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Thanks to Village Keepers, A Handball Court, A Garden and A Park Will Grow on Ellery Street

What started out as a nightmare for Ellery Street residents near Charlie’s Park, turned out to be a change for the better.
On July 21st, kids rushed to Charlie’s Park excited for another play day when their excitement turned into anger and confusion. They were shocked to see their handball buried under a blanket of dirt.
Members of the Raise the Roof Farm organization had dumped the soil and begun planting healthy food to benefit the community. For their initiative, Raise the Roof in partnership with the Brooklyn Charter School, planned to create a model farm program to – as they say — help children get involved in community and after-school activities in North Brooklyn.
It was a good mission, but the only problem was nobody told the community who lives there.  After an impromptu meeting hosted by Henry Butler, President, Community Board 3, and called by the Ellery Street residents, New York City Parks & Recreation Assistant Commissioner/Senior Counselor Jack T. Linn agreed to have the soil removed from the handball court. Linn was the person who originally gave the group permission to create the garden at Charlie’s playground. He is taking full responsibility for what appears to be a misunderstanding and also is taking the proper steps in having the garden relocated to another area in the park.
“He’s going out of his way to correct the situation,” said Butler.
Yet neighbors say that since July 19th, they have only removed half of their materials and have continued to water their plants. Not showing any signs of removing their materials completely.
“They have great ideas,” said resident Raphael Dominguez. The problem is not creating the garden.  Neighbors are in disbelief that people would even consider taking any part of Charlie’s Park without communicating with them or getting the proper permits. 
“There’s nothing left in the area right now for young people and families,” said Gershwin Ledain. “Charlie’s Place playground, which is just cement and rocks, is the only location in the area where kids can play without having to worry about getting hit by a car.”
Another issue that neighbors are concerned with is the parking lot that was built on half of the playground by the school next door.  Although Charlie’s playground is considered a city park, the school sent their janitors to draw parking lines on the field and since then have continued using it for parking.
Dominguez explained that this parking lot is used by other locations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses church around the block and city employees from local hospitals. The parking lot, which contains abandoned cars, has become a threat to the health of children. Before kids were able to play football and other sports, now they enjoy using the resources around them to create new “games” such as throwing rocks at each other.
Commissioner Linn researched the park and found that the school has no authority over it anymore. No department of Education vehicles parked illegally there are being ticketed.  Once the summer session of the school is over on August 13, no one will be allowed to park there.   The principal is grateful to have adequate time to inform teachers returning to the school in September that Charlie’s Park is closed to vehicles.
Once the parking lot is cleared the farm will be built on one side of the park and the community will be involved in the process of creating the farm.  Also, the handball court is being restored.
Butler says that budgets for 2011 have been completed.   Rehabilitation of Charlie’s Park will be at the top of Community Board 3’s agenda for 2012 budget requests. With this budget, improvements will be made to the park and the community will be able to get involved in the remodeling of the park.
“It will take at least two-three years before a shovel is placed into the ground to make Charlie’s Park the park it should be,” said Butler, acknowledging that much has to be done before the park is transformed into the North Brooklyn neighborhood kids deserve.

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