RED HOOK — Angry Red Hook residents demanded more transparency from the Department of Parks and Recreation at a meeting Thursday night after they were shocked to find two local parks fenced off without notice.
The meeting to discuss a planned improvement project for Louis Valentino Jr. Park was scheduled after the city put up fencing around the park last week without warning elected officials and residents.
Residents’ anger extended beyond the waterfront park to the neighborhood's other public space, Coffey Park, which abruptly closed earlier this year for a $2.3 million renovation, according to locals and officials. That project is scheduled to finish next April.
“There needs to be more accountability from your office to the community,” said resident Victoria Hagman.
Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey said he understood the community’s frustration and promised to keep them better informed of the department’s projects.
“I do take responsibility for what happened,” Jeffrey said at the meeting, which took place at Red Hook’s public library. “We absolutely commit to doing a better job [of keeping residents informed] in the future."
The project for Valentino Park includes paving paths and providing better drainage for them, concrete work and landscaping. Most of the park will remain open to the public.
The simplicity of the project was one reason for the lack of communication between the agency and the community, said Jeffrey, who promised it would be completed within a month from the start date.
Last week City Councilman Carlos Menchcaca said he was “deeply concerned” that the Parks Department had installed fencing around the park without any prior notice. The department had agreed to hold off construction work until meeting with the community.
“We don’t want to be fenced in,” said Sheryl Braxton, a neighborhood activist and resident of Red Hook Houses.
“I would appreciate a little respect with you’re going to do with our park,” she added.
Officials had earlier told DNAinfo New York the Valentino park project would cost about $118,000 but Jeffrey said the budget was a little less than $100,000 at the meeting. A spokeswoman for the department could not immediately confirm which amount was accurate.
Some residents were also rankled by a part of the project that would pave over a grassy portion of the park.
But salt water from the Hudson River was seeping into the soil there causing the seawall to break and crack, Jeffrey said.
“If this condition is left unaddressed, this will become a major problem and a major capital expense,” he added.
Residents questioned whether the department would consider limiting its use of asphalt and keep the park’s greenery intact.
“We can consider eliminating the asphalt here,” Jeffrey said. “We do not think it’s the right choice.”
A spokeswoman for the department said in an email Friday that after hearing concerns from the community, they were reviewing the scope of the project, which might reduce its cost.