Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Spear Park Makeover

 Work began this morning at the corner of Williams and Main St. to improve Spear Park. The land owned by the Housing Authority, but operated as a City park, has long been a concern, and is seldom visited by causal strollers on Main St. Those who work and live in the neighborhood, stay clear of this park, as it had become a day (and night) long hang out for the drinking and drug crowd of Middletown. The brick wall at the back of the park is being removed and replaced with grass that will slope down to the sitting area. Six tress have been slated and posted for removal. Note the trees in top photo, and the white signs hanging from them. For a number of years this area also served a community garden. This year there was no one to oversee the garden and assign space, so it became a free for all. Those who have gardened and tended
vegetables there in the past have found that they have little reward for there efforts as almost everything would be picked clean before they could share in any of the harvest. The City and the Housing Authority are optimistic that the changes will make this small downtown park a more welcoming place for all who visit downtown. At this time there are no plans in place to build on this location. For the foreseeable future it will remain a city park.


Anonymous said...

What is the reasoning/justification/legality for removing perfectly beautiful, OLD trees from the "Forest City?"

Lady Cyclist (Beth Emery) said...


It was only in passing that I walked by took some photos, and asked a few questions. One of them was about the trees. The answer was that clearing the trees "might" help to clear out the rif-raf. Fewer trees, fewer places to hide, or something to that effect. I'd love to hear a better reason. Taking out the wall makes sense. I dont' think taking out the trees does. No one on site seemed to think they where sick.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Folks in the know about such things: how to save these trees? Who do we talk to/petition/call? The idea of cutting down trees in order to make a park is strange even for Forest City.

thanks to anyone who can tell us-

Jane Harris said...

By State statute (Section 23-59), a Tree Warden must post notice of his or her intention to have a municipal tree removed at least ten days before the removal is to occur. The only exception to this is trees that pose an imminent hazard to persons or property. Appeals of postings should be made to the City's Tree Warden (Bill Russo) or his deputy, Rick Romano. Both can be contacted at the Public Works Department.

Anonymous said...

If it means getting the drunks and druggies out of there, please take the trees down! Main street is going in the positive direction, so I'm happy about this project.

John deBoer said...

Typical Middletown bullshit. Whenever I'm downtown for lunch I get something takeout and eat in Spear Park. I've never seen any drinking and drug doing there (it would be kind of hard since it's out in the open where everyone can see and right near the fucking police station.) I have however talked to black and poor and teenaged people there who I suspect are the real target of this "improvement".

The philosophy of Middletown is, drive out the poor people, and cut down as many trees as possible doing it. Fuck this city.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Following Jane Harris's response here, I called Public Service and spoke to Rick Romano, tree warden. Rick was very cordial. He told me that the entire project was under the supervision of John Milardo, director of Parks & Recreation. Anyone who is interested in discussing saving at least some of these beautiful shade trees when they knock down the concrete in the proposed new park should call Mr. Milardo at 860/344-6627 or x6628.

BCFire said...

Some of the commentary here leaves much to the imagination. If you'd like to make a point, I suggest cleaning up your language. As a 27 year public servant, I have seen many calls to this area which would scare even the hardest of criminals. It is the right thing to do, and should be completed. It is a haven for all sorts of questionable activity in close proximity to the senior center. Our seniors deserve a better quality of life for what they have contributed to our community.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

I would suggest that cutting down trees is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If there's a problem with vagrancy, drug use, alcohol consumption, I'd suggest there are other ways to address those problems.

Are we to have no public space because the wrong kind of public might be attracted to it?

Karen Swartz said...

Drinking and drugging out in a public park are symptoms of other underlying problems. These activities will just be pushed to some other location. When there was a crackdown on all the panhandling on Main Street about 8 years ago, a lot of the activity just moved up into the neighborhoods off of Main Street, so the impact was just shifted. Its just a bandaid. I am not arguing against restructuring the park completely, but I think its very sad to see a "problem" addressed by methods that simply relocate the "problem" to a less visible location. And (despite the harsh language) I am glad to read a comment from John deBoer who actually spends time in the park and talks to other people who spend time there. This seems to be about appearances. Anyone who actually took an hour to sit in the park and observe would probably see what John sees. Its just a place to hang out. There's nothing wrong with that. As to the supposed activities going on there, are there any crime or ambulance statistics to document that it is really any worse there than any other place? I would like to see this City begin to focus on fact-based decision making rather than fear-based and perception-based decision making. There is a drive to make Middletown an attractive destination to out-of-towners. It is not necessary to summarily dismiss the needs and wants of the people that live and work here in order to achieve that.

Anonymous said...

The trees were posted on aug 23 to start the 10 day waiting period. They should be part of the "new" park - they improve the area.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't a new park include trees? These perfectly healthy trees should remain. I would hope John Milardo and the department overseeing this project would wish to incorporate mature trees.

homeowner said...

Chopping down healthy trees cannot do a lick of good for Main Street. The environmental good they do, not to mention shade in a city, can't exactly be offset. They're making room for a grassy slope? Anyone that is doing anything illegal or untoward in this concrete jungle of a park (if they are) won't be deterred by the removal of trees. How about we plant grass there and erect some art work and have police routinely patrol if riffraff is truly a problem?

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Thanks to the reader who said that the trees were posted for notice of demolition on Aug. 23. That leaves not a lot of time for discussion about saving them or reworking the project in some way. A usable park has shade trees. If you want to sit in the sun, there's the (also unattractive) town green.

What to do for the trees? Comments, please!

The Lorax said...

I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues. Let them grow! Let them grow! They say I'm old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast! Oh, Mr. Milardo, you're making such smogulous smoke!

Jane Harris said...

The ten-day posting period is the time during which the public can request a hearing. The public can ask to have the hearing at the site of the trees, if desired.

My understanding of the State statute is that this is the duty of the tree warden, not the superintendent of Parks & Rec. I would also go back to Public Works and ask why the law is not being followed.

John said...

Wow! How great this is! Citizens are taking interest in our City parks. Ooops! I should have read the comments better.
Ms. Bobrick, Anonymous,Ed, Beth, and Mr. deBoer, are very concerned about the trees which are tagged to be removed.
Ms. Bobrick is concerned we are destroying shade, which makes a park "unattractive". And Mr. deBoer feels we are targeting the "poor and black teenagers" who he speaks to at the f***king park. If Mr. deBoer has never seen drug and alcohol use, gambling, prostitution, and beligernent people, when he has his lunch sitting next to the urine and feces soaked soil we are removing; he is not at Spear Park.
The Police nor the Parks Division can perform 24/7 supervision at this site. We have encountered many individuals here, who are under the influence and causing a problem. It has now migrated to the area adjacent to the Senior Center, causing our elderly community to stop using their outdoor area.
As for the trees, my intentions are to remove the 37 year old overgrown trees, which were planted in concrete sub-surface planter, and plant trees and other planting in the spring. The existing trees have rendered the park lighting useless. Lighting is an essential part of protection to any building or facility, as is visibility. Illegal activities and vandalism do not like lighted conditions. We want the park to be used by ALL citizens, not just a choice few.
While on the subject of trees: I wish those commenting on this issue, would also make some noise regarding all our other parks and facilities which are in desperate need of renovations throughout our City. Parks which have many acres of property that are not being used, have had their facilities removed or closed due to years of inadequate funding; need your support!
Talk about trees! There are thousands of trees the public could be enjoying, but no one has a reason to go to these parks. Years of no funding has taken its toll on our Parks system.
Where is our citizenry when the Parks & Rec bugets are discussed? Where is the public during our monthly Parks & Recreation Commission meetings? No where to be found.
Many communities around the nation ensure their parks system are always improving, properly funded, and maintained, for public use. They know how important Parks are to a community. Middletown is unique. We place emphasis on everything else, not a system or product, which anyone and everyone can enjoy, regardless of age.
Instead, we allow our parks to deteriorate, and go unused. We allow several trees to become such a focal issue, but we are okay to let the rest of the forest die.
Parks are one of the gauges of how a community is measured and how it treats their resident's.
Parks are a place for families, friends, and kids, to enjoy each other; a place to re-energize; a place to exercise; a place enjoy the outdoors and improve ones help.
Rallying to save several trees in a concrete park on Main Street, which the commenters walk by on a regular basis, is ludicrious, especially becasue the rest of the Parks system is allowed to die.
I respect everyone's opinion at the Eye, but am truly frustrated as not only a City employee, but a life long resident. Over the past several decades, I've seen our City's Parks die, one by one, and no one cares.
To see such concern for several trees, and never a care or mention of the rest of the Parks infrastructure, astounds me.
John Milardo, Parks Superintendent

Anonymous said...

Keep the trees!!! How is a grassy slope attractive? Who's great idea is this?

Man of the town said...

On point Mr. Milardo.
As someone who has a parent living nearby and some of the things told me during their walks downtown would astound most of you. My point is a few trees where people are drinking or urinating taken down is the least of our worries.

John deBoer said...

It's funny. Before now, whenever I've seen people in Spear Park, the only thing that's made me feel bad is that I'm so shy and middle-class-chickenshit that I don't know more of the people there. I imagine I've met some of the "beligernent"[sic] people mentioned, because they had the audacity to say "what's up" to little precious white me. You know, like neighbors.

Look, I'm not going to argue that the park isn't ugly. It's almost as ugly as Metro Square, or the new police station. But if you think it would "scare even the hardest of criminals", you really need to get out of your fucking minivan sometime and walk around this town.

So change it, spruce it up, get rid of those three giant concrete whatever-they-are on the corner; if the trees are interfering with the lighting, trim them back some, but don't cut them down just because you're scared of the world outside your privilege bubble.

Anonymous said...

I can think of a dozen other ways this money could have been better spent.

Anonymous said...

I think people are so concerned with the trees in the park because this particular park is in such a visible place--it doesn't mean they don't care about other parks in Middletown.

Is there a website where agendas/documents for the parks department are posted? I am not necessarily able to attend meetings, but would be willing to provide my comments/concerns to the appropriate person.

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Oh, dear. This was never meant to be a blog war. Can we talk?

Some people have posted comments that are rather belligerent in tone. It would be great if we could all calm down, for the sake of our shared concerns.

I suggest a public hearing for us to discuss the issue. We're all taxpayers and citizens, so we're within our rights to discuss these issues. Let's aim for a constructive, non-confrontational, non-defensive conversation.

To address Mr. Milardo's complaint against my postings: I know that the trees would be replaced. I politely asked the tree warden when I called. But the replacements would be saplings, and hence provide no shade. I don't see why having shade in a park is a bad idea. A park this small can't be a venue for games, and it's not meant to be a playground, so my (I thought, reasonable) assumption was that it was meant for sitting in. Hence the need for shade. I'm sure that our senior citizens would appreciate such a place.

No one is condoning creating conditions that are hard to light or create a dangerous atmosphere for anyone. If these trees are overgrown, could they be trimmed back instead of taken down? Again, this is a suggestion meant in the spirit of constructive discussion, not an attack on Mr. Milardo, or the Parks and Rec dept.

Finally, if there are issues in the Parks & Rec department that Mr. Milardo feels should be brought to public attention, The Eye is a great place to post such information. We don't all know what's going on. Not coming to hearings isn't meant as a sign of disrespect. I didn't know that parks or the forest were in a state of neglect. I use and enjoy our open spaces. Mr. Milardo, please let us know when there is an issue that needs public support.

One more thing about blog wars:
People who write articles for the Eye do so as volunteers. Some people post comments that are negative, on any issue -- you name it -- and often anonymously. Frequent readers know that you can get attacked for the most innocent of postings. That's the nature of free speech. Sometimes it's not pretty. But people post as individuals, not as part of a group. Mr. DeBoer's late mother worked tirelessly to save the trees on Long Lane. Perhaps that is the source of his frustration. I don't know.

Still, let's not give up on working together on this.

I don't know how to call for a public hearing. Would someone tell me, or, if you know how, and are interested in the issue, please do it yourself?

Elizabeth Bobrick said...

Oh, gracious. Let's all take a deep breath.

Looks as though it's time for some constructive discussion. Let's get the issues out and address them one by one. Right now, they're all tangled up. Let's put aside the name-calling and accusations.

It's hard to keep in mind that everybody thinks that they are only trying to do the right thing.

I am going to call for a public meeting. I'm sure that a solution can be found, although it may require compromise all around. Such is life, yes?

City Homeowner said...

Mr. Milardo, could you please let us know when the next Parks and Rec Commission meeting is? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Can we save these trees AND have a well planned/funded/managed Park system?

James Streeto said...

For the record--

I did talk with Billy Russo about this extensively. Public Works is not involved in this project--we're not doing it, and the first I heard about it was when I read about it here. Its exclusively a Park and Rec project.

Regarding Billy's title as "Tree Warden"--I did some research Jane, and I note that the city ordinances specify that the city forester (who reports to the environmental department not the public works director) has the statutory and ordinance powers of the tree warden in Middletown. Although I didn't go into it that deeply, I suspect that the title is a hold-over from a previous period when we didn't have a forester (specialist) to deal with such issues. At any rate, that's who handles issues of this nature NOW.

Public Works does deal with "street trees," and, on occasion, other trees coming within its purview. But issues concerning these trees should be referred to the Urban Forestry Commission, or the Parks and Rec Department. I would suggest you contact a member of either or both commissions and ask them for a joint special meeting.

Speaking personally, I'm not judging whether taking the trees down is a good or bad idea. As mentioned, I have no familiarity with the project, other than what I have read here, and it does not fall within the purview of any of my councilmatic commissions. I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that most of the posters don't have sufficient familiarity with the project as a whole at this point to reach an informed conclusion about its parameters--which is, I acknowledge, one reason why a calm, friendly, informational meeting might be a good idea.

I do note, in support of John's point, that on some occasions planned renovations can do such damage to root systems that it is highly unlikely the trees will survive the renovation, even if they're left in place.

Whether that is the case here or not I don't know. But I'd suggest everyone consider suspending judgment pending fuller information. Certainly, improving a portion of our down town street scape seems like a very good idea.

Anonymous said...

Park and Recreation Commission meetings are held the first Thursday of every month at 7pm. They are located at the Park and Rec. office.

Please support City Parks and Programs!

Gordon said...

Jeez, I say "young" President and Ed censors me. Mr. deBoer swears like a drunken sailor and nothing happens.

Anonymous said...

Two things could be done.
1. Put a couple of hidden speakers there and play classical music lightly and softly. It would make the space more attractive to many and as we know riff raff hate classical music. You don't see riff raff hanging around the Tai Gardens building do you?
2. If they want to stop crime, why not put a camera in the police department's front window, zoom in on the park and when something suspicious is going on there the police can walk across the street. Why cut trees down and change a really nice park that I enjoy but do understand the problems as I've seen them.

John Milardo said...

Parks & Recreation Commission meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month at 7:00pm in the Recreation Office at 140 Riverview Center. The agenda and past minutes are posted on the City of Middletown, Parks & Rec website. (
The trees were placarded because it is considered a "city park". It has been confirmed to me that even though it is titled "park", the Housing Authority owns the property, and therefore the tree did not require the postings, as it is deemed the same as "private" property: public input not required. I still wanted it posted so the public knew what we were going to do. In the event a different approach can be taken I will consider the options. Expense of moving trees would be prohibitive for us due to lack of funding.

Anonymous said...

i'm all for making this park more lunch hour friendly. i'm in it with my 2 young kids all the time and have talked to folks. it's a bit of a concrete mess, but they love the fountain...

Jane Harris said...

Having served on the Urban Forestry Commission for a number of years, I think these issues of who is in charge deserve to be addressed. Yes, the City does have an Urban Forester, who is a contracted professional. He serves as a consultant to both the Urban Forestry Commission and to the Tree Warden (two different city departments.)

Still, the state statute says we must have a tree warden, and we DO have a tree warden as well as a deputy tree warden. Those are the individuals who post trees and should be contacted when City trees are under discussion. Any appeal of a posted tree, by state statute, must go to the tree warden, not the City Forester.

And finally, I do not understand how the Housing Authority property is private -- is it not an Authority set up by the City? Where does the budget come from, if not the City?

Madam Nirvana said...

John and Karen-call me crazy, but I really think you both are on the same page- wanting reasons behind design decisions- & to preserve nature, aesthetics and safety-

many great articles out there with examples & facts that support what you both are saying-

Anonymous said...

The city should put outa request for landscape architects to work with park and rec to design a solution. Hire an arborist too. Put this project out to bid!