Parks & Recreation
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 16, 2005; B04
After 90 minutes of forceful speeches, punctuated by occasional chants from dozens of children in football uniforms, city officials got the message: Neighborhood residents vehemently oppose a plan to replace a popular playground on New York Avenue NW with 98 townhouses.
"I think everyone here decided it was not a good plan," Kimberley Flowers, acting director of the D.C. Parks and Recreation Department, said after last night's community meeting. And she offered opponents some hope:
"It is not a done deal."
The proposal is part of an ambitious city plan, still in its early stages, to revitalize a neighborhood near New York Avenue and North Capitol Street that includes the high-crime Sursum Corda housing cooperative.
The new townhouses would provide housing for some of the 520 poor families who might be displaced when Sursum Corda is redeveloped.
Of the 98 proposed townhouses, one-third would be designated for the poor, another third for the middle class, and another third would sell at market value.
Neighborhood resident Sylvia Matthews said the park, which occupies much of a city block at New York Avenue and First Street NW, is an integral part of the area. "Why are we being punished?" she asked city officials. "What do you want our kids to do?
"If you use one square of the park, it's too much," she added.
An empathetic Flowers conceded that it was a "shame we did not engage you in the process of making this plan" and said that more input would be welcome.
The plan came out of four days of meetings last month between city officials and residents of Sursum Corda and the surrounding area. But residents who attended last night's meeting said they were not included in the talks.
Besides offering recreation space, resident Jonathan Howard said, the park has historical value, explaining that it was once known as "a white and colored playground . . . where the whites and the blacks came together and began to play."
"I played there," he said. " My son is playing on this playground. And I hope one day his son plays on it. You're taking away history."
As part of the plan, the city would create a new park, recreation center and swimming pool two blocks south, at First and L streets NW. The city also would redesign or upgrade nearby parks.
But longtime area residents expressed deep attachment to the New York Avenue playground and urged the city to find another place to put the townhouses.
At one point in the meeting, about three dozen elementary and middle school children in football uniforms marched into the courtyard of the educational center where the meeting was held and were met with applause. "We want the rec," they chanted, a reference to the park where they practice for the Boys and Girls Club league.
"That's their home, and you want to take it away?" Mike Roberts, one of their coaches, asked the city officials.
D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) said he wanted to provide housing for the poor but not at the expense of the park.
"I support the . . . playground," he said, adding that city officials need "to go back to the drawing board."
Council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) and mayoral hopeful Scott Bolden echoed the sentiments.
In the end, resident Leon Braddell summed up the prevailing mood: "The people do not want it, simple as that."
Michael Downie, a D.C. planner, said he would convey the sentiment to City Administrator Robert C. Bobb.
"I think the people rightly have a concern," Downie said.
© Copyright 2005 by ShawDC.com
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