Co-op Wars: Do You Dare Walk on the Grass?

It all began in the spring of 2007 when a group of new arrivals made a concerted push to loosen the rules in the garden, a lush swath of greenery with pathways, landscaping and a circle with benches at its center. A proposal to lift the grass-walking ban was taken to the Hawthorne Court Council, a body of representatives from each of the 14 buildings that surround the garden, for a vote.

Arguments against opening up the lawn ranged from liability concerns to declarations that the grass was too delicate to withstand people. “That was probably a red herring from the beginning,” said Debby Silverfine, 63, the secretary of the Hawthorne Court Council, who moved to the co-op in 1986. “It was more about people living in a noisy city and wanting a quiet respite.”


Debby Silverfine, 63, the secretary of the Hawthorne Court Council, walks in the co-op garden with Arthur Suchiya, 67.

Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times

Those in favor of changing the rules maintained that the lawn would be fine and that children were more prone to injury on the paved pathways.

The measure did not pass.

That year, Adam Koplan and Nicole Citron, who were expecting their first child, bought a three-bedroom in the Hawthorne Court with the idea that they would soon be having picnics in the garden. “Real estate agents were kind of making promises that no matter what the stated policy was of the building at that moment, by the time we had our kid, for sure, they’d be able to play in the garden,” said Mr. Koplan, 43, the artistic director for the Flying Carpet Theater Company, who is now planning to move with his family to Atlanta for unrelated reasons.

But when their elder daughter, Nina, was born the following spring, the rules were still firmly in place. Increasingly, the idea of keeping their child off the grass in their own backyard seemed absurd. Having been picked up each time she wandered off the paved walkways inside the co-op garden, Nina, who is now 8, developed an aversion to grass. “For the first couple of years, she would look at me for clearance to make sure it was O.K.,” said Mr. Koplan, describing the quizzical look she would give her parents when she came across a patch of grass outside the co-op. “It was like she internalized the struggle.”

As the under-5-year-old set at the Hawthorne Court increased in number, a committee was formed to “review and advise on lawn access.” In 2009, a survey of residents was conducted and a proposal was carefully drafted to institute a trial period during the summer of 2010 in which residents could “gently use the lawn” on Thursday and Friday evenings. Even that move was defeated. Grass protectionists argued that limited lawn access for special events like a community barbecue and Easter egg hunt was good enough.

“At that point there was a real souring amongst the young family types,” Mr. Koplan said. “The point of view was, if they’re not going to be reasonable and negotiate at all, to what extent do we even need to listen to this.”


Diana Delgrosso, 82, has lived at the Greystones since 1981. The co-op lifted its grass-walking ban in 2012.

Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times

But given human nature, barbecues, which were sanctioned in paved areas behind apartment houses, began to spill out onto the grass. Children were occasionally spotted darting across the lawn.

“I rolled out a yoga mat on the grass right next to the sidewalk,” said Ms. Citron, 43, who works in pharmaceutical market research. An outraged older resident sent an email to the co-op president. “The upside to that was I was referenced in the letter as ‘some teenager,’ ” she said.

The situation “got a bit acrimonious,” said Meg Fry, 48, who moved to the Hawthorne Court in 2005 with her husband, Mike Novak, and 1-year-old son, David, now 12. “I think there was also sort of an air of entitlement by some of the younger families at times,” she said, not excluding herself. “These apartments were getting more and more expensive, and sometimes when you spend that much on an apartment, when you move in, you want everything your way.”

It didn’t help that nearby garden co-ops including the Linden Court, the Laburnum Court and the Greystones were doing away with similar rules of their own.

Diana Delgrosso, who has lived at the Greystones since 1981 and is a self-described “old-timer” at age 82, was among the contingent opposed to greater lawn access. “Our philosophy is completely different from the new young people moving in, and it sometimes causes a little rift,” she said, noting that noise levels and trash accumulation were among her concerns.


A sign in the garden at Greystones reinforces that ball playing is not allowed.

Yeong-Ung Yang for The New York Times

But since the Greystones opened up its lawn in 2012, she has come around to the idea. “I’m O.K. with it so long as they’re civilized,” she said, noting that the noise level sometimes gets out of hand, especially when children’s birthday parties are held on the lawn. “When they’re screaming, I yell out of the window, ‘Stop screaming!’ ” she added with a laugh.

Friction is a given in co-op living, where residents buy shares in a corporation for a proprietary lease in the building and expect to have a certain amount of say in how it is run. “Anytime you have shared space or common areas, there is the potential for proverbial sparks to fly,” said Barry Weidenbaum, a New York real estate lawyer. “For many years, co-op and condo smoking policies were the hot topic.”

Enforcement of house rules can also be tricky.

For example, at the Chateau, a nearby 12-building garden co-op with yard rules that date to the early 1920s, a grass-walking ban is still in effect, according to Larry Papa, a 21-year resident and a co-op representative. “If I’m around and see someone on the lawn, children running around or whatever, I remind them, ‘Hey guys, you’re not supposed to be on the lawn.’ ”

After years of debate at the Hawthorne Court, so many people were flagrantly stepping on the grass that many board members felt enforcement of a ban had become futile. Last spring, “in an effort to promote harmonious living,” said Mary Reddy, the president of the Hawthorne Court Council, a group of residents was rounded up to “come up with some rules that would be agreeable to all.” Ball playing, Frisbee throwing and bike riding are still not permitted, nor are pets allowed. But residents are welcome to run, walk or socialize on the grass as long as they are “respectful, courteous and neighborly,” according to the new rules, which were passed by a majority vote.

“There were some that were unhappy with it,” Ms. Reddy said, “but I think they’ve kind of fallen in and gotten to like it.”

Last month, on a warm spring evening, Nina Koplan, the little girl who once had an aversion to grass, glanced out the window and saw one of her friends out on the lawn. Though she still asked permission from her parent to run out and play, this time she didn’t hesitate to run right across the grass.

Continue reading the main story

Source link

About admin

Check Also

Savvy First-Time Buyer Does Her Homework

About three years ago, Ms. Lewis read about the Housing Development Fund Corporation (H.D.F.C.), a ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *