The North Hempstead Town Board voted against changing the zoning of the Spring Rock Golf Driving Range, in a four to one vote. The change would have allowed the construction of an additional building on the grounds of the Spring Rock Golf Driving Range property located on the corner of Denton Avenue and Hillside Avenue, New Hyde Park. Councilwoman Doreen Banks cast the only vote in favor of the project.
The property is currently zoned as an Open Space Recreation District, created especially for this property by the town board, which only allows for golf or golf-related business plus an unenclosed swimming pool, an unenclosed skating rink or unenclosed tennis courts to be developed on the site.
Attorney for Spring Rock Golf Range Michael Koblenz, prior to his presentation, delivered 200 petitions to the town board in favor of the project. He added that he did notice that some of the signatures were not from North Hempstead residents. It was later verified that the petitions had been circulated at the golf facility and not through the surrounding neighborhood in New Hyde Park, Garden City Park and Herricks.
The building, to be placed behind the miniature golf facility, was proposed to be an aluminum structure of 9, 980 square feet, divided in two; one side to house 19 baseball batting cages and the other half for two half-court basketball courts and a series of basketball bank shots.
Koblenz, in his presentation, said, "These are batting cages and bank basketball, wholesome things that the town should welcome. This is not something that will generate a lot of traffic."
He commented that he had heard from civic leaders about the preservation of open space and he said, "Wearing my other hat (he is the Mayor of the Village of East Hills) the Village of East Hills has just purchased the Air National Guard facility and we are about to develop it into a swimming pool, baseball and soccer fields, tennis courts and basketball courts. This is preservation of open space. This is what we want our children to be doing not hanging out in pool rooms or on corners."
What attorney Koblenz failed to mention was that the East Hills facility is private and only open to the residents of East Hills, not the public. Spring Rock Golf Driving Range is open to the public.
Town attorney Howard Miller interrupted the hearing to point out to those assembled for this item on the agenda that the vote before the board was an amendment to include the type of usage in the Open Space Recreation District and not to decide on what kind of facility would be constructed in conjunction with the proposed usage.
New Hyde Park community leaders were out in full force against the project stating that when the Spring Rock Golf Driving Range was constructed it was done so under a special zoning code entitled Open Space Recreation District.
The first person to speak was Parks Civic Association President Cathy Guder who said, "I have been a resident of New Hyde Park for 30 years and I very distinctly recall the development of this property ten years ago."
She continued, "When the town decided to sell the property there was huge community opposition because many people felt the land was environmentally sensitive since it is on a capped, unlined landfill. Further, it is a large piece of property (16 acres) and some of the developers wanted extensive development. The community was not happy and the town board's decision to create an Open Space Recreation District did reflect residents' concerns."
She said, "At that time the driving range was a compromise for the town who wanted to sell the land; for the community and for the land itself. We all know there have been methane gas explosions and in fact, just as construction was being completed there was a methane gas explosion that burned the front of the structure and construction had to halt and the building repaired. The situation has been corrected but it is still a capped, unlined landfill and it is never going to change."
Guder went on, "At the time I believe that the law was written by the town to reflect the intent that no structure other than what was agreed on would ever be permitted. Ben Zwirn was supervisor then and we were being assured, off the record by him, and by the other council members including then councilwoman May Newburger and councilman Anthony D'Urso not to worry because the law was written in such a way that it could never be developed further."
She said, "This application is for an enclosure which changes the whole intent of the law. Whatever the applicant says we are not here to talk about what is good for our children and isn't it nice to have a batting cage and isn't it nice to have basketball courts. That is not what this hearing is about. What they are proposing is not an issue except for the fact that it is a building that when built will require some destruction of the cap."
"Is the town board ready to disturb that cap again?" asked Guder. "I was at the meetings 10 years ago and a neighbor of mine, just to let you know how long the memory is in this town, came down to my house this past weekend with an informational issue published by Park Civic Association from 1993 about the landfill. The first sentence reads, 'Park Civic Association supports the development of the Denton Avenue landfill property as a golf driving range provided it is proven that the landfill environmental issues are solved.' A true compromise between government and community wishes.' But we assumed that with the enactment of this legislation we were not going to have to confront this 10 years later. I am asking each of you to vote no. I do not want to see the zoning change. I never thought it would come this far."
Park Civic Association immediate past President Jim McHugh was the next speaker. He added a few points stating that when the golf range was being built residents in the area had problems with methane gas. He said, "It destroyed all their foliage and all of their backyards because the gas leached out when the cap was disturbed and that's why we had the explosion."
He continued, "Any new building constructed on that property would have to have piles driven down into the landfill and past the garbage to get to the soil. There are already concerns that the landfill is leaching into the water table because it is not lined. That, however, is another issue. If you break into the cap you already know what the results will be and so do the neighbors."
He also touched on the issue of creating more parking spaces and to do that the cap would be disturbed for that kind of construction as well and the residents would once again be affected.
McHugh said, "Besides the environmental issues we also have the problem of traffic. The corner of Denton, Hillside and Marcus Avenues everyone knows is an engineering disaster. It has been discussed back and forth between the state and the county for years. No one wants to touch it now because no one wants to assume cost. Trying to navigate across any of those roads especially in rush hour is a nightmare."
Councilman Anthony D'Urso, of New Hyde Park, interjected that he had been hit there by a car at one time.
McHugh continued, "The last thing you need is additional traffic involvement at that intersection by adding to a public facility.
The balance of the residents who spoke all pointed out that the board promised them, as community leaders, 10 years ago that this issue would never be addressed again because of the special zoning imposed on the property. They all pleaded with the board to vote no on the project.
When it came time for the vote they did all vote no including Councilman Angelo Ferrara, Supervisior May Newburger, Deputy Mayor Anthony D'Urso and Councilman James O'Connor.
Councilwoman Doreen Banks, of East Williston, said before her vote to approve the project, that the new facility would be wonderful for her two boys and for all the children in the area of North Hempstead and especially in New Hyde Park.