Keane Square benches benched

Rest easy if you’re among those that don’t want to see benches put back in Keane Square Park.

Because you won’t be able to rest on one if you do.

After removing them for repairs – and to the relief of locals tired of seeing homeless and undesireables squatting on them, the city Department of Parks and Recreation said it has “no immediate plans” to bring them back to the bustling Pelham Bay neighborhood.

The benches sat for decades at the triangular patch of greenery under the No .6 elevated subway tracks at Westchester, Buhre and Hobart avenues, doubling as a midday hangout for senior citizens and a nighttime crime hub for vagrants and bums.

The benches disappeared in January, uprooted by what the Parks Department called at the time temporary maintenance. But local shopowners who called for the benches being permantly benched look to be getting their wish.

“The consensus is that we do not find them attractive,” said Pelham Bay Merchants Association president Irene Guanill, who recently polled over 80 local businesses on the prospect of the benches returning.

But Pelham Bay’s seniors want their beloved seats back, missing sitting in the mid-day sun to chat with old friends under the shadow of the Keane Square War Memorial.

“They were good for us, a place to gather and relax. A lot of us miss that park,” said Louis Porco, 77, who has lived a block away for over 50 years.

He said dozens of seniors filled up the benches during lunch hours on sunny days.

At night, however, local residents and merchants said the benches were used by drug-an-alcohol-abusing vagrants.

“There was blood all over the place, people stabbing at each other, fighting almost every night,” said Matt Robinson, whose home has overlooked the benches for the 35 years. Many Pelham Bay seniors have trouble walking long distances from their homes, said Porco, and used the Keane Square benches as a respite for aching joints, as well as a central hangout to convene with old friends over a coffee or frankfurter.

“The elderly who served our country are entitled to a place to sit,” said Porco, a Navy veteran who has arthritic knees, uses a cane to get around, and said he now struggles to find a nice place within walking distance to sit outside.

Community leaders convinced the Parks Department to redesign the benches in 2009, turning them to face outward in an attempt at crime prevention. The Parks Department also added divider bars to each bench to discourage sleeping, but the crime problems remained, A 59-year-old was arrested last July in the park on charges of criminal possession of a controlled substance, according to a police report.

Since the removal of the benches, the area has been relatively clear of problems, said Community Board 10 Chairman John Marano, who has heard complaints both for and against the benches. He leans to keeping the park bench-free.

“I’d rather have the bad element out,” he said. “Some people don’t know how to appreciate things and ruin it for everyone else.”

But local Joseph Wall opined “the park looks lonely without the benches.”

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