By Katy Rogers
A heated discussion arose for Everett residents during a meeting at City Hall regarding the Swan Street Park renovation that presented a plan which included a renovated basketball court – a major point of contention for neighbors who believe the court contributes to public safety problems.
After much discussion, and City officials defending the basketball court, it was decided that the City would remove the court from the new design on a trial basis. If troubles in the park are found to not be associated with the courts, they would be brought back in a year’s time.
The meeting was a follow-up to a prior gathering in which neighbors of Swan Street Park were encouraged to voice their opinions on upcoming renovation ideas.
Director of Planning and Development Tony Sousa and Mayor’s Chief of Staff Kevin O’Donnell conducted the meeting, and welcomed Chief Steve Mazzie and Officers Flammia and Butler.
Councilors Rosa DiFlorio and Mike McLaughlin were also in attendance.
On an easel, an illustrated design depicting the layout of Swan Street Park included a playground, splash pad, common area, basketball court, and various amenities. More than a dozen residents in attendance immediately spoke in protest of the basketball court.
“The purpose of tonight is to really talk about the next steps of the future of this park. We got some feedback, safety concerns, and general concerns about the layout and features in the park [at our last meeting] and we want to take this opportunity to hear from you folks about additional thoughts and questions,” Sousa explained.
Immediately, a concerned neighbor of Swan Street who wished to remain anonymous spoke up on behalf of her neighbors.
“Shall we cut to the chase here?” she asked. “The basketball court. I’m asking you why the basketball court is still there?”
Her request was immediately met with murmurs in agreement from fellow Swan Street neighbors.
O’Donnell and Sousa were open to listening to the resident’s concerns.
“We’re certainly keeping an open mind about designing [Swan Street Park],” O’Donnell assured.
He addressed concerns expressed at the previous meeting were not dismissed and actually resulted in increased police monitoring.
Tony Medeiros, a neighbor of Swan Street Park, elaborated on the issues which neighbors believe are rooted from the basketball court.
“We live here, it’s our neighborhood,” he said. “Very few neighborhood kids. They come, they park, they smoke their marijuana. There are hypodermic needles, used condoms, the whole nine yards. We have called the police and they have been more than supportive, but there are times when the police are busy and they need to send a car to tell kids the park is closed. As soon as they leave, the kids are back.”
Several residents pointed to a number of related issues including loitering, strange cars pulling up, smoking, disrespectful language, and the echoing sound of basketballs bouncing late at night.
When some blamed teenagers and young adults as being an issue for loitering in the playground, police countered that this has been typical of teenagers for generations and dismissed it as an invalid argument against the courts.
The anonymous woman elaborated, very adamant about removing the basketball court.
“We were invited here last meeting and this meeting to give you our feelings about the park,” she said. “The main problem is the basketball court. We live in the neighborhood; we deal with this day in and day out. We as voters, taxpayers, don’t want the basketball court. I don’t know what the issue is. The fact that we can’t be given that.”
The resident’s comments provoked a discussion about the nature of basketball in general, and a debate on whether or not it is the actual source of the problems occurring on Swan Street.
Officers Flammia and Butler have recently been patrolling the area on a regular basis to observe the trouble in the area, and seemed to conclude the issues were normal park issues, including an occasional fight, but these types of matters are dealt with in the whole city and urban parks in general and were not mutually exclusive with the basketball court.
“Just so you know, basketball is a popular urban sport. We’re in an urban environment,” Mazzie said in defense of the updated court concept. “A lot of kids are attracted to these parks and are waiting to play because there is sometimes just not enough space for them to play. The smaller the neighborhood around the park, the more complaints we get. I’m trying to come up with solutions. I understand why you want the basketball court removed, but you have to understand the kids need outlets and we need to look at places to provide that for them.”
Councilors DiFlorio and McLaughlin seemed to agree.
DiFlorio explained that there is no reason to punish everyone who enjoys basketball by removing the courts.
“They pay their taxes, their parents pay taxes, they deserve a place to play basketball,” she said. “Some kids are not all trouble, just because they play basketball. It doesn’t mean that the basketball court is causing the issues.”
McLaughlin shared the sentiment that the basketball court and issues within the area were likely not related. He suggested a locked gate around the court could resolve the issues which are primarily outstanding at night.
As it stands, there is currently an ordinance in place where Swan Street Park is to be closed after 9 p.m., though police admit it is difficult to enforce this. While police have been doing their best to enforce this rule, there is nothing to stop a new group of kids gathering at the park 15 minutes after kicking out one group.
Despite the valid points brought up from city representatives, residents had their minds set.
“The main thing is, get rid of it. We’d like to see it gone. Tear it down,” a man claimed.
“The Mayor is comfortable with removing the basketball court from the design and adding other particular features that would bring this more to a tot lot type of thing for younger kids, kids who wouldn’t normally be out once the street lights go on,” O’Donnell said, though he was in defense of the courts overall.
The residents seemed to want a pavement pad to be placed there, essentially eliminating the hoops. There was a discussion about a half court, but that did not seem to be a viable resolution to the issue. It was then concluded that the basketball courts would not be placed within the first year to study if there is relationship between the issues in the park and the court.
The hoops could then be replaced at a later date should the trouble subside.
If all goes according to plan, the project should mobilize at the end of May and near completion in July, and be prepared for reopening in mid July.
As an alternative for basketball players, it was discussed that the new design at 7-Acre Park will offer a place for people to play basketball without being disruptive to neighbors, in addition to the rec center which will receive a new rubberized floor in the coming months.