Twenty years of trash was finally removed from an inaccessible alley behind Sean’s Place park, named for a rookie police officer killed while on duty in 1994.
The Department of Transportation replaced a fence with a gate in the back of the Astoria park at 38th Street between 31st Avenue and Broadway last week. Sounds like a small change, but this little action now allows cleanup crews to get to an area neglected for years.
“It became a place to get rid of junk, but it isn’t anymore,”Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said.
Next to the entrance to the alley, in a parking lot that 10 years ago was almost expanded to take over the green space, is a painting on a doorway that is aptly labeled “Iglesia de muck,” the church of muck.
Last Friday Vallone’s office hauled out an old cooler, scraps of metal, debris and bottles upon bottles of Gatorade.
“That should have never occurred to begin with. If you look at the garbage back there it’s commercial waste,” said Costa Constantinides, a volunteer with Friend’s of Sean’s Place and a candidate for Vallone’s term-limited Council seat. “It’s not just beer bottles, it’s big sheets of metal. There’s no way for the trash to get there except to throw it off the roofs of the nearby buildings.”
The Sanitation Department collected the piles of “muck” after the volunteers finished their work.
Because of the junk, the alley posed a health hazard for children who play basketball just on the other side of the fence, Vallone said.
“We’re most worried that we’ll find living things, like rats,” he said. “But so far it’s just your run-of-the-mill, turn-of-the-century junk.”
Friends of Sean’s Place has been cleaning the park since the group’s inception this July by Astoria resident Gabe Gross. The crew desperately wanted to get to the 4-foot-deep space stretching the whole length of the basketball court.
With the construction of the gate the Friends group will be given a key allowing members access to the space.
The group would also like to see someone lock the gate each night, but Constantinides said “it’s complicated.” Years ago the man who helped save the park from becoming a parking lot locked the space each night.
“He had been doing it for a long time,” Constantinides said. “People knew who he was.”
Once he stopped locking the park, it became an issue of what authority does a non-Parks Department employee have to ask people to leave the public space.
Friends of Sean’s Place and the Parks Department are working together, but have not reached a solution.
During past cleanups volunteers have found used condoms, beer bottles and drug paraphernalia, which they attribute to the park being unlocked at night.
The improvement started in April when the community organization contacted Vallone. His office led by his legislative director, Jonathan Szott, started talks with the DOT and the Parks Department. Now nearly eight months later a solution has been reached.
“All the agencies worked together,” Vallone said, adding that coordinating with multiple government organizations often takes time.“But now we can get to the space without contacting everyone.”