Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Beth Faughnan (right) inducted the 2009 OBCA Board of directors: (from the left) President Bill Von Novak, member Rob Brusca, Vice President Stan Spiegelman, member George Di Martino, Treasurer Louise Rea. Mr. Von Novak said the board doesn't always agree on things, but it has creativity, the same focus and same view: "A very good group of people."
Members of the Oyster Bay Civic Association learned a great deal about the process the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum proposal will go through at their Wednesday, Jan. 22 meeting. Jack Liebert, Town of Oyster Bay Commissioner of Public Works, was the speaker and he was very forthcoming as he discussed what the town is doing in relation to the proposed agreement to lease Firemen's Field to the Theodore Roosevelt Association. He will remain Supervisor Venditto's point man on the project he began covering while Commissioner of Planning & Development.
Mr. Liebert explained what was behind the glitch that jump started and then cancelled the TRA Rally to support the museum planned for Jan. 20 at a town board meeting. He said the town will actually hold a meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at town hall to discuss the town's agreement to lease Memorial Field/Firemen's Field to the TRA to begin the preparatory studies needed to define the parameters of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum project: the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process.
The meeting, he said, will allow the public to express its views on the proposal and to suggest areas the TRA should investigate and answer in relation to their studies.
Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Beth Faughnan, who had come to induct members of the 2009 OBCA board, added that Supervisor John Venditto will listen to everyone who wants to speak regardless of how long it will take - as long as they are respectful, she added.
Mr. Liebert began by explaining that the agreement to lease and the actual lease are two different things, separated by a long process the outcome of which is still to be decided upon by the town board after hearing all sides and rechecking the TRA's environmental consultants studies themselves (which will be paid for by the applicant).
Presently the TRA needs a conditional lease to do the EIS tests. That lease will show intent to their financial backers. Mr. Liebert said there appeared to be a sense of urgency on the part of the TRA possibly because at the TR 150th Birthday Parade in October the supervisor indicated that the lease would be signed in January. The TRA lawyers and the town lawyers have been working on the agreement. "You can lawyer something to death," said Mr. Liebert who said he is also a lawyer.
He said the agreement to lease had been penciled in on the town calendar for Jan. 22, ready to be signed, when Supervisor Venditto saw the memo, "he didn't react well. There were 40 odd pages in the document and the town board had three to four days to look at it and the public not at all so it will be scheduled for Feb. 24, at 7 p.m.," he said.
Before the Supervisor got to see the calendar memo, the TRA had already put out fliers looking for support and people got rightfully upset, he said. Signing the agreement to lease will give the TRA the authority to spend about $1 million for the environmental studies which include: traffic, environmental issues such as soil conditions; bed rock location; aesthetics; parking; financial feasibility; a study of the present use of the land as residential property (as was done for the Avalon case when they had figures on a supermarket use); and other issues brought out by the public at the meeting.
Currently the town is paying for a capital project for TR Park which will include planning for the sports field, the marine rescue boathouse, and a site for the fireman's training track. The track, said George DiMartino should be 1/8 of a mile. The current track is 150 feet shorter than regulation. The cars go up to 80 mph; and it will be absorbing a substantial part of the park and will create noise in what is supposed to be a quiet park, he added.
Mr. Liebert said, "I have seen one sketch with the firemen's track and the museum and parking on the same area and it is not attractive."
He said, "The TRA came to us. If there is any prospect to locate the museum there we need to document all the requirements, have them spelled out or have them pack their tent and go home. So let's us give it a try. We all know this can be a terrific asset." There are issues to be addressed including auditorium parking and he said there would be restrictions to using that room when the museum is open.
The agreement to lease has a deadline of 18 to 24 months. If all goes well for them, and a final lease is signed it will be for 49 years. Speaking of time, after the scoping session there is a 60 day comment period.
Caroline DuBois said, "There have already been the Hamlet Plan and the Cumulative Impact Plan both of which have traffic studies - and a third is planned? Why are we doing it all over again when we know we are near traffic congestion now?"
Mr. Liebert said, "The town has to sign off that there is no negative impact. We must agree it is a positive thing for the hamlet." As for the need of the forum on Feb. 24, he said the board needs a sense of how the community feels about the project: they have been getting calls from both sides, they are up in the air about it as a result.
Beth Faughnan said the residents won in the case of stopping the Bayville to Rye Bridge. In this case, "If it is like you are living under the El then people will say no - if it ruins what is here." [The building site is on a flood plain and structures must be built up out of the range of the water, raising the height of the museum which is already allowed to be about 35 feet.] She added, "Oyster Bay is a place people want to develop. Locust Valley is off the beaten track," (after the location was questioned).
OBCA Board Member George DiMartino added a concern about the recent accident at Larrabee Avenue and West Main Street near the Lexington Avenue intersection and a growing traffic problem which will be added to by buses going to the museum through that intersection and down Larrabee Avenue. "Is the town prepared to make wider streets if the museum is built?"
"Usually the developer pays for that," said Ms. Faughnan. She quoted a cost of about $100,000 for a 4-way traffic light but added it wasn't a current figure.
Ms. DuBois said the plan needs to address the cumulative parking issues surrounding the museum: where will parking go for all the current uses Memorial Field/Firemen's Field currently supports. Mr. Liebert said, "I'm not here to advocate or defend: just to give factual information." He said all those extra issues must be brought up on the 24th (before the town board).
Mr. DiMartino added the information that when the cumulative build-out study for the hamlet was done a museum was not in the calculations and the hamlet was already near build out. There are no informational figures in the study about how a museum would impact the area.
Mr. Liebert said a lot of data will be incorporated into the EIS, and agreed the museum might need major road improvements but he said, "We are just trying to keep an open mind."
Ms. Faughnan said if Kmart wanted to come to the hamlet they would go through the same process. The museum is different in that it is a not-for-profit group, with a local membership and that the TRA says it is trying to enhance the hamlet to benefit the other businesses, she added.
Rosemary Colvin expressed a concern over the finances of the TRA to run a museum in a time where other museums are having problems - the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport; [the Mark Twain House; a Lincoln Museum operated by the Lincoln Insurance Company recently closed.] She said the TRA has given away Sagamore Hill and the New York Birthplace to the National Park Service. "They give away their sites for the government to take responsibility for them. How will that play out with the museum?" she asked.
Mr. Von Novak commented that "about 18 people came to hear the dynamic topic." [Mr. Liebert's appearance had not been announced in this newspaper.]
Additionally the board discussed refurbishing the by-laws of their 10-year-old organization and will continue the work at the next meeting. As a not-for-profit they can maintain a fund balance and only have to have a "terminal disbursement policy" to qualify for their 501-3C status, said Mr. Von Novak in response to a question from Grace Searby.
They discussed a $250 scholarship for a graduating senior from the Oyster Bay High School but came to no decision. Mr. VonNovak will report on it at the next meeting. A second Joint Civics Association fundraiser is being planned for Friday, May 15, this time in East Norwich.
As the year begins, 58 people have sent in their membership dues. Last year there were 138 paid up members. There is a membership form on their website. The OBCA has a new website, OBCA.net, where you can print out a membership form and tie into the current events calendar created by Rob Brusca for the Joint Civics. It reaches 800 people. They are petitioning Judy Jacobs to get a traffic light on Berry Hill Road and Route 106 for left hand turns heading south.
Isaac Kremer, Main Street Association executive director, commented on the Octagon Hotel project saying the owner has committed to preserving the historic corner property - as much as it can be, so progress is being made. The Zoning Board of Appeals has some issues to solve he said.
The Uwe's property on South Street has had a zoning board hearing. The downstairs is to be renovated for office or retail use and the upstairs will continue to be for apartments. "It is another positive step. I think they got what they needed," he said of the Renaissance Properties site.
Everything was up for grabs as the East Norwich civic association held an open forum on the proposed Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum at its Thursday, Jan. 22 meeting. Up for comments was the proposed agreement (40 pages long but still a work in progress) between the TRA and the Town of Oyster Bay which will come before the town board on Tuesday, Feb. 24 at its meeting in town hall. The public will be allowed to see the agreement to lease 10 days before the hearing which will include comments from the public. With no position in place from members of the East Norwich Civic Association the executive board decided to send out a questionnaire asking people if they are informed about the proposal and to see if they have an opinion about it.
The discussion was lively with about 22 people attending, including about five members of TRMCAT. Bill Burke spoke for the TRMCAT group saying they have achieved their goal of being an intermediary between the town, the TRA and the public and that the Feb. 24 meeting is a success story for them - that they have done their job.
Since many of those attending had also been at the Oyster Bay Civic association meeting where Jack Liebert spoke on Jan. 21, there was information to mull over. To summarize that night: When the agreement to lease is signed, the TRA will have 18 to 24 months to complete the environmental studies to see if the project is viable. It has to pass specific criteria and then the town will decide whether it is worthwhile to lease the land to them - for 49 years.
Bill Burke said TRMCAT has brought forth the concerns of the community, looked at the benefits of the project and brought the issue to town hall urging them to make the next step [signing the agreement] so that the TRA will generate the needed studies. "But whether it flies depends on how they make a case for the museum. I've been on the fence but what is most important is that the TRA has the opportunity to make its case." He added, "Now people will be able to make an informed decision. Therefore we feel the organization has reached its first goal." The next phase is the public study phase.
Isaac Kremer, Main Street Association executive director, summed it up saying now "there is a road map and public involvement. We are almost at mission accomplished. Now there is an opportunity for everyone to express their opinions."
Mr. Burke said the benefits include economic development; job creation; educational opportunities; it is a cultural and social group; walkability; environmental improvement of the site; security improvement; community pride.
Cathy Genovese, a resident of Oyster Bay Cove, said if you look at www.alltown.com you will see that same list in every town that wants any expansion.
Caroline DuBois made a list of her own issues including: activities already happening in Firemen's Field; the Build-Out Study and the Hamlet Plan and that people want a "quaint little old town"; the importance of open space. "It's a slippery slope. There are plenty of reasons right now to say 'you can't roll over our community.' We are against it," she said
Ms. Genovese, who works in the not-for-profit sector, added that it was important to factor into the study the current state museums are facing with the economic constraints of these times. Not-for-profits are hurting, and that needs to be considered, she said, adding that this community has auditoriums, such as the Cold Spring Library, that are available for use while the museum is proposing to add another one.
Mr. Kremer said one of the conditions for the museum studies includes the need to document the sustainability of the concept.
Walter Imperatore of Renaissance Properties said from his experience in real estate, there is a public process to be followed and advised people to put together their list of objections so that they can be addressed in the studies. He said, "I've spent lots of money and got things killed. A lot gets started and gets shot down after the SEQR gets done. It's up to the TRA to take the information and to solve the questions. Give them a shot. Give him a 'square deal'," an allusion to TR who believed in the "square deal".
ENCA Vice President Sean Rainey said he was truly on the fence, and added, "The AvalonBay Communities studies helped make the case, we then pointed to specifics. The town won't steam roller over the decision."
Architect Ellen Roché said, "As an architect up before town boards, when presenting architectural site plans for review it becomes abundantly clear that it is a fit or not. Then it is my job to make it fit in the confines of the area." She added, "When you have hard evidence it becomes clear. Then it is up to the owner and consultant to make it fit - or not."
The ENCA is considering a $250 scholarship for Oyster Bay High School graduating senior using part of the profits from the Joint Civics fundraiser held last year. They are looking into a venue for the next joint fundraiser - this time holding it in East Norwich as opposed to Oyster Bay. It was held last year at the Sagamore Yacht Club, successfully. Rob Brusca will be contacting the Pine Hollow Country Club to see what the parameters are for using it - it was where the ENCA used to hold dances years ago. The group formed in 1963.
Matt Meng reported on the East Norwich Inn/Rothmann's corner proposal. He said Ben Abbate of Sidney Bowne, the engineering firm, told him they are making modifications of the plan for the DOT, on Route 106 and on Northern Boulevard.
Walter Imperatore of Renaissance Properties said they have completed their exterior work on a tenant's house on South Street, south of Dodds & Eder. Insulation was added, the wood planks were finished on Jan. 21 and it will soon be painted.
He said the 13th contract has been signed for Mariner's Walk. "We are in a good position the last four months. There is a mix of occupancy. There are people that like that special offering: that they can walk into town and not have to care for a full lawn." Maintenance and landscaping is part of the package. The next meeting of the ENCA is on Feb. 26, just in time to hold another open forum on the results of the town's Feb. 24 meeting. This is a new year for the ENCA and they decided they will continue holding meetings at the Community Church of East Norwich on the third Thursday of the month at 7:45 p.m.