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City will close gate at Hart Playground

Tensions between neighbors, day laborers and a mobile soup kitchen appear to be on the wane at Woodside’s Hart Playground, where the city has begun taking measures to gently discourage adults from using the playground area while leaving them use of the on-site restrooms.

The issue reached Community Board 2 in October 2009, when Chairman Joseph Conley told board members that the day laborers, who gather at the playground because it is next to the on-ramp to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, were using the restrooms to do their laundry and were in the playground area where adults are not allowed without children.

“We’re expecting there should be some improvement on that soon,” said Conley at a meeting Feb. 4.

The city Parks Department has agreed to close one of the gates at the playground, which also abuts a busy subway stop, and to put up new signs.

“At the request of the local precinct, some of the civic groups and the community, we all agreed we will close this gate,” said Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski, referring to the entrance by the subway station. “All the public has to come in on one location. ... It gives [better] control of playground.”

The new signs list the same parks regulations as before in Spanish and Chinese as well as English, Lewandowski said.

Other new signs can be found inside the men’s restroom, telling patrons the facilities are for public use and adults cannot sit or loiter inside.

“We’re trying to be as considerate as possible and let the men outside, if they’re unfortunate enough to not have found work yet, still use the bathroom,” Lewandowski said.

Sister Kathy Byrnes, who runs the St. John’s Bread and Life food truck that stops at the playground every Tuesday, said that after a few tense encounters with residents from neighboring apartment buildings in the fall, the only complaint she has received was about volunteer cars parking on a restricted curb that only the food truck has a permit to use.

“Officers from the precinct said they have to eventually do alternate parking,” she said. “Basically that’s pretty much what they do and we just go week to week. The immigrants are using the park properly, and they’re using the bathrooms properly.”

St. John’s Bread and Life currently serves around 250 people at the park each week. Byrne said the overall size of the day laborer population at the park has not changed since the recession, although more of them are hungry.

“It’s stable because they’re looking for jobs,” she said. “It was stable before we [first] went there five years ago.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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