Written by Margaret Whitely Friday, 07 October 2011 00:00
Residents flocked to town hall extremely frustrated at the lack of financial information regarding the acquisition of the Roslyn Country Club by the Town of North Hempstead, but at least they were able to vent their opinions, and vent they did.
The North Hempstead Town Board met on Tuesday, Sept. 27, and was opened by Supervisor Jon Kaiman, backed up by councilman Thomas Dwyer, who, basically, tag-teamed strongly in favor of the project.
Supervisor Kaiman explained that the reason he had no “hard” figures was he was still in negotiation with the owner of the property.
Kaiman said this has been going on for some time and for those living in Roslyn Heights it has been going on for well over a decade. The last couple of hearings were to determine whether or not to obtain the property, and, Kaiman said, they have since had the opportunity to speak to the property owner, Mr. Malekan. Prior to that, he said, they did not have as much dialogue as had been hoped.
Kaiman continued, “I understand there are many folks in the audience who want to know the numbers, but we don’t have them as yet. Maybe we will acquire some of the land; maybe some of the land will be donated. We just don’t know and that is what a negotiation is, but I do believe that we are approaching some form of resolution.”
“What we are looking at, ” he added, “is hopefully a future agreement that will involve maintaining the country club property or the club house property as a private entity that will remain private, pay its taxes and will continue to do what it presently does, which is to remain as a catering facility. In addition, we would love to be able to preserve the 10 acres of open recreational space that exists that makes sense financially and that can be self-sustained, then we will pursue that course of action. We are continuing negotiations in that framework. We have had a very positive discussion with the owner and his counsel in relation to negotiation in that framework and it is my expectation that we might be able to reach some resolution.” Kaiman said, “I understand that there are many folks out there who have asked, ‘what are the numbers’ and the numbers are changing because we may only acquire some of the land, part of the land or maybe none of the land, maybe he will donate some of the land and maybe there are issues which we don’t know about.”
He indicated there are two ways of doing things, negotiate first and present the numbers to the communities, but then there would have been complaints that a course of action was followed without notifying those communities. So, he said, they decided to let everyone know, and the condemnation issue clearly got the owner’s attention, and they thought that was the best way to get to a resolution. Kaiman said he knows there has been some misunderstanding in certain parts of the town as to why they are doing it and what the impact is. “I get emails asking why we are condemning a golf course and the answer is this is not a private country club in the traditional sense. We are referring to an area in the Country Club Section of Roslyn Heights that has a community pool and a catering facility that generates substantial income and tax revenue and we think that there might be a solution for us to preserve the open space,” Kaiman said, “and the recreation facility and to keep the private enterprise private.”
Councilman Dwyer said the most important three points the supervisor made were: “1. This will be a regional park, where there is a void in the town. 2. It will be a self-sufficient park and it will pay for itself. 3. Currently, we are in friendly negotiations with the owner and we will be done with this, in a short time, because it is friendly and not a condemnation process. The condemnation process could take a very long time.”
Councilman Ferrara said he could not support the acquisition of the pool adding, “What happens if someone joins the proposed club this year at the rate of say $1,000 to $2,000 and then decides next year they either do not like the club or that they can’t afford it. Who then picks up the slack of that membership?”
His comment drew applause, then the meeting proceeded.
Lloyd Geld of Roslyn Heights said, “Earlier, you mentioned the tax revenue that is returned by the club. In the meeting held in May, I read the taxes that were currently being paid by this club. I think to the town, right now, they are somewhat under $20,000. That’s the total revenue from that property including the catering hall. So, I don’t think that revenue is going to make a big difference in the cost.”
Kaiman said, “I know the school district has some concerns but under any plans going forward we want to make sure that the school will not lose any of its tax revenue.”
Geld said, “Well, I don’t think the school has to worry because they have all of us to pay for it. They shouldn’t be concerned because it’s a district and we have to pay.”
Geld continued, “Since you are abandoning condemnation proceedings then why isn’t it removed from this agenda?”
Kaiman said, “Since it’s a public hearing we can’t just remove it and we have to have a hearing. We could have just said we are not going to take any testimony because we are moving in a different direction, but people are here and thought we would give people a chance to be heard.”
Geld said, “The next thing is, in the past, when I have asked for some sort of projection on what this might cost, I have been stone-walled and I have never heard one word about how much this will cost. So, I would like to know how you are proceeding if you don’t know what it will cost.”
Kaiman, “Well, we could give you the same answer we have given you the last five or six times and I spoke to you on the phone a couple times and you know exactly what we are talking about. We do have the ability to estimate what parks will cost. We run a lot of parks and pools and wide-open space and we use grants as well, as we would with any projects we would undertake. However, we are also aware that if you start throwing out numbers and they create confusion, that could lead to misinformation because we are not sure exactly what direction we are going so we need to let it take its own course. I can’t give you numbers because they change based on how much land we will acquire and on what terms.”
Geld said, “You must know how much you can afford.” To which Kaiman answered, “Yes, we do.”
Dwyer added,” We have also committed to you, and to everyone, well in advance of us making the decision, you will have the numbers.”
Geld said, “I know you are saying this, but truth be told, when someone asked to see the books of Clinton G. Martin Park, in New Hyde Park, that has been stone-walled as well.”
Kaiman said, “Not at all, those books are open and they remain open, we have actually asked the comptroller if he wanted to come see them. We think there are some legal issues in regard to the Clinton Martin Park, but anyone can come see those books, including the comptroller’s office, who has been invited.
“However, the comptroller’s office wanted to open an office in town hall for a year so that they can explore those books in a way we thought was illegal and violated the law of New York State so we are pursuing the appropriate course of action. Because I don’t think that the comptroller’s office should cost the town thousands of dollars for some inquiry when they can get all the information they need by looking at the books. They choose not to do it that way, so we are letting the courts decide how it should go.”
Geld continued, “My next question is something else I have asked in the past. You are obviously talking about the considerable amount of revenue that is derived from the catering. Still there is no mention of how you intend to have people park in that area.”
Kaiman said, “We intend to use the parking lot.”
Geld, “But the parking lot only has 200 spaces, which the cater uses on a busy day and I want to know how he will react when he can’t get his people into those spaces?”
Kaiman said, “Those are conclusions you have reached, but apparently no one else has. Because it has been used as a pool and a catering facility for a long time.”
Geld said, “No, you are mistaken because when it was operated as a pool the caterers, accommodated the pool-goers. Now, it is a separate enterprise. But if the man is paying a considerable amount of rent, as you say, then he is entitled to be able to provide for his clientele and you are talking about 500 cars coming to this facility.”
Kaiman countered that those weren’t the town’s numbers, but Geld said that was the membership number given out.
Kaiman continued, “With all due respect, every member of a club does not all come to the club at the same time.”
Another resident pointed out that the Williston Park Village and the Mineola Village both have their own pools that have been built, paid for and maintained by the residents, not the Town of North Hempstead and they suggested that is what these residents should do.
Still other residents impressed on the board that there are many parks in the town and that the town already has the Tully pool, the Manorhaven pool, and the Whitney Pond Park pool. Further, there are parks in almost every section of the town including Roslyn, Garden City Park, Manhasset and Port Washington.
However, on the flip side, there were also quite a few Roslyn Heights residents who live in the vicinity of the pool, who were in favor of the pool purchase. One gentlemen said it was the job of the town board to govern as they see fit and that he hoped they would do just that and not listen to another resident who said the topic should be brought to referendum and to let the residents decide.
Another sentiment was that town residents cannot afford more of taxes especially in this economy.
Still more Roslyn Heights residents said their area should be treated the same as the rest of the town and that they should be afforded a pool and tennis courts they could use.
It was pro and con the entire evening and at the end of the discussion, Supervisor Kaiman, backed by Councilman Dwyer said, “You have my word that before we make any decision, after the negotiations are over, we will either put it on the website or will get the terms of the purchase to our residents at least two weeks prior to the next meeting we have on this subject and before any vote is taken by the town board.”
He said he could not give any definite date on when the next meeting on the subject would be held, but he promised, once again, that he would keep everyone informed.
The very large crowd then filed out of the boardroom and the regular town board meeting continued.