RIOC is lowering the proposed fence around the Octagon Field from ten feet to three and a half feet and they have decided to no longer fence the eastern side of the field. As to the permitting piece, well that’s not so simple; “We have very little open space on this Island, unfortunately,” expressed new Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation hire Jonna Carmona-Graf about her effort to accomodate all users of our fields, including for-profit off-Island groups.
This was part of a larger conversation that took place today between RIOC, members of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA), and our elected officials, including representatives from Senator Jose Serrano and Council member Ben Kallos’ offices about the Octagon Field renovation project. RIRA opposes parts of RIOC’s plan for the field, namely the removal of shade trees that will make way for a fence around the Octagon Field.
RIRA also opposes what they call “excessive” permitting on all of our fields, that they assert comes at the expense of Islanders. They have collected over 1500 signatures on a combination of online and paper petitions being circulated around the Island.
Carmona-Graf said there are great demands for field space and that our four fields provide only limited resources and explained that RIOC’s goal is to grant as many permit requests as possible. She said that 100% of resident permits were granted for their desired times for the spring of 2019. She called it a “big accomplishment” and said “I’ve been told that has been the goal for a number of years.”
Adib Mansour of RIRA’s Children, Youth and Education Committee is concerned that the trend will reverse when the Octagon Field comes back online, calling it a "goldmine." It has historically been more heavily in demand than the other fields and is the Island's only true soccer field.
Slide from RIOC Presentation demonstrating Octagon Field permit trends from last year
Mansour also believes the issue is more complicated than RIOC's permitting system or statistics reflect when it comes to Island groups, and uses Zum Schneider FC as an example. Zum Schnieder FC is an Island-based semi-professional soccer team that has been sponsored by German beer garden Zum Schneider for years, because they have been unable to reserve field time on the Island. He wants to see all Island groups who want to play on our fields have access. There are other similarly situated Island teams that are powered by volunteers and therefore can’t afford to buy the requisite insurance or pay field fees to rent the fields for their teams. These teams rely on there being unpermitted field times.
Carmona-Graf also explained why RIOC is committed to permitting out our fields. She said they provide necessary foot traffic as well as an economic benefit to our stores, the Tram, and Motorgate but that “we don’t do this to make money.” Rosenthal added that significant foot traffic could contribute to more stores and said, “I can tell you that non-residents spend more at Island restaurants than residents do.” Though former Main Street Sweets owner, Scot Bobo testified at a recent RIRA meeting that that is not the case.
What About the Trees?
The field is scheduled to start phase one construction next week which consists of the field, drainage, and fencing, to the tune of $1.4 million. The whole project will cost $3.5 million and includes a comfort station, an ADA accessible path and expanded seating. The trees are making way for the new path, said Carmona-Graf, not the fence.
Due to changes they made in the footprint of the comfort station, they are now planning to remove seven trees instead of the previously planned 11 trees. According to Graf-Carmona, the trees being removed are in poor health and also are in the way of the new ADA path. Island Services Committee Chair Rossana Ceruzzi doesn’t agree and will engage an arborist to confirm the trees status. In her view, the trees should be pruned and better maintained, not removed.
Ceruzzi said, “wildlife comes along with trees and you are destroying an ecosystem there that is very important.”
RIOC will plant ten trees as part of the project.
Fencing to Serve as a “Visual Marker”
The fencing plan now consists of a three foot six inch fence on the entire south side of the field. The west side will be also be fenced but will have a 76 foot opening in the center of the field.
Carmona-Graf said she believes a fence is important for ball control and safety. She said, “The area to the west of the field has a steep grade. If a child is running east-west or north-south, the child could kind of run off the field and keep running. And the area to the south has a pedestrian path so similarly, the ball could roll out, and kids could run off the field.” She called the fence a “visual marker” to signal children to slow down.
After pushback from Mansour regarding the fence, Rosenthal said, “We hear what you’re saying. We’ll discuss it further. We have experts. The fact is that we might not obey everything you say. We are also building this in a way that if it comes to pass that this field is getting f*cked up by people with cleats and eating that we could change it into a real fence. We could also tear it down. We need to protect the investment we are making. This has nothing to do with keeping the residents out. I am relying on the experts here. Things can always be changed.”
Buckle up, once the Octagon field project is complete, RIOC will close Firefighter’s Field and all Firefighter’s Field permits will shift to the Octagon Field.