Pit stop: BBQ holes at Cooper Park divide W’burg

Money talks! Gentrifying Williamsburg finally gets park renovation
Tom Callan

A spat over grilling in Williamsburg is pitting neighbor against neighbor.

The city’s plan to build a barbecue pit with 10 grills and several picnic tables in Cooper Park has sparked a controversy that has engulfed the small green space near Maspeth and Morgan avenues, leaving park regulars weighing whether the meat is worth the mess.

“The concern is that the park just cannot handle the added traffic and waste generated,” said Williamsburg resident and barbecue pit opponent Simon Braeutigam. “As it stands, the park is already drowning in refuse by the end of the weekends.”

A Boy Scout troupe and several volunteers planned to begin clearing the site in Cooper Park’s northeast corner to make room for North Brooklyn’s first sanctioned outdoor cooking area on Saturday — but the work was postponed amid the controversy.

The city only allows barbecuing in designated areas in its public parks, though residents have set up illegal makeshift grills in the open space for years.

More than 80 residents including many tenants at a public housing development one block from Cooper Park lobbied city officials last year to include a barbecue pit in the renovation plan — and the city acquiesced.

Supporters say the fire pits, one of the first amenities in an extensive $2.6 million park renovation plan, can’t come soon enough.

“We’re not allowed to barbecue on NYCHA’s property and this would give us a place to barbecue and enjoy the taste of grilled food during summer,” said Cooper Park Houses resident and Community Board 1 member Karen Leader. “We want it to be here in this park.”

But members of a community group fear the grillers will leave their garbage in one of the last undisturbed corners of the park — and may even scorch nearby trees.

“I’m concerned that the last remaining green space in the park might be lost to a larger picnic area,” said Cooper Park Neighborhood Association member Steve Garrelts.

Parks leaders are confident the pit would keep grillmasters in one place, making it easier for parks staff to manage and clean up after them.

“It’s a better way to supervise and enforce the area,” said Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey.

But some food critics have threatened to demonstrate at the site against the grill stations and send a message to the city.

Cooper Park Houses activist Julia Foster wishes her neighbors would give the protests a rest and let them have their fun.

“It makes me annoyed to deny us this space,” said Foster. “This is something we’ve wanted in Cooper for a while, just a little area for us to cook.”