Ebullient Parks officials display plans for a dog run at Maria Hernandez Park. — Photo by Aaron Short

It is sopping wet outside, but that hasn’t discouraged a crowd of nearly 50 from attending April’s Community Board 4 meeting and lining up for dinner. On the menu tonight is a house salad with real feta cheese in it, chicken parmigiana, sautéed vegetables, yellow rice, and several sodas including Genuine Jamaican Pineapple soda that tastes like apples and a Ecuadorian orange-colored soda called Manzana that also tastes like apples. And the special tonight? The Parks Department. (Seriously, I’ve never seen them here before. I wonder if there’s a capital project in the works…)

6:34 PM: Chairwoman Julie Dent calls the meeting to order after District Manager Nadine Whitted reads the roll. They hand the microphone to the Parks Department for a special presentation. There will be a dog run at Maria Hernandez Park!  

The run will consist of a fence enclosing 7,200 square-feet of space along the Irving Street side of the park. Councilwoman Diana Reyna gave $425,000 in funding for the park last year, after four years of petitioning, and the design phase is over. A new gate for the dog run will be installed at Willoughby and Irving. There will be signage all over the place alerting residents of the dog run and how to pick up dog waste. Parks officials expect that it will take six to nine months to complete. The park will remain open through all phases of the construction. 

We have a number of questions, mostly about forcing owners to pick up their dogs’ crap. It’s a bigger problem than we think, but Parks Department officials answer them gamely.  

"Are there any requirements that dogs have their shots? Who is going to look after that? Do people sign an application to be part of the dog park, or can anyone go in there?" asks Ridgewood Bushwick‘s Maritza Davila. "I do have a concern. We have a number of aggressive animals in the community. I don’t know if I want to take my dog there if the dogs are unlicensed."

The Parks officials address the benefits of the dog run. "Keep in mind, there’s no dog run there now. Dogs can walk through the park now. With a dog run, dogs won’t be going into other areas of the park as much." 

6:59 PM: We go to the second item on the agenda, which is a street co-naming in honor of parent coordinator and community leader Nilsa Roman, who passed away two months ago. A group of parents and school administrators led by Davila extol Roman’s virtues. The request is to rename Harman Street from Knickerbocker to Irving Avenues in Roman’s honor, and her daughter gives an emotional presentation. 

7:17 PM: Chairwoman Julie Dent closes public session, reads the roll call and pauses to recognize CB4′s administrative professionals, Willie Morales and Sharon Fludd.

After some applause, Dent asks all the representatives of elected officials to stand and present themselves. This is becoming my least favorite part of the meeting and I don’t think I am alone.  

7:26 PM: Dent continues with her report, noting that a simulated voting machine vehicle will be making its way through Bushwick, as new voting machines will be used this autumn. Also, Dent is not happy about Bushwick’s participation in the Census.

"It’s all in our hands. Let’s make sure we’re all counted, particularly our neighbors who feel threatened by their immigration status," Dent adds.

Finally, Dent notes the rally at Engine 271 on Himrod Street to protest its possible closing. If you weren’t there, don’t worry — Diego Cupolo was

7:37 PM: DM Nadine Whitted notes Community Board 4′s upcoming office move to 1426 Bushwick Avenue, but there’s a lot of red tape. Two city agencies have operations in the building, including the Family Services Network, where 3-time Board MVP Raul Rubio works, which is the sponsoring agency. Family Services Network must write a permit to change the building’s Certificate of Occupancy.

7:51 PM: Committee reports! We’ll do summaries unless something needs further explanation. 

*Education: The Fifth Annual Bushwick Day Parade is coming up on Thursday June 3rd from 10 AM. Get excited. 

*There’s a move to lobby elected officials, clergy, and businesses to add more banking services in Bushwick. Assemblyman Darryl Towns (D-Bushwick) is the Chairman of the Banking Committee so it’s not out of the question that there will be some full service banks in the neighborhood. Davila jumps in to announce that a new Bank of America branch will be opening on Knickerbocker Avenue and Stanhope Street.  

*Parks: Whitted handles this one, focusing on youth leagues using the parks for baseball, but that there have been problems with adults using the park at the same time. She details over every league’s schedule for each park in Bushwick. Only people who run youth baseball leagues or have a child registered in those leagues are paying attention right now, which consists of half the room. 

*Public Safety: Restaurant owners! Barbara Smith, the 83rd Precinct Community Council President, wants to tell you something. You cannot serve alcoholic beverages on Sunday before 12 pm.

"If you want to go into a restaurant and have beer with your pancakes, you cannot do that," says Smith. "We’re in Bushwick. We’re not in Mexico. We’re not down South." 

8:18 PM: Whitted leads the vote for all items, including the Maria Hernandez dog run and the street naming. This is a roll call vote. The dog run passes overwhelmingly 30-1-4, but dog-poop activist Mary McClelland votes no. Next is the Nilsa Roman co-naming, which passes with unanimous consent and receives thunderous applause.  

8:29 PM: There’s little old business. Alessandro from Diana Reyna’s office gives a quick update on halfway houses and sober homes in Bushwick. The sober houses are not necessarily illegal but they do not have oversight from the city or the state, and Reyna’s office is pursuing legislation in City Council. They have compiled 15 such buildings in Bushwick.

"This is a market-driven phenomenon. It is a confluence of several issues. It’s partly because of the lack of affordable housing, transitional housing, unemployment, and overdevelopment."

Allison Frost from Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s office follows up:

"It’s really a terrible situation. I spoke with DOB before I came here. [979 Willoughby] has a certificate of occupancy that they are violating but fire standards have not been violated. It will not be vacated. They’re getting money from a city agency. Whether it’s crafting legislation for giving more oversight before giving money… [or some other measure] our office is involved."

Davila adds that she recognizes Willoughby Avenue residents in the room.

"I know the current councilwoman is crafting legislation on this issue, but I think we need to do a little bit more. We can’t just wait for policy to come through. Continue to fight, but don’t give up." 

8:37 PM: Let’s go to announcements!

*Alessandro announces an open house at Diana Reyna‘s new office, 217 Havemeyer Street, 2nd Floor, on Saturday, May 15th at 11am. You can also give blood. 

*CB4 member Laura Braslow announces that registration for Bushwick Open Studios is open now.

*Jason Andrew at Storefront announces an open call for Bushwick’s youth, ages 7-12, to present artwork for a two-week show in May. Also, check out Deborah Brown’s show before it goes on May 16. 

*Daryl-Ann Saunders, who has a 6-month artist residency at the senior center on Noll Street, will honor Bushwick residents who have lived in Bushwick since the 1970s by photographing them for an exhibit. For more, email das@dasaunders.com

*An RBSCC staffer notes that foreclosure assistance programs have moved to 255 Wyckoff Ave. As you’ve read, it’s still a problem here.

Second roll call and that’s all. See you next month!

Bushwick’s Community Board 4 meets on the third Wednesday of every month (except July and August) at Hope Gardens Community Center, 195 Linden Street at Wilson Avenue. To contact the office any other time, call 718-628-8400 or visit 315 Wyckoff Avenue, 2nd Floor.