Sunset Park

Sunset Park’s crumbling stone wall has neighbors fearing for safety

September 19, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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When Sunset Park resident Michael Fleshman looked out his window one Sunday, he noticed a young girl attempting to scale a piece of the wall surrounding the neighborhood’s namesake green space.

The retaining wall — which borders the nearly 25-acre park — is dangerously unkempt, Fleshman told the Brooklyn Eagle, and on any other day, might’ve crushed the child.

The longtime local — who lives across the street with a view of the park — took the Eagle on a brief walking tour Sept. 13 that showcased cracks in the foundation, patchwork that needs redoing and sizable areas where stones are missing.

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“From my dining room window, I can see this part of the park, so at some point this summer I took a look outside and said, ‘Hey, there’s a big chunk of that wall missing,’” Fleshman said, referring to a particularly worn out part of the wall on the 41st Street side of the park. The danger struck him when he saw the girl, approximately 4 years old, try to climb in.

“A little kid pulling on that, maybe after the next heavy rain — boom — that’s going to come down on that child,” he told the Eagle. “So I started making phone calls.”

The part of the wall the little girl tried to climb. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

Fleshman hopes the city will either fix the retaining wall in one fell swoop (a full canvas and repurposing is long overdue, he said), or at the very least put up a barricade.

The issue isn’t a new one, another nearby resident, Maria Roca, told the Eagle.

“We’ve been dealing with this for decades,” said Roca, who founded Friends of Sunset Park in 1995. “We have been documenting and reporting these conditions to Parks forever.”

The problem lies in the piecemeal patchwork, Roca said.

“The wall has never had any maintenance — only ad hoc repairs,” she said. “And those repairs are made with whatever materials they have on hand — not anything that will last.”

Old patchwork that is now loose, or where stones are now missing. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

A spokesperson for the New York City Parks Department said the agency was unaware of any recent issues in the retaining wall.

“Our engineers have confirmed that the wall is fundamentally stable,” Press Officer Anessa Hodgson told the Eagle. “From time to time, Parks staff have removed loose stones from the wall as a safety precaution. We are unaware of any recent occurrences of stones falling out or being removed, but we will inspect and make a plan for replacing the stones.”

Hodgson further noted that the agency does not currently have any plans for a full replacement of the retaining wall — and that the missing stones are, sometimes, the results of vandals.

According to the agency’s Capital Project Tracker, Parks recently completed a nearly $1.5 million reconstruction of Sunset Park’s paths, benches and fences — but it doesn’t appear to have included the retaining wall.

Still, Fleshman — who has even gone looking for his own barricades to place — hopes something can be done to make the area safer.

A less unkempt part of the wall at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 41st Street. Eagle photo by Meaghan McGoldrick

“I’m worried about this,” he said. “Someone is gonna get hurt.”

Roca agreed.

“If one of those stones falls at the wrong time, it can crush the foot of an adult — never mind what it can do to a child,” she said. “It’s a public safety issue.”

The wall is also crucial to the infrastructure of the park, Roca said. “We wouldn’t have that park if we didn’t have that retaining wall,” she said.

Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, who represents the area, told the Eagle he’d work to fix the problem.

“I shudder imagining a parent pushing a stroller or an elderly neighbor tripping over these fallen tiles,” he said. “It’s unacceptable and my office is going to look into the cause and work with the city to find a solution.”

The revisiting of the issue comes just weeks after 5-year-old Alysson Pinto-Chaumana was crushed to death by heavy stone fencing which was in the process of being installed around a Bushwick home.

Following an inquiry from the Eagle about the lack of permit requirements, area Councilmember Rafael Espinal submitted a legislative request to begin work on a bill requiring city approval before heavy fences and other potentially dangerous infrastructure get built.

Correction (Sept. 23 at 10:17 a.m.): A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Maria Roca’s name. The Eagle regrets the error.

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