A small stretch of West 107th Street has become a hotly contested public space as two sides struggle to find a place for schoolchildren to play while keeping the peace in the neighborhood.
The Ascension School, part of the Church of the Ascension parish, is situated on West 108th Street, and the church’s entrance is on West 107th Street. In 2009, the parish applied for the permits required to shut down the block of West 107th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on school days. The application passed the community board and went on to the Department of Transportation, which ultimately granted the permit allowing the school to close the street for recess.
But some residents are fed up with the noise and inconvenience.
“For two years now, we have been suffering under a policy that has been activated under false pretenses,” said Tony Vellela, who lives and works on the block. The windows of his office open onto the street that gets flooded with kids every weekday, and he said that he loses the ability to focus for several hours when the noise level gets too high.
Vellela has been working persistently to reverse a decision that he says was made erroneously, based on his assertion that the church did not properly notify West 107th Street. No one can confirm or deny with certainty whether flyers went up on the block, but Vellela insists that someone would have objected earlier if they had been made aware of the meetings.
“We were never given an opportunity to voice our opinion, so at the meeting when this was approved two years ago, it sailed through,” Vellela said.
Now Vellela has gathered signatures from dozens of neighbors.
“When the full board voted on this two years ago, the board was at least misinformed,” Vellela said. “The full board voted believing that they were voting for a resolution that suggested that children from a school want a street in front of their school to be blocked off. Wrong.”
The current principal of the Ascension School, Christopher McMahon, said, in an email, “As a practical matter, Ascension School is a parish school and is inseparable from the Church of the Ascension. The main entrance to the school is on 108th Street, but the church is on 107th Street, so we feel justified using 107th Street.”
McMahon said, “We have taken measures to ensure that the street is accessible to emergency vehicles and medical transport (including increased staffing at the barricade site on 107th Street and Amsterdam, providing for communication between the main office and the staff at the barricade by way of walkie-talkie and cell phone and posting a sign instructing Access-a-Ride to speak to staff for street access).”
But one of the main issues—the noise—is a little harder to combat.
“I was up there and I heard it and it’s very loud,” said Andrew Albert, co-chair of the community board’s transportation committee. “We’re trying to balance everybody’s needs.”
Evelyn Lanoix, vice president of the block association, said that she and her fellow members have collected hundreds of signatures in support of keeping the playstreet and denies the feasibility of using West 108th Street as an alternative.
“This would not work for several reasons—the major one is the garage on 108th Street. People are paying good money to park their cars there and they need to access them,” Lanoix said. “Every time they’ve ever tried to move to 108th Street, it doesn’t work.”
She said that while some people may want the kids to have another, more convenient spot, the reality is that there isn’t one.
“We didn’t decide that we just wanted the children here, we just knew that there was no other place for them,” Lanoix said.
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