West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 22 | Oct. 31 - Nov. 06, 2007

Hamlet has a dilemma at Seravalli Playground

By Phil F. Kropoth

It was 10 a.m. on a Friday, and Hamlet, the wire fox terrier, knew it. He let out a wide yawn that stretched his jaw past 90 degrees. With sleepy eyes, he watched cars pass on Eighth Ave., waiting outside a cafe for his owner Mark Leydorf.

With coffee and bagel in hand, Leydorf gripped Hamlet’s leash. They walked five more minutes before reaching Corporal John A. Seravalli Playground on Horatio St. in the West Village.

Leydorf pulled a tennis ball out of his coat. Hamlet sat with anticipation.

“Go get it!” yelled Leydorf. Hamlet took off like a rocket to retrieve the ball.

The situation this particular morning seemed ideal, except dogs aren’t exactly welcome at Seravalli. In fact, they’re not allowed.

Leydorf feels Hamlet is just one of many dogs that are being marginalized in the West Village. He says Hamlet’s socializing opportunities are limited because his dog does not have a convenient place to interact.

Leydorf and other dog activists have banded together as the Hudson St. Dog Run Committee to build a dog park in their neighborhood. The Run Committee sees Seravalli’s $2 million reconstruction as opportunity to create a place for dogs to play.

While the Run Committee has collected more than 400 signatures of residents in favor of a dog run, there are some who do not sympathize with Hamlet’s dilemma.

“This is not an appropriate place for a dog run,” said Cas Stachelberg, a West Village resident, citing the large number of homes located across from the park. “It’s not an appropriate thing to put in a small-scale residential neighborhood. I don’t think we can afford to give up play space at Seravalli.”

Stachelberg is also worried about the safety of his 3-year-old son.

“All the things dog trainers tell you not to do around dogs kids do,” he said.

Others fear that a dog park will bring noise and odor to Seravalli.

“Dog parks are noisy, and they can be smelly,” said Stephan Gerbier, owner of YoyaMart, a children’s store located across from the park.

Gerbier is a dog owner himself, but he was hoping to see the renovations benefit children.

“This park has been depriving children for the last three to four years,” he said. “[Seravalli] needs improvement for the children of this neighborhood.” The park has been partially closed since last year due to a water-shaft construction project.

As far as the children go, Gerbier’s opinions cannot be refuted. But as for the noise and odor issues, Susan Lietz of the Run Committee claims her organization is aiming high to create a dog run that will solve these problems.

“We’d like to have a really intelligent dog run,” said Lietz.

What Lietz is referring to is a dog park that uses decomposed granite for surfacing, a state-of-the-art drainage system and a free-form shape. These specifications will solve the noise and odor problems some residents are worried about, according to Garrett Rosso, manager of Tompkins Square’s First Run.

“Decomposed granite…doesn’t absorb water. It’s cheap, and you can put it on top of the drainage so it doesn’t turn into mud, and it’s paw friendly,” said Rosso, who has spoken at conferences around the country on the subject of building dog runs.

Feeling a bit frisky at what they perceive as their growing political clout, at one public meeting in Seravalli, Run Committee members showed up sporting buttons saying, “At the Tail of Every Leash Is a Voter.”

Regardless of the difference in opinion, the issue at Seravalli is not one of “us versus them,” both sides say. Rather, each side is willing to compromise — or at least work together to find solutions.

The Run Committee aims at sharing the space at Seravalli, only planning to occupy about 10 percent of the park.

However, Stachelberg and his group think there’s a better course of action: “We’re trying to find some property near the West Side Highway to be a suitable alternative for a dog run site,” he said.

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