CHELSEA — The city’s continued effort to lower the fences around a beloved local park is a "slap in the face" for neighbors who have opposed the plan for months, neighbors said.
But it was a tentative plan to lower the fences at decades-old Clement Clarke Moore Park that drew a number of attendees, who want the height maintained due to the park's history and for safety reasons.
“We have sent the Parks Department numerous messages over the past five to six months… about lowering the fence,” said Mary Swartz, president of 400 West 21/22/23rd Street Block Association. “To date, we have not had any assurance at all that it’s not going to be lowered."
In March, the department’s Manhattan chief of staff Steven Simon helped present a plan to redesign the park that included reducing the height of the fence around the park at West 22nd Street and 10th Avenue from 7 to 4 feet, in line with the department’s new Parks Without Borders program.
The program — one of Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s signature initiatives — “reimagin[es] the role of parks in communities by redesigning where they meet the streets and sidewalks,” the agency's website says.
However, local residents and board members rejected that vision for Clement Clarke Moore Park.
“The commissioner… seems to be pursuing this ideological mandate that goes so contrary to the needs and the wishes and the history of the people of the community,” committee member Jean-Daniel Noland told Simon on Thursday.
Swartz and several block association members maintained lowering the fences would disregard the park’s tumultuous history.
By 1987 — nearly two decades after it opened — the the park had become "a cesspool," Swartz explained.
Homeless people used the park’s “seal pond” play area as a toilet and bathtub, burglars climbed through the park into apartment windows and a man was murdered there, she explained.
The block association fought to have the fence installed around the park, she said.
“We’ve worked very hard to have the fence as high as it is,” a resident of 54 years named Anne said at the meeting. “You must leave that fence as high as it is.”
Several residents also said the current fence keeps children safely inside the park while they play.
Simon attempted to appease attendees.
“The good news… that I can offer to you is that we’re not going to be reducing it to 4 feet at this point,” Simon said in an attempt to appease attendees. “The commissioner is saying it should be 5 feet.”
Audience members groaned at this plan.
“At that point, it becomes misuse of taxpayers’ money,” one attendee said.
“It’s a slap in the face, Steve, it really is,” Swartz added.
Simon vowed to take residents’ concerns back to Silver and the rest of the department.
But CB4 chairwoman Delores Rubin expressed bewilderment that Silver had yet to acknowledge neighbors’ initial opposition.
“You are hearing loud and clear from this community that this is not what they want,” she said.
“For the commissioner not to hear these voices, and for you not to bring that back, is a little disturbing, because it’s been very clear.”