RIRA Launches Petition in Opposition to Octagon Field Plan

March 11, 2019

The Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) passed a resolution opposing removal of 11 of the Island’s big, old, shade trees that will make way for a ten-foot fence encircling the Octagon Field. It also opposes the excessive permitting on all of our fields, that they assert comes at the expense of Islanders.


 The ten-foot fence in red will encircle the new field, image courtesy of RIOC


Rossana Ceruzzi, chair of the Island Services Committee, and Adib Mansour, the Children, Youth and Education committee chair, both Island House residents, led the charge on this issue, arguing that rather than a renovated field and Island amenity, fencing the field is a poignant reminder of residents’ lack of access to their own open spaces. In early February, RIOC announced that in addition to Pony Field and Firefighter’s Field, they would also start permitting Capobianco Field, a reversal to RIOC President Susan Rosenthal’s mandate in February 2018 to leave that field open for community use.


Ceruzzi and Mansour say the plan for Octagon Field also represents yet another conversation they were shut out of by RIOC. Despite having a meeting and online survey to gather resident feedback for both the proposed bike lane and the small public space outside the new library, RIOC has done no outreach to Islanders – the primary users of the field – to learn how they use it, and find out what features would improve their experience.


 Beautiful old evergreen trees line the path between the Octagon Soccer Field and the Manhattan Park Pool, by C. Delfico


The RFP for the Octagon Field renovation was released by RIOC in early February. Instead of more shade, 11 trees are being cut down. Instead of more access to the space, there is fencing – a lot of it – all ten foot tall, leaving two openings, and the ability to lock residents out completely. The comfort station is not just a revamp, but requires new plumbing at significant cost and will include a concession stand, green roof, and room for storage.


At the March RIOC board meeting, held the day after the RIRA meeting, the board approved granting the contract for the field part of the project to the LandTek Group. Prince Shah, a RIOC project manager, said they hadn’t received any bids for the full project and would release a RFP for the comfort station later this week.


In an otherwise calm RIRA meeting, conversation about this topic was spirited. Of the field design, Rivercross resident Kaja Meade said, “You just can’t have one person decide this.” Meade suggested they speak to experts who would guarantee there is sufficient shade for 200 families at a time. “RIOC needs to find someone who is thinking about how many parents will be there, where will they stand? How many water fountains? What is their placement?”


Instead of the ten-foot fence, Meade suggested something more imaginative, like a green wall or a line of bushes. Meade’s concept is more similar to efforts the rest of the city is taking to remove fencing. Parks Without Borders, an initiative of the New York Parks Department, is re-envisioning the role of open spaces in communities; one of the improvements they are making is lowering or removing all gates and fences to unify park spaces with the neighborhoods they serve. 


Meade’s idea dovetails with Island ethos around trees and plant-life. Reminding the group that the Island was designated a Tree City USA in 2011 (the nationwide movement that provides the framework necessary for communities to manage and expand their public trees), Ceruzzi said, “The removal of these trees seems coincidentally related to putting up the fence.”


Mansour told the council that the ten-foot high fencing included in the renderings came as a surprise. He said Rosenthal herself promised in an email during Thanksgiving weekend that there wouldn’t be one. “After listening to your opinions and careful consideration, we have decided not to fence the field and to wait and see if the absence of the fence has any adverse impact on the project and the community’s investment,” she wrote.


What Mansour and Ceruzzi want RIOC to know is that the community is invested. They intend to prove it and passed around a petition at the meeting. It can be signed here


 See the petition here.


At RIOC’s Operations Advisory committee meeting, the week prior to the board meeting, Prince Shah, a project manager for RIOC, referred to the fence as a “ball control fence.” Though, in the 30-years that the field has been open, ball control has never been a problem and like the Octagon Soccer Field, the Island’s many basketball courts have also never been fenced.


 From The Octagon Park Design and Implementation Plan, dated 1990


When the field was first built, back in 1990, the process was democratic – community feedback was aggressively sought – and happily given. Ultimately, RIOC worked with over ten Island organizations. They called themselves the Octagon Task Force, formed to “ensure that the community’s interests and fears were addressed in a meaningful way.” [The Octagon Park Design and Implementation Plan, dated 1990] The group assessed priorities in weekly meetings ensuring the space would work for a variety of community uses.


The group was utilized as both a source of data for planning and development and a means to reach the entire community. RIOC also put out a public notice asking for participation and comments from interested parties.


The Task Force consisted of representatives from RIOC, the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, the Roosevelt Island Disabled Association, Roosevelt Island Seniors Association, Roosevelt Island Youth Program, Roosevelt Island Council of Organizations, Roosevelt Island Tennis League, Roosevelt Island Little League, Roosevelt Island Youth Soccer Association, Roosevelt Island Historical Society, Roosevelt Island Residents Association, and the PTA.


Members of those groups had their own interests and goals and together formed a wish list. A major priority at the time was to provide adequate passive, unrestricted, unprogrammed open space, including the spaces necessary to initiate a game of baseball or soccer; specifically a barrier-free environment to accommodate a myriad of activities for a wide spectrum of users.


The lone dissenter to RIRA’ resolution, the Octagon building’s David Turley, wanted to know what the revenue from permitting would be used for. He said voting without that knowledge would be premature. He said, “Shouldn’t that matter? Isn’t it irresponsible of us?”


Meade responded wryly; “I don’t think we’d see the revenue.”


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