It was a full house, as Chick Voorhis of Nelson, Pope & Voorhis planning consultants showcased the preliminary report on the Eastern Waterfront study in the Town of Oyster Bay hearing room on Jan. 27. The Eastern Waterfront Advisory Committee work is the result of a DOS grant to study the area. After meetings, tours, and workshops the committee considered zoning changes for future developments; the creation of a waterfront district with mixed use; and visioning suggestions. Nelson, Pope & Voorhis created a PowerPoint presentation showing guidelines for the mostly privately owned area in preparation to development needs of the future. Maps were set up in the meeting room with the short-term goals in green (1 to 5 years); middle goals in blue (5 to 10 years); and long-term goals in beige (10 plus years) for people to study after the presentation. (Please see map.)
Some of the work, such as landscaping and streetscape might be possible for the town to do on its own such as for the parking lot behind town hall adding green space and walkways, without increasing parking but improving the aesthetics of the lot. Another suggestion was improving the lot behind Uwe's to integrate it with the town parking behind East Main Street between South Street and White Street.
Mr. Voorhis asked the public to fill out cards with their comments which can be added to the plans. The finalized plan will go through the State Environmental Quality Review process in which the public participates, and when adopted by the town, puts it in a better place to get funding he said.
When the Eastern Waterfront plan was originally looked at, it was written up in the grant as encompassing all the land east of the Western Waterfront; the town took Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park out of the plans saying they were making their own master plan for the park. Later, when the TR Presidential Museum was proposed, Firemen's Field was removed from the discussion. At the end of the presentation, Larry Weiss, a committee member, asked why there was not public input on the museum being proposed for Firemen's Field allowed in the planning discussions.
John Ellsworth, town environmental consultant said the planning process will include public comments. Mr. Weiss said they were charged with the entire area to see what the public wants there. "This didn't go to the public, why was it eliminated?" he asked.
Mr. Ellsworth said with that "800 lb. gorilla in a large area that has other issues," it would have consumed the discussion because of the magnitude of the issues. It would have held up the Eastern Waterfront planning, he said.
As he presented the plan, Mr. Voorhis showed photographs of the area covered in the plan showing the baseline conditions and said, "We hope to provide inspiration for the future."
He called TR Park a tremendous public asset that needs ties with the downtown area; talked about the historic area; the shellfishing industry that flourished after the Town of Oyster Bay began leasing the underground areas in 1876 to William Flower. He pointed out the Oyster Bay National Wildlife Preserve; the White's Creek area that might be updated since both streamwater and stormwater flows into the bay from there.
He said with rumors that come and go about Commander Oil closing current zoning should be looked at. He said Hamilton Avenue is zoned light industrial (all the way down to the Sewage Plant), which is typical of old waterfronts. TR Park and Firemen's Field are zoned residential and are publicly owned land. Much of the Eastern Waterfront area, he said, is privately owned. "Zoning will guide re-development," said Mr. Voorhis.
He mentioned the earlier Eastern Waterfront focus meeting held at Oyster Bay High School where residents met in groups to make suggestions about what they would like to see in that area. The committee synthesized that information to create the current plans.
He said they encouraged restaurants and outdoor cafes in the area - to heighten appreciation of the waterfront. Later someone asked where they would be located, since the waterfront appears developed. The answer was that this is planning for the future. Mr. Voorhis also showed a photograph of Sag Harbor where small buildings were clustered around a village green as an inspiration. He suggested a parking study is needed to see what the capacity is at different times of the day and week.
Mr. Voorhis said the Eastern Waterfront area includes both public and private land and maybe public/private partnerships can be formed in the future.
A pedestrian walkway has been suggested as a loop at a set mileage going from the Eastern Waterfront area, through the park and back to the downtown business district.
Crosswalks and traffic calming bump-outs are worth considering. He suggested promoting alleys to increase pedestrian linkage between streets; landscape improvements; benches; and pocket parks; encourage private areas to be landscaped to benefit the public through site plan review; improve signage; and public parking location signs; signs to direct boat owners to the downtown business areas.
He suggested a catalog of preferred architectural treatments to enhance the existing character of the area and to help newcomers. There are environmental protection issues in the area to conform with for flood zone requirements under FEMA requirements so that buildings are built at the proper elevation.
Under improving aesthetics he suggested: screening certain properties; public art; painted murals; road and sidewalk improvements; lighting; decorative pavers; putting utilities underground; design standards to encourage aesthetics; and place making - pocket parks and public spaces.
Another area being looked at is the historic Oyster Bay train station at the end of Audrey Avenue that is the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum. The recent plan for the area won an award for Saratoga Associates, he said. Those plans were on display in the hearing room.
Mr. Voorhis suggested buffer vegetation along the LIRR. The current Commander Oil parking lot on South Street along White's Creek could be used for expanded parking in the area - with the wetland cleaned up. It could be a stormwater retention area. "We need to work with Island Properties for improvements there," he said, since they own the property.
The parking lot behind town hall has a lot of pavement area and could be re-designed with sidewalks, landscaping and pocket parks.
He suggested opening up the waterfront for public access and for public appreciation.
During the community comment part of the evening, Caroline DuBois, spokesperson of the Coalition to Save Firemen's Field, picked up John Ellsworth's characterization of the TR Museum saying, "The TR Museum is more than an 800 lb. gorilla! Putting the museum in Firemen's Field includes putting the Firemen's Training Track into TR Park. Where does it fit into the park? It is supposed to go parallel to the train tracks and will reach into the picnic pavilion and children's playgrounds which currently is used by 200 guests. It pushes the playground and the picnic area away. New parking would be required for the picnickers who use the park. A restaurant would need parking. I'm begging people to look at the cumulative impact of using Firemen's Field for the museum since there will be less parking for the entire village." She added, "The biggest thing we are not even talking about influences how everything else in the hamlet is used: A cumulative look at everything is necessary."
Peter Allen, a resident, asked about a proposed walking bridge into TR Park across the LIRR tracks. Mr. Voorhis said it was safer to have a ground-level crossing.
O.J. Donovan asked what was the grand objective of the plan. He said he didn't see the need to get people to the waterfront since we know where it is. If there is a problem it is with the business district that needs revitalization. "Clean it up; dress it up; do landscaping. We're local. We know how to get to the park. Are we improving the park for ourselves? Are we throwing money out before we get people in?"
Mr. Voorhis said the aim is to make the Eastern Waterfront area complement the Western Waterfront area, and he added, "Things outside the study area need to take place. The new plans should all dovetail with the commercial area. He said the Eastern Waterfront is an underutilized resource that has industrial zoning but with development potential. This economic condition will not last and to make growth work the way you want, it needs planning. to induce growth. This was our charge."
John Bonifacio suggested revitalizing the streetscape on South Street and Audrey Avenue.
Aldonna Lawson, assistant director Environmental Quality Review Division said, "The town has the Oyster Bay Hamlet Plan, the Western Waterfront Plan and - only the Eastern Waterfront was not addressed." She said the plan is to have things like zoning in place for when they are needed. "We are not forgetting one part while working on another. We want people in boats to come into town. Eventually all will work together.", she said.
As for funding for the projects, Mr. Voorhis said communities that have a clear vision are more open for funding opportunities.
Bill K. said he and his wife see no reason to make changes, "It's a beautiful park now."
Mary Joe Potts said she was a sailor and asked if there was a plan for a transient public dock. "Yes," said Mr. Voorhis, "it is valuable."
A gentleman at the back of the room said that at the Sagamore Yacht Club they have transient moorings; Charlie Doering said they were reciprocal for any other Yacht Club members; Jamie Deming of the WaterFront Center said there are transient spots at the Waterfront Pier.
Charlie Doering said, "Oyster Bay is a unique harbor and anchorage. People come from miles around to visit here by boat. When they do come, they come prepared to stay on their boats, it's too beautiful where they are enjoying the view." He said, "I've been to the Mediterranean and there is not as beautiful a place as Oyster Bay Harbor."
Rosemary Colvin asked for a harbor walk to bring people here to stroll, roller skate, and bike along the waterfront. "I wouldn't want to have to wait 10 years for it," she said.
Kathy Genovese said the town and the state should re-visit the issue of having a restaurant on the Western Waterfront where it would be an asset.