not have a problem."

Castro assured Washington Square Park performers that they will not be ticketed for performing within 50 feet of the park's arch or fountain, as they were in 2011.

"You don't have to be X feet away from this or any of that jazz," he said. "You can be next to the [arch and fountain], as you've always been. It's not going to change."

He also introduced a rule that will go into effect May 8 requiring anyone selling CDs to place them on a table 2 to 8 feet long.

"You can sell those without a permit, but you have to get a stand so people don't trip over them," he said.

But musicians and Community Board 2 members said they want the Parks Department to put all the policies clearly in writing, rather than enforcing only a portion of the laws that appear in print.

"What Commissioner Castro told you is so opposite to the actual text of the park rules," said artists' advocate Robert Lederman, who has battled the city in court for 20 years over rules for "expressive matter" vendors.

Pianist Colin Huggins, who has received dozens of tickets for playing in the park, agreed.

"We want to make sure there's something in the rules to clarify so that it doesn't happen again," he said, referring to the 2011 crackdown.

Longtime local Gil Horowitz, founder of the Coalition for a Better Washington Square Park, urged Castro not to strip the character of the park by restricting artists.

"Washington Square Park is magical, and we want to keep it magical," he said.