Group starts petition to turn Fort Greene dust bowl into grass-covered soccer field

A large patch of dirt in Fort Greene Park is becoming a soccer battlefield.

Some soccer players in Fort Greene Park are demanding that the city install a permanent soccer field on a grassless patch of dirt near the corner of Washington and Dekalb avenues that they claim got that way because of overuse by a bunch of soccer players who illegally use the area for pick-up games every Sunday.

“I want the park to be as great as it can be for everyone to use,” said Mitchell Ratchik, who started the petition a few weeks ago under the name “Fort Greener Park” that demands the dusty area to be turned into a real place to play.

Ratchik and other neighborhood activists claim that the Sunday morning pick-up soccer games are responsible for turning what was once grass into dirt. They say the soccer players defy park regulations by playing without a permit, and that the city has failed to stop the games.

But Sunday morning soccer players fear that if the city puts in a traditional field, it could mean fees, sign-ups, and other red tape that would make it difficult for them to play.

“If they just put the field in and allow everything else to remain the same, then that’s fine,” said Shawn Reid, a Clinton Hill resident who has been playing soccer in Fort Green Park for about seven years. “But when facilities get improved, groups from all over the place see it as a resource and want to play there.”

The Parks Department has fenced-off the grassless area several times in an attempt to grow new grass in the past, but today the fences are mostly down.

Ratchick suggested the city install an artificial turf field — something that residents say won’t happen because the greenspace’s green is a landmark, and the fake grass would most likely be shot down by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which must approve any changes.

“The Parks Department and Landmarks would never agree to Fort Greener Park’s proposal,” said Abby Weissman, the head of the South Oxford Street Block Association.

Ratchik’s plan isn’t the only pro-soccer field proposal making the rounds today.

Tom Wentworth, a neighborhood soccer fan, is trying to build a field in nearby Commodore Barry Park, a park he claims is underused, in disrepair, and in need of a soccer field. That park is home to a large concrete surface that Wentworth says would provide a good base for an artificial turf soccer field.

“[Fort] Greene is good,” Wentworth said, “but digging up the oval, pouring a concrete slab, enclosing the field with tall fencing, and finally requiring permits to play is not a vision many people share.”

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

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