Heated Debate at a Public Hearing on Long Island University Athletic Field Expansion

Long Island University has proposed an athletic field expansion that will close parts of Willoughby Street and Ashland Place. (Photo by Antonia Massa)
Long Island University has proposed an athletic field expansion that will close parts of Willoughby Street and Ashland Place. (Photo by Antonia Massa)

Tempers flared at a public hearing held by Community Board 2 on July 23 to discuss  on  a proposed expansion of  athletic fields at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus.

The expansion proposed by LIU would provide the school’s National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)  Division 1 teams with athletic fields on par with NCAA regulations, including a baseball field with stadium seating. Currently five different LIU teams share the campus’s single cramped field, which can be reconfigured to accommodate a variety of sports. If the proposal is implemented, portions of the surrounding sidewalks would close, including Willoughby Street between Fleet Place and Ashland Place and Ashland Place between Willoughby Street and DeKalb Avenue.

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Two LIU representatives — Ken Fisher, of the Cozen O’Connor law firm, and Bill Kenworthey, of Cooper, Robertson & Partners, an architecture and urban design firm— led off the meeting with a presentation on how the university’s proposed changes would influence the community. Fisher and Kenworthey emphasized that the parking spaces on Ashland Place that LIU would appropriate for the expansion (the majority of which were illegal to begin with, according to their presentation) would not be eliminated altogether. Eighteen parking spaces would be relocated from Ashland Place to DeKalb Avenue, and five additional parking spaces would be added to Fleet Plaza.

Fisher and Kenworthey emphasized that the university would enhance the  area surrounding the athletic fields with new benches, lights, planters and rotating art installations. “These changes would create a better atmosphere along the street for the whole community,” said Kenworthey.

Community Board 2 and community members listen to a presentation on LIU's proposed expansion. (Photo by Antonia Massa)
Community Board 2 and community members listen to a presentation on LIU’s proposed expansion. (Photo by Antonia Massa)

But many community members remained staunchly opposed to LIU’s proposed expansion.

In the question and answer  portion of the hearing, several locals stood up to voice concern about the impact the project would have on traffic flow in an already congested area and parking, particularly for buses of out-of-town teams. Residents of University Towers, an apartment complex that faces the campus across Willoughby Street, raised a variety of concerns about the project, including the frequent passage of emergency vehicles and oxygen tankers to and from the nearby Brooklyn Hospital, as well as increased noise and light pollution from games at the field.

“With all due respect, I don’t think you’re considering our quality of life,” said Catherine Del Buono, a resident of University Towers, addressing Fisher and Kenworthey. “I want the community board to consider: who is this benefitting?”

Del Buono told The Nabe that since moving into University Towers she and her husband have felt repeatedly brushed off by LIU when they complain about bright lights and hours of noise coming from the field. “Right now it’s just a field and it’s already a problem. Now they want to make a stadium right outside our window,” she said.

Martin White, another University Towers resident, said that he isn’t as concerned about noise and light pollution as he is about the project creating “a claustrophobic, jail-like feel” in the neighborhood. “As it is now, when you walk along Ashland you can look into the playing field, and you can also look up and see sky. When you walk along Ashland in the future, you’ll have effectively an eight-foot stone wall and see nothing.”

White also expressed dismay that the project would remove a handful of mature, roughly 40-year old trees along Willoughby St. “Honestly, I feel this is the most egregious land grab since the city of Brooklyn was annexed by the city of New York—and at least that was to the benefit of the city,” he said.

LIU’s legal and outreach representatives stayed in the lobby after the hearing in order to field more questions from community members. Some of these conversations were tense.

Fatima Kafele, Director of Community Outreach for LIU, stressed that the goal of the expansion is not to put residents at odds with LIU or its students. “The LIU students are a part of this community too,” said Kafele. “They come from all over the world to live in and enjoy Brooklyn, and this expansion is partly for them, as well as to improve the area for surrounding residents.” She added that, though many of the University Towers residents present at the meeting were against the expansion, she had heard from other Towers residents, including LIU faculty, who supported the proposed changes.

The approval process for this proposal isn’t over yet. For those who’d like to contribute additional opinions on the LIU field expansion, the borough president will hold an additional hearing, the details of which are forthcoming

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