UPPER WEST SIDE — The fate of the neighborhood playground that sparked a heated debate among Upper West Side parents was decided Tuesday after local leaders gave the Parks Department the green light to renovate it.
The department's renovation plan for Playground 89, the public park that serves as the school yard for P.S. 166 on West 89th Street, was approved by Community Board 7 Tuesday night in a 27 to 3 vote, with 8 board members abstaining.
Deemed dangerous because of its sloped surface, which is covered in granite bocks that some parents said are easy to trip on and have caused a slew of injuries, the playground became the source of tension when plans to change its design started gathering momentum this spring.
In June, a collection of parents and residents formed a group called Friends of Playground 89 in opposition to leveling the playground, which they said would only make the yard more dangerous.
"As a mom when I look at this proposal, my heart drops out because I see a faster, harder ball game that’s not safer," testified Laurie Frey, co-president of the Friends, in the second hourslong public hearing on the space this week.
Those opposing the redesign also insisted they were left out of the brainstorming process for determining the playground's future.
But the Parks Department insisted that the design was the result of feedback from all sides.
The design was presented Monday night to the community and it will go before the Design Commission for approval at an Aug. 6 hearing.
"We got letters. We got petitions. We got a lot of input. We took all that input and tried to make a design that would be a compromise," said Nancy Prince, deputy chief of design for the Parks Department.
Several board members, including Shelley Fine and Mel Wymore, proposed taking additional time to talk over the plan with both sides to try to reach consensus.
"We’re going to create enmity in the community and it’s going to last for years," charged John Crossman, the lawyer for Friends of Playground 89, which brought a petition, along with the preservation group Landmark West!, against the Parks Department that was dismissed in early July and withdrawn by the petitioners last week.
Others argued that the Community Board should not back off from making a decision.
"Just because a large vocal opposition appears at the Community Board doesn’t mean we slam the brakes," board member Brian Jenks said.
What seemed to push the board toward action was the insistence by Steve Simon, chief of staff for the Parks Department in Manhattan, that if no decision was reached on the design the playground would not be repaired, but rather cordoned off.
"We’re not going to be in a position where we’re going to be the custodian of an unsafe playground. We will block it off," Simon said.
If approved by the Design Commission, the renovations would be coordinated with the school but take less than a year to complete, Simon said.
Friends of Playground 89 did not respond to request for comment on the group's next steps in blocking the redesign.