Showdown at the Warren Street Dog Park

Last week, there was an article in the Broadsheet about the dog park and playground on Warren Street, which were improperly built by the developer of 200 Chambers. The Department of Education did work on the playground half of the rehabilitation, but the Parks Department—which the Broadsheet said owns the Warren Street Dog Park—hasn’t done anything. The article elicited the following response from Shirley Jaffe and Jared Sheer of the board of Dog Owners of Tribeca, which oversees the dog park.

The Warren Street Dog Park has always been operated by and for the community, without input or oversight from the NYC Parks Department. In fact, our non-profit community group Dog Owners of Tribeca, Inc., which currently operates the park, was created years ago as a direct result of the Parks Department’s expressed disinterest in adequately maintaining the Park.

While the Parks Department did meet with us, “the dog run people,” recently, what’s missing is what else they did in the process: they effectively gutted the park as we know it.

For well over a decade, the Park has been insured, cleaned, repaired, outfitted, and maintained entirely by our community group, with zero contribution from the Parks Department, monetarily or otherwise. The result is a park that is power-washed 3x a week, exceptionally clean, and a model for others. The expenses for doing so have always been 100% absorbed by the community that the park serves, and was achieved through a nominal $10/month membership fee.

Last week, after years of absenteeism and apathy, the Parks Department demanded that we immediately dismantle our existing membership-based program and take the keycode off the park’s door, while simultaneously refusing, at least initially, to bear any responsibility for the expenses or maintenance relating to the park moving forward. In essence, we were instructed to continue funding the park and stripped of the tools to do so. At the same time, the Parks Department in turn sought to impose their authority, without offering any accountability.

As stewards for the park, we pushed back and refused to do so unless Parks affirmatively accepts responsibility for the insurance, and expenses relating to services even as basic as garbage removal and maintenance.

Parks finally acquiesced, but has now come back and insisted that our organization remove all of the benches and pools in the park because they were not Parks Department-issued, without necessarily planning on replacing them. The irony of course is that had Parks provided these items in the first place, our organization wouldn’t have had to.

No one wants repairs to the western sinkhole in the park more than our organization does, but we are skeptical about the Parks Department’s ability to achieve this repair given their history with the property. In light of their reluctance to provide even basic services for the Warren Street Dog Park moving forward, it would be naive to think that they will now achieve a million-dollar-plus repair with any expediency. In fact, in the City’s ongoing lawsuit against the developer of 200 Chambers, it was our organization, and not the Parks Department, that the City Law Department consulted in filing their suit. Not once is the Parks Department even mentioned in their complaint, let alone a named party. While the City is suing on behalf of their interests as the property owner, and the Parks Department is naturally an agency of the City, the level of dispassion on their part historically speaks volumes. Our organization, on the other hand, is repeatedly referenced in the suit as the operator of the park, and we have long advocated on the park’s behalf toward achieving a repair.

Ultimately, we are amenable to the Parks Department’s newfound interest in taking over responsibility for the park, but the keyword here is “responsibility.” What we cannot accept however is a scenario where the Parks Department strips the park down to nothing, as they’re suggesting doing, and leaving nothing in its wake.

This would seem like a situation where our local councilmember, Margaret Chin, could step in and help. But will she?

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