On January 8, 2009, Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte and designers for the Parks Department presented plans for the first phase of their plan to improve the parkland around the Jerome Park Reservoir. (This is being done with money given the Parks Department in compensation for the theft of parkland in Van Cortlandt for the filtration plant.)
What follows, from my limited notes of the meeting and my memory a day later, is my best effort to explain what they presented. Others who were present who read this are invited to correct or fill out this story by commenting on it. Other readers should feel free to use the comment function to ask questions or state opinions about any of it.
At the meeting, we encouraged the Parks Department to post the designs they showed us. If they do that, we will let you know. We may also be able to post some PDFs of it here, so check back.
Aponte and Faisal Choudury, who heads the design unit, first explained why they are focusing first on the north and west sections of the park. The DEP is planning some significant work on Goulden Avenue over the next 3-4 years, and they do not want to make improvements there that will be destroyed by the DEP. Negotiations with Lehman College over access to the areas around their parking lot have been lengthy, and the Parks people felt that other work could be finished while those conversations proceed. On the southern edge of the reservoir, the area between the fence and the street is so narrow that there seemed little room to make a jogging path, and so that didn’t seem the best place to start.
The overall plan is to make a jogging path around the reservoir and through Fort Independence Park (actually restoring the one that exists there), to address erosion, and to otherwise beautify the area. The designers showed us how, in the grassy area between the reservoir and the sidewalk on Sedgwick Avenue, they would build a 4-5 foot wide jogging path of stone screening. (I do not know exactly what stone screening is, but I am told it is a water permeable surface that is better for runners to run on). It meanders away from the sidewalk in certain areas to allow existing trees to continue growing. Along the way, they would plant shrubs (drought and shade resistant shrubs) and plant trees where there are gaps in the pattern of street trees.
In Fort Indy, the plan is for the path to make two loops around the area that is now a large dog run (more on this in a minute), and then go to the entrance near 95, and loop around again. This would allow someone who wanted to run a shorter loop to run a ¼ mile within Fort Indy itself.
About the dog run: the designers set out to make the dog run smaller, and make some of that large area available for other uses. Hence, on the eastern half of what is now the large dog run, there will be two dog runs, one for small to medium dogs, and one for medium to large dogs. The rest of the area will be a lawn and sitting area (including the hill where the bench is). As I said before, the design we saw has this area cut up by a looping running track. (There was quite a lot of discussion at the meeting as to whether this was really the best way to use this space).
To deal with the very serious erosion in Fort Independence Park, the designers plan to use a “vegetative swale” to plant in that area and create root systems that will hold the soil.
Also, the plan includes 8-10 pieces of exercise equipment, to be placed near the basketball courts.
DEP also attended the meeting. Nicole Torres announced that the DEP would engage in a 9 month study to “reconsider public access to the reservoir.” A designer contracted by DEP then showed their plans to restore the 5 gatehouses around the reservoir.
Some of the comments raised by people at the meeting:
Ann Marie Garti suggested not building the jogging path, and instead using that money to beautify the area on Goulden Avenue. (Garti and Parks discussed at some length where exactly DEP would be working, and whether it would be practical to do improvements there before DEP was finished).
Joe Cohen said designers hadn’t taken into account the people living next to the park, and asked that the dog run be moved. (Aponte pointed out that if the dog run were not in the park, dogs would be allowed throughout the park, and could be off leash in the park between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m.)
Lynn Schwartz reminded Aponte of the need to replace the temporary double chain link fence next to the handball courts with a taller single fence at the park border (the extra fence was hastily installed to prevent knuckleheads from throwing bricks into the parking lot below the park). (Aponte said they would do that).
In response to a question, Aponte said most of the park would be open throughout construction, since only parts of the park would be under construction.
In response to a question from someone from the Bronx Science PTA, Aponte said DEP would have to restore the area near Gatehouse 5 when they are finished with their construction, and he hoped to be able to get them to continue the path around the reservoir.
Dart Westphal pointed out that the field which became the dog run was originally won back from the DEP for a field for kids, not for a dog run. The new proposal does not create a flat space large enough for a casual ball game, and Dart argued that it should be redesigned to allow that, as there is no nearby field.
Assemblyman Dinowitz asked whether Bronx parks are getting any capital money other than the filtration money. (Here Aponte’s answer requires some follow-up. He noted that there is $40 million for Soundview Park, and $60 million for the High Bridge. He also said Parks does not have a capital budget, they have the money that they get from council members. When the MOU was signed in 2004, I remember looking at a few years of Parks capital expenses and wondering whether the money from DEP would be used to supplement or replace the amount Parks usually spent on Bronx parks, however it was obtained. Wonder how those numbers look now?)
In response to a question from me, Hector Aponte said that Parks personnel would clean and maintain the things they build – so they would clean the jogging path, but would not therefore take responsibility for cleaning all the DEP property along Sedgwick Avenue between the reservoir fence and the street. (I probably don’t have to tell anyone who’d be looking at this site, but DEP does not frequently clean its property).
The designers may amend their plans because of things we said. The Design Commission will consider the proposal at its February 12th meeting, which is open to the public. This meeting is open to the public, and we will post info on it on this site.