Community Boards

Is Opposition to Dog Run

Symptom of Larger Problem?

In the wake of Sept. 11, residents of Battery Park City have contended with serious disruptions in their daily lives: damaged buildings, contaminated apartments and the destruction of nearby public-transportation hubs, to name just a few. They’ve had to negotiate rent abatements, residential cleanups and repairs, rerouted neighborhood buses, and the construction of a footbridge to restore their connection to the rest of downtown.

But there’s one lingering issue that Battery Park City residents have not been able to resolve since September: where to put a permanent dog run. The matter has aroused passions usually reserved for the likes of toxic-waste dumps and nuclear-power plants. Residents have accused community-board members of favoritism and conflicts of interest, of dictatorial methods and covert operations. At Board 1′s May 21 public meeting, some residents protesting the dog run repeatedly spoke out of turn and even hurled the occasional obscenity. One resident threatened to sue the entire board. Chairwoman Madelyn Wils more than once threatened to call security. “I’ve never been at a board meeting where there’s such disrespect!” Ms. Wils told the crowd.

But flaring tempers didn’t help win over board members, who voted to approve plans for a permanent 3,000-square-foot dog run just north of Gateway Plaza, a complex of six large residential buildings near the World Financial Center. The site, called Kowsky Plaza, sits atop the World Trade Center’s pumping station and is currently occupied by an abandoned “tot lot.” The playground will be expanded and rebuilt in the bosque, a 3,500-square-foot wooded area adjacent to the dog-run site that overlooks the marina.

Some residents object to the run’s location by the placid harbor; some oppose its proximity to a police memorial. Others worry about the children’s safety, or feel that the yapping of excited dogs would violate the sanctity of nearby St. Joseph’s Church and Battery Park Synagogue. Most, however, simply object to the dog run’s proximity to their own apartments. “The closer to home you strike, the more passion is aroused,” district manager Paul Goldstein told The Observer . But some think there’s more to the vehement opposition than a perceived inconvenience. On Sept. 11, B.P.C. residents were confronted head-on with a striking example of how external forces can make controlling one’s environment-even the highly controlled environment of Battery Park City-impossible. Are they reacting to this terrible truth by exerting whatever influence they can muster?

“People have been exposed to so much, and they’re still dealing with all of the stress,” B.P.C. committee chairman Anthony Notaro, who favors a permanent dog run, told The Observer . “Another change in the environment is something they’ll react strongly to.” Many Gateway Plaza residents are only now returning to their apartments. And the plans to rebuild lower Manhattan have proceeded with what some charge has been only token input from downtown residents. “I have to believe the energy focused on the dog run is a symptom of something else, of the voicelessness we’ve felt since 9/11,” said Dolores D’Agostino, a dog-run supporter who lives in Gateway. “We have to live with some things we don’t like. We have to get a grip on what’s important.”

But quality of life is important, insist others. Gateway occupants pay a premium to escape the noise endemic to the rest of the city, 10-year resident Judith Fox-Miller told The Observer , and to look out over a tranquil marina, not a noisy dog run. “I have received only one complaint about noise in the 13 years we’ve had temporary dog runs,” countered Tessa Huxley, executive director of the B.P.C. Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that maintains the community’s parks. “That’s why I feel this is a bit of a red herring.”

Nevertheless, the Battery Park City Authority plans to beef up the area’s greenery in order to muffle the racket. The B.P.C. Parks Conservancy has pledged to maintain the run by washing it down twice a day. If the B.P.C. Authority’s board accepts the community board’s recommendations, construction of the facility will likely begin this fall.

Sandra Otero, Gateway resident, Port Authority employee and Tower 1 escapee, plans to get a dog this summer that she intends to exercise at the new run. She said that after being displaced to the East Village for several months following the attacks, her daughter was comforted by the dogs in Union Square Park. Ms. Otero told the board she welcomes the run as an opportunity to engage the healing power of animals, calling dogs a “rich resource” for trauma victims. Others, like 10-year Gateway resident Linda Burns, whose apartment overlooks Kowsky Plaza, see the run in an entirely different light. “There’s a bigger message,” she told The Observer . “It’s God’s way of telling me to leave the city.”

-Megan Costello

June 4: Board 7, Fordham University, 113 West 60th Street, Pope Auditorium, 7 p.m., 362-4008.