Report on Red Hook meeting about Valentino Park hosted by Carlos Menchaca with the Parks Department

Valentino Park, Red Hook, Brooklyn. The little park with the big view. 

Valentino Park, Red Hook, Brooklyn. The little park with the big view. 

Red Hook, Brooklyn has a small jewel with a big view in the Louis J. Valentino Park and Pier.  The place inspired an August uproar due to unannounced renovation project by the Parks Department.

To set the scene, this park is heavily used by old-timers and newbies, dog walkers, fishermen, sunbathers, kids, seniors, an occasional croquet game, the outdoor movie series Red Hook Flicks and the Red Hook Boaters who offer free kayaking and conduct beach clean ups. 

The use of the park has ramped up due to a great food and activity scene which sprang up post hurricane Sandy on the Van Dyke Street end on the parks southeast side with the Steve's Key Lime Pie and Hometown BBQ setting up outdoor eating areas. Brooklyn Motor Works is running a cool motorcycle biz next door, and there is a forge across the street at She-Weld and Pier 44 Antiques auction house (they also sell retail) next to that. In short, a Red Hook scene.

2005 renovation of Valentino Park

2005 renovation of Valentino Park

So.... not surprisingly, when fences went up around Valentino Park recently without any prior notice from the Parks department, there was community concern - concerns heightened by the fact that Red Hook's Coffey Park was shut down for renovations without notice this year, and Valentino Park underwent a similar surprise lockdown for renovations in 2005. 

Last night, Councilman Carlos Menchaca convened and ran a great meeting with the Parks Department and the community, and THE COMMUNITY WAS HEARD

Hats off to Carlos Menchaca for organizing this meeting and running it so well. Thank you, Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Jeffrey for coming out, for apologizing for lack of notice to the community about the project, for committing to do better and change the process, and for being willing to take input on some design issues regarding proposed repair near a bulkhead.

The community and CM Carlos Menchaca conveyed that there needs to be more communication from Parks in the future and more opportunity for community input. People expressed concerns about process and design. Great comments by Victoria Hagman, Dan Daniel Wiley, Lillie Marshall, Danella Johnson, Tony Schloss, and many others.

In sum, the Parks work plan is the following

  • This is, in Parks' terms, a small $118,000 project that should be completed within a month.
  • Most of the park will stay open during the work.
  • Access to the pier and the beach will remain open during the work.
  • Work needs to finish well before winter weather because asphalt plants close when temperatures drop below 45 degrees.
Red Hook Boaters in action!

Red Hook Boaters in action!

The work is occurring because Parks wanted to fix the broken water fountain over near Coffey Street and in order to make that project large enough for a capital project, they bundled that work with some other repairs, - all of this happening because they have some discretionary money in the budget.

Those "other repairs" are fixing the walkways parallel to the water (NOT the central walkway to the pier) through the park in the following ways: The smaller walks near the water are "aggregate" (gravel in plain English) bounded by low steel rails; the problem with this design is that the aggregate has "migrated" (or spread in plain English) far from the walkways. This means that the walkways are now lower than the steel rails, and those rails are now a tripping hazard.

Another walkway issue is the 8-9" step from walkway up to the pier on the SE (or Steve's Key Lime Pie) side of the pier walkway, and that's tough on seniors and the disabled and a trip-n-fall hazard to all us distracted folks.

Short term band aid vs long term resiliency

Lastly, and this is were the big focus and passion of the discussion about the renovation design centered, was how and why Parks proposed to deal with a zone on that same SE side of the pier where salt water comes over the bulkhead, puddles, and then drains back out to sea - in the process, killing vegetation and taking the soil with it, eg leading to a situation that at some point will create sinkholes and a collapsed bulkhead.

The difference of opinion here was that Parks wanted to do a quick repair to prevent a big future job and the hazard of sinkholes by raising the land so that it was level with the bulkhead and putting an asphalt cap (with sand and cement below) over PART of the area there so that water would drain from the asphalt back to sea.

Parks could have brought a better rendering showing what would become asphalt and what would be planting in this new domed better-drained hump of park - there was a lot of confusion about what was staying green and not.

At the meeting last night, many community members asked the Parks department for more green and less asphalt. There is heavy use of the small green space in Valentino Park.

At the meeting last night, many community members asked the Parks department for more green and less asphalt. There is heavy use of the small green space in Valentino Park.

Many community members did not want more asphalt in the park. Victoria Hagman suggested that Parks seek input on more green and resilient design practices, citing Gita Nandan as one possible contributor.  Dan Wiley from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez office mentioned that the $200MM integrated flood protection plan coming to Red Hook might replace or better what Parks is proposing. (In the after-meeting chatter, some questioned whether the $200MM plan would be built long after that spot has a major sinkhole.)

Parks pointed out that they don't have budget now to re-design or use more costly materials.

Landscape architects vs BLUEspace architects

As waterfront advocates, we want to interject, supporting what Commissioner Jeffrey admitted last night,  that this salt-spray, sinkhole-prone section of the park was NOT well designed from the outset. (PS, its surface treatment of plantings etc was installed during the 2005 renovation.)

Somewhere in our files is a photo of salt spray heavily dousing newly planted "beach roses" which soon died in that spot.

In our opinion, it was typical of how NYC waterfront park design is dominated by landscape architects and not water people. Where are the BLUEspace architects? Piers designed for boats?

PortSide offering line throwing activity at Red Hook Fest in Valentino Park 2011

PortSide offering line throwing activity at Red Hook Fest in Valentino Park 2011

Breaking down the silos

PortSide Director Carolina Salguero picked up on Dan Wiley's comment about NY Rising resiliency work. She was on the NY Rising committee, and PortSide has done a lot of recovery and resiliency planning work since Hurricane Sandy.  Salguero asked if the collapsed water line under Coffey Street to the drinking fountain was related to the frequent HUGE puddle that sits on the west end of Coffey Street after a rain.

Storm drain problems were a big focus of the NY Rising effort. Parks could not answer that on the spot, and said they would ask their engineer for info.

At PortSide, we always try and break down silos and develop cross talk, so the hope with this question is that a Parks project could lead to info that would inform a DEP project the Red Hook NY Rising committee hopes to see. Sounds simple, but NYC agency cross-talk and info-share is harder than one would expect.

Next steps

As design-by-community could not solve the "how to cap and drain the proposed dome," it was agreed that the community would do some homework and get ideas to Parks.

Everyone needs to bear in mind that there is not a lot of budget here, so AFFORDABLE concepts need to be submitted. As to whether or how design changes could be made due to city process on how to bid and let a job, over to Carlos and Parks for answer.

Est4te Four, who is developing all the property across Coffey Street from Valentino, will want the Coffey Street Lake resolved, so Red Hook may see a solution due to private development.

NEXT ISSUE for Valentino Park" Parks proposal to install a "comfort station" eg bathrooms over by the Coffey Street side near Ferris. Come to a Brooklyn Community Board 6 meeting on Wed 9/17 6:30pm at the Miccio Center for discussion of that (and Coffey Park) as well as the Columbus Day weekend concert on Pier 9 in the Red Hook Container Term