W’burgers battle burgers: Neighborhood embroiled in Cooper Park grill fight

W’burgers battle burgers: Neighborhood embroiled in Cooper Park grill fight
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

A group of Williamsburg park-goers are searing mad about controversial grills installed in Cooper Park on Sunday — and they’re burning up over the fact the city may put nine more cooking stations in the green space.

More than 60 outdoor cooking opponents packed a Community Board 1 meeting on Monday, demanding the city remove eight new grills and six picnic tables from the northeast corner of the Maspeth Avenue park and halt a pilot program that could bring additional barbecue spots to the park in 2013.

Critics fear the grills will lead to pollution and violence.

“We’re scared — I’m sure there’s going to be barbecuing and possibly fighting,” said Williamsburg resident Belinda Yee, who claims the neighborhood is already bracing for peak grilling season. “On Memorial Day, they’re going to barbecue all day and all night, there’s going to be a lot more noise, smoke, and liquor, and we’re worried about the aftermath.”

Parks Department officials and the staff of Councilwoman Diana Reyna (D–Williamsburg) — who sponsored the barbecue stations as the first phase of an extensive $2.6-million renovation plan — refused to budge on the outdoor cooking facility, but promised police would beef up patrols in the park this summer.

Pro-barbecuing Williamsburgers, including many residents of a nearby public housing development that lobbied for grills at community meetings last year, celebrated their arrival.

“This is something we were looking forward to for a long time, and the fact that it’s now permitted in Cooper Park, it’s fantastic,” she said. “It’s not just for Cooper Park Houses residents, it’s for our neighbors as well.”

But Williamsburg homeowners who live near the park say they don’t plan on cooking, and instead grilled the grills that they believe will char a leafy corner of the green space.

“[The city] is still not giving us clear answers about how it is going to clean up trash after the weekend,” said Williamsburg resident Sondra Braeutigam. “We’re already in an incredibly industrial area so air quality is already an issue and this is just going to add more stuff to the air.”

Over the next year, workers will renovate the park’s tennis, handball, and basketball courts, and construct a skate park, a dog run, and volleyball courts. If the Parks Department deems the grills successful — and popular among residents — the city plans to install another nine cooking spots.

Opponents say they want their voices heard in future park planning sessions, but claim the existing grills are a safety risk that must be addressed immediately.

“This is just the one truly green part of a very small park where people can have a picnic, take a walk, and ride scooters,” said Williamsburg neighbor Melissa Darling. “When you put a bunch of open flames and hot coals in that area, you make it a dangerous place for us.”