Residents of the Village of Friendship Heights walked up to the microphone to warn of increased alcohol use, decreasing property values and even sexual activity if the proposal were to be approved.
“Honestly, you’d believe we’re building a casino in Friendship Heights,” resident Ryan Mooney said.
The proposal that had so many residents bothered at a Village Council meeting on Monday night wasn’t for a casino. It was for a kids playground and a gazebo in a mostly empty park at 4623 North Park Ave.
The Council on Monday voted to approve the project — known as Page Park — while ditching some initially proposed playground equipment and agreeing to do nothing with a nearby empty park at the Willoughby condominium.
This came after a second design for the parks last month, brought on by intense disapproval of an original design. Many complained that the original 16-foot-tall playground was too tall and too garish.
The plan approved Monday for Page Park, proposed by Mayor Melanie Rose White, will include a smaller playground for toddlers, some equipment designed for elementary school children and a gazebo or another shaded area to provide seating. No trees will be removed.
Out of the proposal is any equipment designed for teens or exercise equipment aimed at adults. White said the Village will also ask its designer to make sure the toddler and elementary school-aged equipment is separate enough so that toddlers aren’t “overrun by elementary school children.”
She called it a fair compromise. Some of the younger parents in the community wanted a new playground. Others in the 34-acre special taxing district either didn’t want the park, didn’t want the originally proposed design or didn’t agree with the Council’s process for approving it.
“Is that a compromise?” asked Afsaneh Mirfendereski, a 4620 North Park resident who started a petition against the park’s original design. “Maybe President Putin would call it a compromise.”
One resident in favor of the park argued there was no evidence to back up the claim of some that a playground would reduce property values at nearby condominiums.
“With all due respect, I’m also very familiar with real estate and investment,” a resident of the Willoughby later said. “Location, location, location. In order to get anyone in the residence, you have to get curb appeal. A tot park will take away from curb appeal.”
Then, cleaning the Page Park area of dog poop entered the conversation.
“You’ve attempted to justify the park with some strange things,” 4620 North Park resident Paula Durbin told the Council. “Converting the park to a playground will not get rid of dog poop.”
Durbin pointed to a recent New York Times story about Naples, Italy, where the government is testing a program to get the DNA of all city dogs. If the DNA matches tests from dog waste that doesn’t get picked up, that dog owner could be penalized.
“We should consider DNA testing and matching of dogs and dog poop,” Durbin said. “I’m suggesting the Council coordinate with other neighborhoods.”
Then, Durbin brought up another reason for her opposition to the new park design.
“Finally, sex in the park. People have sex in the park,” Durbin said. “Just get the gazebo in there and you’re really going to have sex in the park.”
Much of the testimony and Council debate incited laughs, jeers and groans from the roughly 50 residents in attendance.
Many scoffed when White said the Council didn’t know how much the new Page Park would cost. Some yelled “sit down,” at a parent testifying in favor of the park as he reached the three-minute time limit.
Councilmember John Mertens suggested a Village committee take a longer look at a design for Page Park. Councilmembers Alvan Morris and Leonard Grant wanted no part of that.
“This is ridiculous,” Morris said. “I’m going to call for the vote.”
Mooney — a parent who lives in the Willoughby — had the last word.
“I’m fine with either. Or both [playgrounds] would be fine. I just hope that we have one and we don’t continue to belabor the point until it gets whittled away to, I don’t know, we’re going to provide a ball or something to the kids,” Mooney told the Council. “I know the young families that can’t be here definitely are thankful that you’re considering it.”
Grant suggested a vote in a closed session, which only made opponents of the Council’s process more vocal.
The Council then took the vote in public and approved the smaller Page Park playground by a 5-1 count, with Meterns in opposition.
As residents began to leave, a woman took the microphone with one more important message.
“If many of you had come to Council meetings, you would have known about this before,” she exclaimed.