A new area designated for skateboarders and an official dog run are among the possibilities elected officials offered when they met with concerned residents, parents and homeowners last week to assess the need and cost for upgrading the Ridgewood green space.
“The park needs to be redone, but there are a number of things to consider,” said Councilman Robert Holden, who was joined at the Shaler Avenue site by representatives from the offices of Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi and State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr.
“We need to start with the scope of the community’s wants and come up with a plan that will be done in phases,” Holden added.
The Friends of Mafera Park, a group of nearly 100 parents, say the space is no longer safe for their children. Park goers have been complaining about broken equipment, cracked pavement, unsanitary conditions, and the need for an official dog run for several years.
“We had a lot of issues with this park and it seems every other park gets attention” said Marta Martinez, a local mother of two who founded the parent group in 2016.
Martinez said they had the attention of then-councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, but potential funds were shifted elsewhere when she was voted out of office.
“We have restarted the conversation that will hopefully result in a safe, clean environment for our children and residents,” said Connie Altamirano, a community activist who joined the movement to better the neighborhood park.
Community Board 5 district manager Gary Giordano said the price tag for immediate repairs to torn playground padding and the removal of graffiti are nominal, but larger-scale projects that require ripping up the surface can cost tens of millions of dollars.
“Everything is obscenely expensive,” admits Holden, who noted that turf replacement for a 90-foot baseball diamond at Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village was recently estimated at $14 million - a fraction of the cost to replace the astroturf on Mafera’s football field.
“I can fund what I can for this park within reason, but an agreement will have to be worked out with other officials like the borough president,” he added.
That said, Holden acknowledged the need for the same type of amenities at Mafera that other parks in the district already have.
“I think there is room here for a new skatepark, like the one in Forest Park, which is very popular,” he said. “And we can fund the dog run as well.”
Once complete, the park will require volunteers to take care of it, he added.
“We had a group of 75 volunteers who adopted Juniper Valley Park after it was renovated,” he said. “They kept up with the maintenance because the Parks Department simply doesn’t have the staff.”
Ridgewood resident Carol-Ann Kurdziel said she and others have been maintaining the unofficial dog run that currently occupies an abandoned garden next to the park playground.
“We have already built an amazing community of dog owners here and have installed chicken wire, screening and solar lights,” she said. “But it’s something we are hoping the city will now fund.”
The location of the dog run, however, remains a point of contention for some parents and residents, who say it’s too close to the children’s swings and nearby homes.
“There will need to be compromise because no one is going to agree on everything,” Holden stressed, “which is why it’s important to get input from everyone involved.”
To that end, Giordano has committed to work with Linda Byszynski, who heads The Friends of Mafera Park, and other community stakeholders to prioritize and price the repairs and potential upgrades.
“We are realistic, we don’t think that one person is going to create a miracle,” said Byszynski. “It’s going to take a big community effort to get this park fixed. But we’re ready.”