Plans change for Morris Park

Residents say the park should remain passive

A rendering of the completed park renovations by CME Associates.
×
A rendering of the completed park renovations by CME Associates.

New renderings for Dr. David Morris Park show the latest plans for the passive park on the corner of Broadway and East 47th Street. The park has a history of controversy surrounding developer’s plans to overhaul the small green space.

Uptown residents were outraged in December of 2018 when the city council approved a temporary-use agreement with the L Group, the developer of BayOne at the former site of Resnick’s hardware store, that allowed it to remove five trees to erect scaffolding during construction.

Construction at the site was completed without any trees removed. But the park will still be renovated by the developer as part of its open space requirement, which could spell the removal of some trees.

The first renderings of the park renovations in 2019 sparked outrage among residents. A jungle gym and multi-tiered water feature shifted the park from passive to active.

Now it will remain passive, with no playground equipment but instead a small plaza-like area with a sprinkler-like fountain. The proposed fencing that had a “jail-effect” has been changed.

The renovated park, which will be wheelchair accessible, will feature tables, some with checkerboards, chairs, and sitting areas. And while the rendering shows a pergola, it will not be included in the final construction of the park.

Suggestions incorporated

Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa, whose ward the park is in, has been involved in the upgrades. La Pelusa confirmed that there were no trees removed during the construction of BayOne, adding that there may be some trees removed during the renovations.

In response to the planned changes to the park, neighborhood residents formed the Morris Park Neighborhood Association in 2019 to protect the trees and the park, of which La Pelusa is a member. At the initial meeting between the association and the city, renderings of the proposed changes were displayed to residents who were not pleased with what they saw.

“People there were not happy with some of the things that were going on with the design, that was only really a rendering,” La Pelusa said. “I promised we would make the changes that the people weren’t happy with.”

While another community meeting on the park renovations was cancelled due to COVID-19, input from the community was implemented into the renovations. La Pelusa sat down with City Engineer Rob Russo about 18 months ago and incorporated changes into the design based off residents suggestions.

The city has to authorize removal of trees. The park was built with Green Acres funding and required state approval to remove the trees as well.

‘What the people want’

Despite the shift in plans, some residents are still unhappy.

“Some of the people from the association didn’t want any trees to be removed, but there were a few that were deemed dead,” La Pelusa said. “The new plan is keeping some of the old trees. And it’s going to have a lot of new landscaping, plants, shrubs, flowers and trees.”

While construction fencing goes up and the renovations begin, some trees may be removed, but it will be done right. La Pelusa said that Mayor James Davis told him a few weeks ago that the city was hiring an arborist to ensure that it is. If a tree is dead, it will be removed, but some existing trees will stay.

La Pelusa emphasized that residents suggestions were incorporated in the changes made to the design of the park renovations. Additionally, the renovations will make the park more accessible.

“There’s a ramp for handicap accessibility,” La Pelusa said. “There are more benches. There’s a sprinkler for children, but it’s one of those that comes from the ground. So if you want to have an event, you can walk over it without it being a tripping hazard.”

La Pelusa said that pavers, which have been uneven for years, will be redone. He regularly holds events at the park, including the Fall Festival, and had overseen past park renovations through his civic association.

“The park represents what the people want,” La Pelusa said. “It’s going to be a plus for the neighborhood because this park really needed repairs, and it was to the point where you couldn’t put a band aid on it.”

Honoring Dr. David Morris

The renovations aim to make the park deserving of the Dr. David Morris. A former used car lot, the park opened in 1980, one year after Morris retired, to celebrate his 52 years of service and his accomplishments, especially as a member and president of the Bayonne chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Born in Florida, Morris attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania before finishing his medical studies at the University of Vermont. He interned in St. Louis and moved to Bayonne in 1926.

That year, he began his medical practice in Bayonne. During the 1930s, Morris taught health classes to residents and helped establish the Bayonne Youth Center.

Morris has been credited with working to desegregate Bayonne theaters, restaurants, and other places of business, and was instrumental in helping members of the African American community complete their educations and find jobs. He sometimes gave his own money to help others.

During the early days of the Bayonne Boys Club, Morris often paid the rent on the building. Morris was also president of the medical staff at Bayonne Medical Center.

To raise awareness of his work in the community, La Pelusa has held events promoting Morris and the park. When the renovations finish, such events will continue to be held in the refurbished green space on Broadway.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.