By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Neighbors of the 12th Avenue Playground said excessive noise and profanity from teenagers and adults playing basketball there is making them miserable and ruining the area.
Eight neighbors asked the City Council last night to crack down on noise and profanity in the park, and to consider turning the newly renovated basketball court there into a community garden or a paved area for children to ride bikes.
Irene MacAvoy, 78, who lives on 11th Avenue, said she has lived next door to the playground for 40 years, but “never had a summer as bad as this one.”
“I’ve been called bad names and I can’t read or sleep in the day or night,” MacAvoy said. “Once I hear the ball start bouncing, I know that soon there will be 20 or 30 people out there. I pay my taxes and I’d like some peace and quiet.”
Ursula Perry, a lawyer who spoke for the group last night, said police have ignored their pleas for help and refused to enforce city ordinances against loud noise and profanity.
“There are racial slurs, sexual innuendo and gang talk,” Perry told councilors. “We have gone to police and they won’t stop it, so now we are asking you for help.”
Several others said they won’t allow their children or grandchildren play in the park because of the atmosphere created by teenagers and adults yelling and swearing on the basketball court.
But another neighbor who spoke last night said problems at the playground aren’t that bad. The man, who did not identify himself, said his children use the basketball court regularly and would hate to see it eliminated.
“Sometimes it’s loud and sometimes I hear profanity,” he said of activity on the court. “But if I ask them to quiet down, nine times out of 10 they listen to me. I don’t see a big problem.”
Vincent Ouellette, who oversees the city’s Recreation Department and parks, also downplayed the problems.
“These people have some valid concerns, but there are some families who use the park who don’t have any problems,” said Ouellette, adding he learned only recently of the extent of neighborhood concerns. “I’d like a little time to try to resolve these problems and try to get more of a police presence over there.”
Ouellette said the city recently made repairs to the basketball court that have dramatically increased its popularity. He also said the park’s proximity to homes and its location in the middle of the densely-populated Acre neighborhood have contributed to problems.
“This park is unique in that it’s right in the middle of the neighborhood and there are lots of kids in the area,” Ouellette said. “We fixed it up and more people started using it than we were prepared to deal with.”
Ouellette said he recently spoke to police about enforcing the park’s curfew, which prohibits its use 30 minutes after the sun goes down. He also said he plans to talk to officials at two schools in the area to see if they will open their gyms for kids who want to play basketball.
Several councilors said they grew up playing basketball in the 12th Avenue Playground and would oppose any attempt to eliminate the court.
“I played basketball there 50 years ago and we played until dark and we were noisy,” Councilor Michael Hart said. “But if kids don’t have an outlet like this, especially kids that don’t have a lot of money, they will be doing activities that are much worse. ...The kids who are using this court are the ones that need it most.”
Councilor John Michitson said he also played basketball at the park when he was a teenager.
“It would be a shame and a mistake to tear it down,” Michitson said of the court. “But we need to do something about the hard-core abusers who are swearing and yelling.”
Only Councilor William Ryan joined the neighbors in calling for the basketball court to be razed. Ryan said the Acre has become overrun with absentee landlords renting to people who don’t care about the neighborhood.
“I predict next summer will be worse for these people,” Ryan said of neighbors complaining about the basketball court. “I think basketball has to go and we need to gear this park for small children. We are putting this neighborhood at risk because these people will move and then we’ll get more absentee landlords. Basketball is always a problem when it’s not supervised.”
Ouellette said he would talk to police Chief Alan DeNaro and Mayor James Fiorentini about how to solve some of the problems at the park and report back to the council at its Oct. 22 meeting.
“These complaints are from long-term residents, so something must have changed over there,” Ouellette said. “I’ll go down there myself and try to get it straightened out.”