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Aug. 12, 2002 – Tot lot or not, the basketball hoop at the North Side children's playground in Dorothea is "coming down tomorrow," Ira Hobson, commissioner of Housing Parks and Recreation, said Monday evening.
Hobson told about three dozen parents, children and other North Side residents that removal of the basketball hoop was one thing he could do immediately to alleviate problems at the park that has become the center of controversy in recent days. He also promised to have the grass cut. Complaints had been raised that the hoop attracted adults, rather than children, to the weed-infested park.
What started out as a refurbishing project by neighborhood moms looking for a safe place for their youngsters to play has turned contentious, with a few people living close to the park trying to stop the upgrade. Monday night's meeting at the Dorothea Tot Lot, called by the Northside Civic Organization, became a shouting match. One of the vagrants occupying the park even took a turn cursing one of the neighbors trying to stop the clean-up efforts, offering to cut the grass himself.
The man, who refused to give his name, said he didn't want to see the basketball hoop taken down, but added, "I'll go along with it for the sake of the children."
In January, Northside Civic Organization members met with Hobson and police officials to address the tot lot's decline into a breeding ground for late-night parties, drug dealing and other crime. At that point, members of the North Side group already had plans to renovate and upgrade the lot.
What they lacked at the time was a plot map of the park. Hobson agreed to secure one for them. Cay Chandler, Tot Lot Committee chair, has since developed site plans complete with colorful climbing gyms and a plan for painting what will be the former basketball court with designs for toddlers to ride tricycles and bicycles around.
The plan also addresses many of the concerns voiced by the neighbors. Along with taking down the basketball hoop, it calls for installing a locked gate to keep cars and vagrants out of the park at night and planting trees around the perimeter of the park to beatify the area and muffle noise.
But Priscilla Berry-Quetel, who lives near the lot, suggested that the people attending the meeting had no say in the matter since they "don't live here." She said they were "trying to displace us in our multi-generational residency."
However, she was clear that she, too, is "disgusted with the homeless [and] drug addicts" now using the park adding, "We've even had people dancing in this park naked." But she said the noise and traffic that would be created by "children and the parents" in a refurbished tot lot would be no different.
Her sister, Valencia Berry, called the Northside Civic Organization "immoral and self-serving," adding the group had "orchestrated this to make us look like we don't like children."
Valencia Berry said that the development of a nearby grocery store and gas station, which opened in late 1999, had increased traffic and noise substantially. It was the Berrys' sister, Helen Berry Brown, who leased the property to the convenience store owners.
As others attempted to speak, Berry-Quetel interrupted, repeating her contention that since the parents interested in having a park for their children didn't live there, they had no right to say anything.
One father, Gil Anspacher, speaking through Berry-Quetel's interruptions, said he thought her concerns about vagrants and the sounds of screeching cars on the basketball court had been adequately addressed by the plans for the park. "Am I going to chase a vagrant out of here now? No," he said. "But if my kid is here, I am going to be involved."
But Berry-Quetel persisted, saying, "We're replacing one set of noise with the noise of children and parents."
Another neighbor, Susan LaPlace, expressed concern about who would maintain the lot. "God bless the children," she said, "but where is going to be the accountability? Can you guarantee you will keep it up? That's my only concern."
The Rotary Club of Charlotte Amalie has adopted the park, which is on government land and falls under the purview of Housing Parks and Recreation. And the Northside Sportfishing Club has donated $10,000 toward the refurbishment.
Workers at Bryan's Plants across the road from the park have agreed to lock the gate at night, according to Chandler.
Civic organization president Anne Durante-Arnold said the group is looking into surveillance equipment that could be installed to discourage the drug dealers who now work out of the park.
Sen. Lorraine M. Berry, who founded the original North Side organization, noted that although several other locations had been suggested for a playground, "This particular tot lot exists." She said, "People came to me and said 'We want something for our children now.'"
Sen. Berry had hoped to see the tot lot rehabilitation completed last month in time for Bastille Day activities. She convinced her colleagues in the Legislature some time ago to appropriate $40,000 to get the lot, which has been a children's playground since the late 1960s, back in shape. The money has yet to be released by Housing Parks and Recreation.
But Sen. Berry said she's not worried about colleagues raiding the $40,000 cache. "I made sure it couldn't be used for anything else," she said. "We are going forward."

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