Friday, 08 July 2011 00:00
I am often slow on the uptake, so I’m struggling to get this straight in my mind. The North Hempstead Town Board is willing to purchase an actual former country club in Roslyn Heights in order to satisfy many of the neighboring residents. Meanwhile, the same board will go no further than to authorize a “legal and environmental analysis” of beleaguered Alvan Petrus Park off Harbor Road in Port Washington.
Purchase of the 10-acre former Roslyn Country Club property and the Royalton Mansion catering house within it will cost millions of dollars. It will likely require an eminent domain proceding, the most extreme action that can be undertaken by an American local government, to assume title to the property from an owner who is reluctant to sell.
Alvan Petrus Park is roughly an acre and a half patch of land behind the Harbor Homes apartment complex, already owned by a public authority whose directors are appointed by the Town Board. A few months ago, the Town Board backed off from giving final approval to a 48-unit apartment complex on the parcel, but they will not acknowledge in any way that the land is a park or should be a park or could at some point be a park.
I’m not expressing a judgment one way or another about the merits of the Roslyn Country Club situation, which was described very well in Mike Barry’s column in the editions of May 27. The civic-minded residents of the RCC neighborhood will be just as bewildered and embarrassed as I am by the double standard being imposed by their town government.
The country club would be purchased through the sale of town bonds and membership would be open to town residents, for an annual fee. According to Newsday, the town supervisor “estimated the annual fees would be $1,000 to $2,000 per household.”
Four weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal gave major coverage to a report on household financial fragility by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think tank. A quarter of American households do not have the capacity to come up with $2,000 in 30 days, and another fifth of households can do so only by “relying at least in part on pawning or selling possessions or taking payday loans.”
I’m guessing that the residents of the middle class and working class apartment complexes and other houses along the Harbor Road corridor will not be targeted in the marketing for the new country club.
Meanwhile, the residents of that neighborhood have done everything right. They’ve shown up at meetings (one former resident drove up from Maryland to testify about the park). They’ve found private support to refurbish the park and local residents of concern and conscience are standing around holding out their checkbooks. When town officials refused to budge, residents quietly and determinedly walked in front of Town Hall with signs trying to raise awareness of what is happening.
The town and the authority are falling back on hair-thin arguments about bond covenants and “official” designations. Very few of the parks on Long Island were dedicated in any official way, and the state has always maintained that dedication occurs “when the common, accepted use of the land is as a park.”
Petrus Park, now fenced-off, had in it a little playground and a basketball court. It’s a park. That means we can’t dump apartment buildings on it without the approval of the state, and usually without providing some kind of replacement parkland.
They don’t have to be this way. There are options. The bond trustees (banks designated to look after the interests of bondholders) just want investors to be paid. Multiple roads can lead to purchase or replacement of that little, undesignated, patch of land in a neighborhood with one of the highest concentrations of children in Nassau County. That neighborhood jammed up against an industrial area, on a heavily-traveled road, with no other parks nearby.
Even if, in the end, some judge rules that the town and the authority get their loophole, get whatever it is they really want with Petrus Park, it doesn’t make it right.
It’s a park.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: email@example.com