Graffiti is an issue for all neighborhoods in the Bronx, but for the business people of Westchester Square, there is one block that they can’t bring under control.
Concerned merchants and residents have repeatedly painted and cleaned all sides of buildings on the block bordered by Westchester Square, Benson Street, Frisby Avenue and Lane Avenue.
Yet each time they apply a new coat of paint, vandals return the next day. People who care about the appearance of Westchester Square are starting to feel like they’re running out of options.
The best hope for the beautification of the Square, many feel, is a collective effort between property owners, merchants, and residents.
“The thing that’s going to get this together is the community coming together saying ‘we need to clean this up,” said Lou Rocco, who lives near the Square.
Rocco has long been passionate about the appearance of his neighborhood, and he feels the graffiti-laden block in its main commerce area should be the primary target area.
According to John Bonizio of the Westchester Square Merchants Association, the ongoing plan was simply to paint over graffiti, but the speed at which the graffiti re-appears made it an exercise in futility.
“I got out there and painted it myself twice with Sandi Lusk (president of Westchester Square-Zerega Improvement Organization),” Bonizio said.
Senator Jeff Klein has been vigilant about the graffiti issue. His office has run a Graffiti Removal Program since 2005 that encourages residents to report any graffiti that they want removed.
“It is completely unacceptable that vandals continue to ruin our neighborhoods with graffiti, especially in the Westchester Square area,” Klein said.“I encourage residents to continue to use my Graffiti Removal Program as a resource to remove these eyesores so we can keep our neighborhoods beautiful.”
The Graffiti Removal Program was responsible for 21 graffiti cleanups in 2010. Ultimately property owners are responsible for maintaining their properties and cleaning up graffiti.
Joe Cassata has owned the building at 25 Westchester Square for 30 years. He says graffiti has been an issue for as long as he’s been involved in the area. He regularly has marred areas cleaned, but doesn’t feel like it’s doing much good.
“I hire people to do the side spots where there’s easy access,” Cassata said. “I’ve been doing it for years and it keeps coming back.”
Cassata’s building has also been tagged on its façade, over two stories off the ground. He said the area is too difficult for him to get to, and even if he did hire someone to clean it, he doesn’t think it would stay that way for very long.
“For me to clean up the front is a dangerous thing. I would need a special forklift,” he said. “And I’m sure if I do it, they would keep on coming.”
There may be hope in sight, however. Bonizio, who is working on Westchester Square’s BID proposal, said the organization would have money in its budget for graffiti cleanup and removal should the BID be created.