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How the Croton Filtration Plant Money Is Helping Local Parks

September 1, 2007

Work is underway to build an 11-acre water filtration plant in the northwest Bronx’s Van Cortland Park. When local residents and community groups first heard of the project in 2004 they were furious, arguing that there were better sites for the build, ones which wouldn’t deprive their youngsters of green space. There were concerns, too, that in the seven to eight years of construction the phase, traffic would increase in the neighborhood and there might be health implications, such as increased asthma rates, for local residents.

Fast-forward to 2007 and the project is well behind schedule. At present, there’s just a huge hole in the ground. Construction costs have almost doubled. The latest estimate is a whopping $2.2 billion.

But it must be said that a great deal of good has come out of the Croton Water Filtration Plant. In return for housing it, 70 Bronx parks and playgrounds are receiving more than $200 million over the next five years – that’s three times what would normally have been spent in the same period.

Here’s a look at the parks that will benefit in this part the borough:

Roberto Clemente State Park

Roberto Clemente State Park in Morris Heights, Community District 5’s largest park at 25 acres, is getting a $20 million makeover. Work began in the spring. Improvements will four new basketball courts, a new artificial turf field for football and softball, resurfaced ball fields, four new acres of green space, and more water fountains. The park’s Olympic-sized swimming pool will also undergo renovations. Another goal of the project is to enhance views of, and access to, the Harlem River waterfront.

Mount Hope Playground

The work being done at Mount Hope Playground, located at Walton Avenue and East 177th Street, is scheduled to finish in October 2007. Close to $2 million will be spent on a welcome investment. In 2006, the one-acre park failed its annual inspection due to excessive graffiti and a general lack of cleanliness. The playground is getting a new basketball court and play equipment, an area for adults to exercise, drinking fountains, new benches and more trees. A man-made stream will run through the middle, and repairs also being made to the retaining wall.

Sedgwick Playground

This triangular one-acre park at the intersection of the Cross Bronx Expressway and Undercliff Avenue also received $2 million. Like Mount Hope Playground, it has failed numerous inspections over the years. The project is still in the design stage, but the entire playground will be renovated and a new comfort station built. Construction is expected to begin in November of 2007 and last for about a year.

Washington Bridge Park/ Regatta Park

With $316,000 in Croton funds as well as State grants of $700,000, Washington Bridge Park, a new park is being built on 3.4 acres of undeveloped land near the Alexander Hamilton Bridge. Currently used by the Metro North railroad, this area will be incorporated into the Harlem River Greenway. Including waterfront seating, an overlook, and a pedestrian and bike path, construction is expected to begin this fall.

Just south of what will be Washington Bridge Park is Regatta Park, which is receiving an additional $1.6 million in Croton funding. Work will include improving public access to the waterfront. Once both parks are complete, pedestrians and cyclists can look forward to a new one-mile stretch of pathway along the water connecting Regatta Park and Depot Place to Roberto Clemente State Park. This will run into a 3.5 path already existing within Roberto Clemente. The ultimate goal is the creation of a greenway that will connect Morris Heights, Highbridge, Riverpark Towers, and Roberto Clemente State Park.

Aqueduct Lands/ Aqueduct Walk

A playground and comfort station will be in build Aqueduct Lands, a long sliver of a parkland that runs from Kingsbridge Road to Tremont Avenue. Aqueduct Walk, which is a reconstruction of a portion of the old aqueduct stretching from Kingsbridge Road to Morton place, is receiving $4.5 million in funding. The promenade will be paved, new public seating provided, and play areas built. It’s is still in the design phase, but work is scheduled to begin by the summer of 2008.

This unprecedented funding is a real boost for the neighborhood. Many of these parks and playgrounds have been in dire need of renovation for years. “So much negative publicity has surrounded the building of this [filtration] plant,” says Faisal Choudhury, the Croton program manager. “When they [residents] see the fruits of these projects, they’ll start to smile and see that something good has come from all of this.”

New Leadership at Local Community Board

September 1, 2007

Bola Omotosho


Dr. Bola Omotosho has a lot on his plate. He works in cancer research, most recently at Jacobi Medical Center, and he holds various positions in the community. He also owns a retail store in La Rochelle. Oh, and he’s got five kids – including teenage triplets.

“I’m very busy no doubt about it,” he chuckled in interview last month.

Now, Omotosho, forty-something, can add another feather to his cap: that of chairperson of Community Board 5 (CB 5), a voluntary post. He officially takes over in September, after ousting the previous chair, Beverly Smith, by 16 votes to 4 in the board’s June election. The new vice-chair will be Bernice Williams who originally planned to run for top-job herself but ducked out at the last minute.

Omotosho, a quietly spoken genial man who’s quick to laugh, is the first African to assume the role. He and his family are from Nigeria. They immigrated to America in the mid-1990s after winning the greencard lottery.

On moving to Morris Heights in 1998, Omotosho, who lives on Morton Place between Harrison and University Avenues, quickly throw himself into community affairs. He became president of the Harrison Avenue Homeowners Association and, in 1999, a board member of CB 5. Over the years he’s headed both the Education and Health Committees.

From 2005-06 he served as chair of the North Central Bronx hospital’s advisory board, at a time when the hospital was fighting closure. And as a parent, he was heavily involved in the 2005 effort to get St. Simon Stock School, on Valentine Avenue, a green roof.

“This is a person who’s quietly been showing his leadership skills,” said Xavier Rodriguez, the Board’s district manager.

“I love challenges,” Omotosho said. “It’s not that I’m particularly interested in politics, but when it comes to the welfare of fellow human beings I feel that I can make a change.”

Omotosho, a more reserved, less authoritative figure that his predecessor, describes himself a good listener, who’s willing to work with everyone. On the night of the election he praised Smith calling her “an encyclopedia of this community.” But he also talked about the “desperate need for new leadership” and about bringing back “trust and dignity.”

Under his stewardship, Omotosho said, “It won’t be business as usual.” For starters, they’ll be no more four-hour meetings. “My first mission is that everyone comes prepared,” he said, in reference to the Board’s monthly general meetings. “If we start early we can finish early.”

He’s also hoping to raise board member morale, which dwindled in recent times, he said, because individuals were often at loggerheads and no decisions were being made. “Let’s put aside all personalities and sentiments,” he said. If the board can work together and get results, he added, more local residents will want to be involved. (Recruitment of board members is a perpetual problem for CB 5. A board can have up to 50; as of August, CB 5 had just 22.)

Smith, a captain with the civilian arm of the NYPD, said she didn’t want to win the election anyway as she’s planning to resign from the CB 5 for good in December or January so she start campaigning for City Council. “There’s a lot I have to learn, there’s a lot I have to do,” she said, adding that she has her eye on Helen Foster 16th District seat, with covers much for the South Bronx. Term-limited Foster will step down at the end of 2008. (She’s said to be considering a run for Bronx Borough President.)

Smith’s been a board member for 17 years, and for much of that time she was the Board’s Housing Chair. She says her greatest achievement was overseeing the rejuvenation of University Avenue, which in the 1980s was a desolate stretch of derelict apartment buildings.

In recent times, however, Smith, who lives on Popham Avenue, has become frustrated with the direction the neighborhood in headed. In particular, she says, the city and state are flooding the area with homeless shelters and housing for drug addicts, when they should be building schools and a new police precinct. And she resents the fact that community boards can only hassle and harry, not make demands or stop these developments.

Smith, an African-American, also thinks not enough is been done to Americanize the district’s news immigrants. Their lack of English holds them back, she said, and it also stops English-only speaking Bronxites from landing jobs in the borough because many positions now require fluency in Spanish.

Smith isn’t sure Omotosho will make a good chair. “He’s a good person,” she said, “but I don’t really think that he’s been here long enough to really know what’s going on.”

Omotosho admits these questions will come up. After all, he’s lived in the district for less than a decade. (Smith’s been here since 1971.) But he doesn’t think it will affect his ability to the job.

“I’m not going to reinvent the wheel,” said Omotosho on how he’ll go about his duties. “I’m just going to go by [the community board] by-laws. I’m going to do things by the book.”

Judging by his election victory, the Board isn’t worried about the Omotosho relative inexperience either.

“There’s nothing wrong with change,” said Kathy Speller, a long serving board member. “He’ll have a vision. He’s intelligent.”

So what is this vision? Like Smith, Omostosho is angry about all the supportive housing facilities coming to the neighborhood. “The city uses us as a dumping ground,” he said, he wants a united Board to fight this growing trend.

Instead of homeless shelters, Omostosho wants to attract working people to the district, people that will spent money and keep businesses afloat. Stores on Fordham Road are doing well, he said, but Burnside Avenue is another story. The Citibank at Morris Avenue, for example, recently closed down, something Omostosho sees as a sign of difficult times.

A stronger local economy, Omostosho said, will increase employment, and this in turn will improve the area’s quality of life, as fewer people will be out on the streets with nothing to do but cause trouble. Murder and robbery may be falling in District 5’s, but misdemeanor crime is rife. Last year, the 46th Precinct made more than 10,000 people, more than any other precinct in the city.

And how will CB 5’s new chair, a busy man with a large family, find the time and energy to realize this dream? Well to start with, he’s on verge of relinquishing his position as president of Harrison Avenue Homeowners Association, a job he’s held for nine years.

“I don’t want to wear the too many hats at the same time,” he said.