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Queens Chronicle

No clowning around for area residents

West Cunningham Park Civic faults Parks for Big Apple Circus complaints

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Posted: Thursday, April 12, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 12:56 pm, Thu Apr 19, 2012.

The West Cunningham Park Civic Association wants the Parks Department to take a bite out of the Big Apple Circus.

Some members of the group who live near the Fresh Meadows park like the circus, but are unhappy with the city agency for not keeping them informed on changes to it and for not addressing their quality of life issues.

In a letter to Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, civic First Vice President Elaine Drazin Young outlined the complaints. They ranged from extending the stay an extra 11 days to noise and attendees’ parking on neighborhood streets.

Young noted that the circus dates have doubled over the past few years and this year it will run four full weeks from May 22 to June 17. She said the annual event causes parking problems in the residential neighborhood and that people block driveways and fire hydrants and dump garbage on lawns and in the street.

Regarding the nonprofit circus itself, Young said the volume of the speakers inside the tent has been turned up “dramatically” and bothers residents.

“Our argument is with Parks, not the circus,” she said. “Have a dialogue with us, reach out to us and involve us.”

Lewandowski said Monday that she discussed the longer schedule at a meeting of Community Board 8’s Parks Committee and was expecting someone from the civic to be there, but Young said she was not informed. The commissioner indicated that the committee was very positive.

“It’s an extra 11 days this year and we recognize the community’s concerns,” Lewandowski said. “We will be meeting with the civic in May.”

In previous years, the Big Apple Circus was in Fresh Meadows for 10 to 17 days.

Lewandowski is trying to work out additional parking with signage in an upper park parking lot and will listen to the civic’s concerns to see if any can be resolved. The commissioner noted that there have never been any noise complaints regarding the circus, which has been coming to Queens for 25 years.

Young said she can hear the loudspeakers from her home, which is two blocks away.

Tom Larson, general manager of the Big Apple Circus, confirmed that CB 8 reacted positively to the extended run and said that management monitors sound levels from the tent “and there are no serious problems anywhere. And the circus is well over 200 feet away from the nearest house.”

Larson called the sound system “better, not louder” and that the circus always puts up signs instructing visitors to come into the park to leave their cars.

As a friendly gesture, he noted that every year the circus leaves 500 tickets in the mailboxes of adjacent homeowners “and they come to the show.”

The circus pays a fee to the city —$23,000 last year — to use the park and Cunningham is one of only two locations in New York City to host it. The other is Lincoln Center in the winter.

“We don’t want to antagonize anyone,” Larson said. “The benefits we bring to the Queens community are very positive.”

The circus’s Clown Care Unit visits area hospitals and its Circus for All provides free tickets to underprivileged children.

Marc Haken, president of Friends of Cunningham Park, said he doesn’t take the complaints of the Cunningham civic too seriously. “They have the same arguments for every event at the park— noise, garbage and parking,” Haken said. “They even objected to a farmers market, so we don’t have it.”

He called the circus a wonderful addition to the park that brings in money to the city.

Young worries that the longer run is just the beginning and that it could be extended even more in the future. The circus runs for 12 weeks at Lincoln Center and seven weeks in Boston.

“It’s a blessing and a curse for the park to be so close to us,” she added.

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