For youth organizations, land use can be an uphill battle

This is the second in a two-part series about how youth organizations interact with city and private agencies. Read Part One here.

On Apr. 25, the residents of Lawncrest assembled at a community meeting to discuss an ongoing issue affecting both the youth athletics and local dog owners. For the past three years, neighborhood athletic association’s little league team and the dog owners have been using the same baseball field at the Lawncrest Recreation Center for very different reasons.

The problem began when participation in youth sports within the athletic association started dwindling, leading to the eventual disintegration of the AA approximately 10 years ago. Since then, dog owners took to entering the gated field and letting their dogs run around. Over time, the space became an unofficial dog park.

Once the AA started back up again three years ago, dog owners were faced with having to find a new place to walk their dogs, but they continued using the field. In late 2011, the children started using the field again, causing concern among parents. Lawncrest parents Brad and Crystal El have been outspoken in their advocacy for the dog park for the safety of the children.

“We want to ensure that the neighbors who do have dogs have the opportunity to at least have a conversation about having a dog park,” Brad El said. But the conversation has not always been easy.

“There are less than a handful of people who think it should be a dog park,” said Bill Dolbow, president of the Lawncrest Community Association. “But it’s there for the kids.” Dolbow said he planned the meeting so that the dog owners would not be left out.

“Kids should have their own space,” said Kris Cheung, a local dog owner who currently uses the field as a dog park. “If there’s a spot where dog owners can bring their dogs to play, I think that would work out very nicely and then we can have peace.”

As a result of the meeting, and with the cooperation of all parties and Councilwoman Marian Tasco’s, D-9th, office, the community was able to come to a consensus. The field will be reserved for the baseball team and a separate dog park will be built at the grassy area adjacent to the field.

“Marian Tasco is very great at constituent service,” Dolbow said. “Whatever concern we have, I would say about 90 percent gets done within a reasonable time. She’s always on the community’s side.”

“The issue of a dog park was brought to the attention of Councilwoman Tasco during a Lawncrest Philly Rising meeting to which she welcomed meeting with community leaders and members to discuss the possibility of having one at the Lawncrest Recreation Center,” said Crystal Jacobs, the communications and special events director for Tasco. “Councilwoman Tasco and her staff will work with the Recreation Department to learn about the feasibility of a dog park and its impact on the recreation center and the four other city agencies located on this particular property.”

Other athletic organizations have not been so lucky when it comes to working with the city.

For the Bustleton Bengals, their issues have been 15 years in the making. After the organization’s fund was used to finance a different gym, the group has yet to be given the gym it says it needs desperately.

“Without this gym, this club risks, after well over 50 years, going to the wayside,” said former Bengals president Roger Price. “We’re losing kids to other neighboring clubs who do have gyms. All of our neighboring clubs have gyms except us.”

The Bengals had a breakthrough last August when they met with Councilman Brian O’Neill, R-10th, and a city official to look at three potential sites for the gym. They set up a meeting for November to move the process forward, but that was delayed when someone from the city passed away who was scheduled to be at the meeting.

The Bengals waited until early in 2012 to pursue the issue again, but have yet to be given an official location for the gym.

“We’ve gone out and done everything they’ve asked us to do: we’ve put a down payment on the structure and submitted the blueprints,” Price said. “We speak on a regular basis to Councilman O’Neill’s office and are basically being told that the gears of city government move slowly and we just have to be patient.”

City government appears to be the least of the problem. O’Neill said at this point, the issue rests on getting the proper approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, which owns what the Bengals consider the ideal location for the gym: the baseball field at Conwell Avenue off Roosevelt Boulevard, adjacent to the organization’s other facilities and parking lot.

One of the two main problems, he said, is to make sure that the gym won’t be in the way of a flight pass. The other is to find out if they can build something that may have to come down should the FAA ever need that property back for aviation. If that becomes the case, the FAA is entitled to the land.

“The best part is that the money is in place,” O’Neill said. “I think we should be fine. Once we get these approvals, we should be able to move very quickly if the club has their funds available.”

The city is putting up 90 percent of the funds while the Bengals are responsible for the remaining 10 percent. O’Neill said he is hopeful that they will hear back from the FAA within the next three months.

But the Bengals, who feel they are being slighted by the city and state, are running low on patience. So are the Bustleton residents who have been donating their money and efforts to getting this gym built.

“We have formulated a committee, we’ve had fundraisers, but it can’t be done without the help of the city council,” Bengals parent Vince Tarducci said. “We want to raise the heat on the city to get something moving. Whatever it takes to get this process moving in a positive direction, we need it.”

Maryline Dossou is a student reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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