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Parents win the battle of Brooklyn in Washington Park

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The short, but intense, battle for control of an athletic field in Park Slope was over faster than Gen. George Washington’s defeated troops could retreat across the same hallowed ground during the Revolutionary War.

Parents, sports league organizers and the Parks Department reached a tentative compromise on Tuesday night that will allow more free play on the turf once known as J.J. Byrne Park.

Under the deal, the new artificial grass playing field will be open to anyone on Friday evenings and for big chunks of time on Saturday and Sunday afternoons — instead of just the four hours per weekend in which organized sports teams would have been kept off pitch under the previous plans that caused such an uproar in these pages last week.

“I think we got something,” said Judy Schneier, a Slope mom, who was relieved that the city reduced the amount of time that permit-holding baseball and softball leagues would have exclusive use of the playing field along Fourth Avenue between Third and Fourth streets. “The Parks Department gave something, but we would have liked a little more after school time.”

The concession from the city was highly unusual. The new turf field opened last month in what is now known as Washington Park is the only active sports grounds in Brooklyn that is reserving any prime time for non-team use, according to Parks Department officials at the meeting in the Old Stone House inside the park.

Parks Department officials were initially resistant to divvy up a greater allowance for casual use because there’s a high demand from school, youth and adult sports leagues for playing time on a limited number of athletic fields.

“It’s only a small percentage of our acreage that’s devoted to organized sports,” said Julius Spiegel, the longtime commissioner of Brooklyn’s parks.

The talks got off to a contentious beginning with parents asserting their demand for a greater share of time on the field that until earlier this year, was a much-hated blacktop lot.

The tension ebbed as it became apparent that the Parks Department would be flexible on the hours available for community usage.

A number of volunteers from youth leagues also attended, hoping to preserve an adequate slice of the pie for themselves and issuing a warning to parents who expect harmony during the off-hours when uniformed squads don’t have the right of way.

“It’s the law of the jungle with un-permitted fields,” said David Nisbett, who directs the local 78th Precinct Youth Sports Council, which hopes to use the field for baseball.

Nisbett and others said that parents with young children might be upset to have to contend with teenagers or adults dominating the field with their own pickup games during the community access time.

“It’s going to get mobbed and, if you don’t have a permit, there’s nothing we can do about it,” Spiegel said.

Such a problem raged for decades in Fort Greene Park where informal soccer games distressed parents to see balls whizzing near their tykes on the playground.

Updated 5:58 pm, June 11, 2009
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