Judges end ‘Park’ perk (well, sort of!)

Judges end ‘Park’ perk (well, sort of!)
The Brooklyn Paper / Kristen Joy Watts

State Supreme Court judges have agreed to no longer park their cars on a walkway in Columbus Park — yet hours later, went ahead and seized an entirely different part of the park for their automobiles.

The land grab — a fenced-off area that now bars pedestrians from walking through the northern part of the plaza in front of Borough Hall and the courthouse — is only temporary, city officials have said. Over the next two months, workers will install an entrance into the judge’s actual parking lot — itself part of Columbus Park — so that the jurists can directly access their lot from Joralemon Street instead of driving on the bluestone-tiled pathway and using it as an overflow lot.

At that point, the judges will give back the northern part of the plaza. But locals are still angry.

“We’re upset [because] it’s the same old problem of the Parks Department giving into the demands by the judges for entitled parking in what is park space,” said Judy Stanton, executive director of the Brooklyn Heights Association. “Let us remember that the pedestrian walkway [by Borough Hall] was also supposed to be temporary.”

The walkway in the southern part of the park that the judges have agreed to abandon was never meant to be a parking lot. It is, in fact, a pedestrian passageway into Columbus Park from Joralemon Street. But judges, citing security concerns, seized the fenced-off space for their cars.

Reclaiming the space is a victory for the community, park advocates said. And even acting Administrative Judge Abe Gerges, who fought to maintain the driveway-like space for his court employees, called the compromise satisfactory.

“I’m pleased that we were able to work out our differences with the city and Parks Department and give back to the community some parkland, and yet the judges will be secure as well,” Gerges told The Brooklyn Paper.

Meanwhile, his judges and other court workers have taken over a fenced-off area at the northern end of Columbus Park. Two security guards patrol the area all day, preventing pedestrians from walking through the area — even though pedestrians are allowed to walk on Washington Street one block away, a stretch of pavement that was commandeered by federal judges several years ago.

Gerges said his temporary parking lot is closed to pedestrians because unsuspecting drivers could hit them by accident.

“Secondly, there are very important security issues and we need to make sure that no one can just go in there and do something improperly,” he said.

Community Board 2 District Manger Rob Perris said he was upset that the judges were not allowing pedestrian access to the area, but still called the compromise over the passageway a “victory.”

Then again, that win became increasingly inevitable after a Daily News investigation last spring poked a huge hole in Gerges’s argument that the passageway was needed for judicial security. The report revealed that many of the parked cars also belonged to court secretaries and staffers.

This “No parking in the park” battle should never have even been fought. In 2004, when the city was planning a new courthouse at 330 Jay St., then-Administrative Judge Michael Pesce told community leaders that his judges would park in a new, secure lot inside that building. But that never happened, so judges continued to park in Columbus Park.

And that drew the ire of Downtown and nearby Brooklyn Heights residents, who say their neighborhoods are “under-parked” and that an earlier renovation of Columbus Park should have rendered it car free once and for all.

“Any parkland given up for non-park uses robs the public of a precious resource,” said longtime Brooklyn Heights resident and park advocate Judi Francis. “That any parkland is given up to parking, particularly for elected officials, is truly unfair.”

…though eventually, they will no longer park on walkways in Columbus Park at all.