Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"Parks' path to confusion" Daily News 12/6/6

Parks' path to confusion
Activists irate over lost track

A "misunderstanding" about the city's temporary replacement for a running track dug up to make way for the new Yankee Stadium has led to charges of broken promises and even perjury from community members.
Shortly after the running track around Macombs Dam Park was fenced off for the stadium's construction, local Community Board 4 member Lukas Herbert noticed a jogging path stenciled on the sidewalk around Mullaly Park.

Outraged over what appeared to be the Parks Department's idea of a replacement track, he contacted the Daily News, which led to City Councilwoman Helen Foster (D-Highbridge) demanding an explanation from Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe.

Benepe responded that the stenciled route was a "walking path," not the replacement for the running track.

"In fact, Parks will be building a rubberized all-weather track on Lot 1 as the temporary replacement for the Macombs track," Benepe wrote in a Nov. 9 letter. "This track will be completed by spring of 2007."

The letter said that Herbert had "misunderstood the purpose of the 'walking path.'"

But Herbert counters any misunderstanding was understandable, since the agency had offered assurances a replacement running track would be available when construction began.

And these assurances were given not just to the community but to a judge in state court.

When Judge Herman Cahn ruled against groups seeking a temporary restraining order to delay construction in September, he did so partly on the basis that "an exercise running course is to be available at all times during the construction," according to his written decision.

"So if the sidewalk 'walking path' is not the 'exercise running course,' then where is it?" asked Herbert. "Maybe Adrian Benepe doesn't have his facts straight. Either that, or his agency lied to a judge."

Parks' Assistant Commissioner for Planning Joshua Laird said the earlier plans for a cinder track around two nearby baseball fields were scrapped because it would cut into the outfield and backstops.

"We put [the cinder track plan] out there in good faith," said Laird.

The initial construction timeline would have closed the ballfields next spring, but a change allowed them to remain open another full season, so Parks opted to keep the fields at the expense of the cinder track.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión, who previously said his support of the project depended on Parks providing interim replacements for all facilities, admitted frustration with the "bureaucratic quagmire."

"This really should have been fast-tracked," he said.


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