Friday, 28 January 2011 00:00
The North Hempstead Housing Authority wants to close a 61-year old apartment facility on East Shore Road in Great Neck. At least some of those residents would be moved to a replacement complex. In a town of 69 square miles, apparently the only place to put the new apartments is in the back of the authority’s Harbor Homes development, where Harbor Road meets Port Washington Boulevard. Alvan Petrus Park is an acre and a half of space off busy roads, named years ago for the late director of the respected Littig House community center. The park is a place where young people play basketball, rest and recreate, in a neighborhood bordering an industrial area that couldn’t even get full sidewalks until a decade ago.
This is not an act of aggression or punishment toward the residents of Harbor Road. It’s a real estate transaction, involving Important People one expects to find when parcels large enough to be measured in acres are in play north of the LIE. According to Nassau County, the land under the housing development on East Shore Road is worth just over $20 million, roughly 14 times the value of the land under Harbor Homes. That’s where this all begins, but it shouldn’t be where it ends.
Though this project has been in the works for some time (zoning changes allowing for increased height and density of buildings on the site were pushed through last summer), details about what exactly is planned have, up to this week, been kept tight and secure, on a need to know basis. Days before public hearings are to begin miles away in Town Hall, those outside the circle are in the dark about critical details, such as plans for water and sewage or even which road or roads will be used for access.
However, one development proposal or one more opaque local government isn’t what makes this situation significant to people around the county. Mr. Matthew Cuomo, chairman of the North Hempstead Housing Authority board, told the Port Washington News, “People can run around town calling it a park, but that doesn’t make it so.” In the same article, local town board representative Fred Pollack cites the mythical “designation” loophole, discussed in this column numerous times over the years, that incorrectly suggests if a local government has never passed a formal resolution saying that a parcel is a park, it’s the same as a parking lot.
Wrong. More than wrong, because if the designation loophole is upheld, then most of the parks in this county are now up for grabs, in play, on the table.
New York has long recognized the concept of “implied designation.” If it looks like a park, if it’s used like a park, if it’s called a park, then it’s a park. It is part of a public trust, held on behalf of all of the people of New York and their descendants.
There are at least 225 unstaffed “pocket parks” (sometimes called “vest-pocket parks” and “parklets”) in Nassau County’s three towns and two cities alone. There are probably well over a hundred more in the 64 incorporated villages and many other popular green patches owned by special districts and authorities that are used for neighborhood recreation. Only a handful were ever “designated.”
Civility matters. The rule of law matters. This situation will reoccur all over the county. What happens to Alvan Petrus Park may set the tone.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org