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Park master plan - Push for E. River park renovation

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The friends group for East River State Park, which stretches from North seventh to North ninth Street between Kent Avenue and the waterfront, met last Thursday to discuss plans for the park’s future.

The park opened on Memorial Day of last year, becoming the first usable park in a string of parks slated to span 2.6 miles on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint waterfront as part of the area’s 2005 rezoning.

In its present form, the park is only minimally renovated. Depending on who one asks, it is either endearingly scruffy or in dire need of a makeover.

The State Parks Department recently announced plans to begin work on a “Master Plan” for the park’s renovation, which officials estimate will take 12 to 18 months to complete.

Officials would not commit to a construction start date or completion date, however.

In the meantime, the friends group hopes to work with the state to both guide and expedite its Master Plan.

Last September, a team of Williamsburg-based architects presented an ambitious design for the park. Advocates hope this design will inform the Master Plan.

The plan called for the park to be eco-friendly and off the city’s electrical grid, powered by wind turbines and solar panels and containing wetlands. It would also include an on-site machine to treat rainwater and dirty water so it can be used for the park’s plantings.

It remains to be seen which elements of the design will make it into the Master Plan, however.

“[The community’s design] will be brought into the Master Plan process, but there are a lot of different parts to the process,” Rachel Gordon, regional director of the State Parks Department, said last month.

At Thursday’s meeting, park advocates discussed how best to position themselves to have the State’s ear as it draws up the Master Plan.

“It’s going to be an ongoing process with State Parks. We’re just pushing forward and trying to start and build a relationship with them,” said Michael Freedman-Schnapp, co-chair of Neighbors Allied for Good Growth, of which the friends group is a subsidiary.

The friends group hopes to become incorporated as an independent 501c3 organization in the near future.

Another issue discussed at the meeting was park hours. Currently, the park is open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Advocates would like to see those hours expanded, especially during the summer when the days are longer.

“The problem is that just as the waterfront view gets really good, people are being forced to leave. State Parks has a requirement that they need to have staff there in order for the park to be open, so we’re going to try to work with them on that,” Freedman-Schnapp said.

The friends group also discussed how East River State Park would connect to Bushwick Inlet Park, a proposed City park immediately to the north.

Currently, a chain-link fence stands between the two land parcels, but advocates would like to see continuous access.

“Ideally, we would like these parks to be linked. The challenge is that the state and city have different rules for access, so that’s something we have to work on,” said Susan Albrecht, another co-chair of NAGG.

Lastly, the friends group wants to install a traffic light or stop sign on Kent Avenue on North 8th Street, where the entrance to the park is.

Currently, there is no traffic control device on Kent between Calyer Street and Metropolitan Avenue, which advocates say creates a speedway whose danger is exacerbated because Kent is a truck route.

“Vehicle volume and pedestrian crossing volume is high enough to warrant something,” Freedman-Schnapp said.

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