NYPD officer Sean McDonald moved to Astoria as a child from his native Ireland. While still a rookie, McDonald, who was assigned to the 44th Precinct in Queens, was killed in 1994 in the line of duty. By the following year, Astoria residents along with city officials dedicated a park in his honor, named affectionately, Sean’s Place.
Now 17 years later, the Astoria park that bears McDonald’s name, located on 38th Street between 31st Avenue and Broadway, is facing a major trash and after-hours problem. The park’s gates used to be locked at night by a resident volunteer but aren’t any longer. Now late-night drinking and other activities inside the park yield glass bottles, discarded drug items, piles of vomit, spots of urine and used condoms.
“This problem is related to the fact that the park gates remain open 24/7 and the cleaning crews don’t get there until mid- or late morning,” said Gabe Gross, a concerned community activist who started a Facebook group named “Friends of Sean’s Place,” to help garner communityinterest in its plight. Gross also posted a video to YouTube last June of the garbage he found while at the park on a typical morning.
“I did see a couple of condoms the other day. I wasn’t aware this was going on,” said Chris Giambrone, an Astoria grandmother who was visiting the park with her grandson last week.
“Once I saw a homeless woman sleeping on a bench,” she added, saying she really likes this park because it’s within walking distance from her home and is very diverse.
Participants from the Friends of Sean’s Place group organized a community event last July called “Saturday in the Park,” wherein volunteers painted benches and cleaned the park. The city Parks Department supplied the cleaning materials.
“What we found during the cleanup was shameful: a used condom just below a children’s playing apparatus, beer bottles, drug items — things that do not belong in a park,” said Costa Constantinides, Councilman Jim Gennaro’s (D-Fresh Meadows) deputy chief of staff and Astoria native, who helped clean the park.
According to Constantinides, Parks is working with members of Friends of Sean’s Place but the department’s resources are strained.
“We need more public and private partnerships — or more funds to help bridge the gap,” he added.
Laura Kruszewski has lived across the street from the park since 2006 and knows firsthand of the late-night raucousness.
“My bedroom is practically on the street; if I have the window open, I’d hear [noise] until 2 or 3 in the morning,” Kruszewski said, mentioning the nighttime noise got particularly bad starting last spring. In addition to people who frequent the park to drink and have sex, others are also playing basketball very late at night.
“It sounds like they’re playing in my room,” she added.
Kruszewski made a formal complaint to 311 on July 23 regarding the noise and use of Sean’s Place after hours. She received an automated response from nyc.gov on Aug. 6, telling her that the unsecured facility service request she filed was closed.
The email stated that “no action was taken because the agency determined the condition reported was within acceptable parameters for park and city use.”
Kruszewski was then instructed to contact the police if after-hours activity was unlawful or created a public disturbance in the future — not 311.
“It’s such a waste; it’s a great space,” said Kruszewski of Sean’s Place, noting the lack of a person willing to lock the park’s gate at night.
“If it means it would stop the insanity, I would do that — I’d volunteer.”