The Town of Oyster Bay public information office reported a change in the meeting calendar from Feb. 24 to March 31 for when Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto would be authorized to sign the agreement to lease Firemen's Field to the TRA, but there was a change, now the town is proposing leasing the land over the sump/tidal basin in TR Park for the museum.
The town made the decision to offer TR Park to the TRA on a suggestion from architect Angelo Corvo who is working out how the park will be re-configured. The town was talking about getting rid of the handball court and cutting down the area for the tennis courts because of lack of use. St. Dominic High School used the public courts for their tennis classes until they built their sports complex in Muttontown. The handball-tennis area will become a multi-use sports field at the park and since those plans will take time, the current ballfield will have the lights re-installed before the other changes occur.
The issue of the sports fields will not be part of the discussion on March 31, said Jim Moriarity, TOB public information officer.
This newspaper learned of the change of venue for the museum when it asked if the town found the right location for the Firemen's Track and the answer from a town spokesperson was, "Yes. Right where it is. We are not moving it because we are now looking to put the museum inside the park. Discussion on the park is not going to be part of the meeting."
Mr. Moriarity said the meeting is scheduled for March 31 to allow time for the lease documents to be changed to reflect that reality. "We want to give sufficient time to comment. The original proposal took input from various groups and interested parties to create a plan that makes sense and then to present it to the public as a beginning of the process. On March 31, the public can comment on the proposal. The town is not pre-judging the proposal."
He said the Supervisor wants to ensure that all constituencies' views are merged into the new proposal: that the resolution to be considered on March 31 will merge all the ideas that will initiate the process and to be sure that everyone will have plenty of time to comment on all the issues.
He said, "All the engineering involved with building on any wetland will have to be addressed in the environmental impact statement. Our engineers will be looking at everything to see that it works. This is the beginning of the process in the following 12 to 18 months. There will be studies made and hearings held. It is not an automatic done deal. All parties will have time to voice comments."
Actually when Supervisor Venditto announced from the town's showmobile at TR's Birthday celebration parade, he said that he would lease town property to the TRA for the museum and did not state Firemen's Field as the location, which was an omission people commented on at the time.
Mr. Moriority said, "The goal was to take into account all the various suggestions and concerns and the result is a merging of ideas and thoughts and taking a fresh look at how this could make sense. The proposal has a lot of issues that need to be solved. He (the supervisor) would not entertain the proposal unless the concerns and needs of the various groups would be met. Firemen's Field works well for the community."
Mr. Moriarity said, "John Venditto had the architect, Angelo Corvo, come in to see what would work best for the community. He was asked if there was any land in the park to use for the museum and the architect came up with a conceptual plan. You'd be surprised by what a talented architect can do in making things fit. There is some excess space and if you reconfigure it, you'd be surprised at what you can do.
"At the March 31 meeting a conceptual plan will be shown. It is a big process. This is the beginning." He said they hope to merge everyone's concerns in the new plans to make the museum happen.
He would give no information on whether the museum would be the same size or location and no further information about the proposal. The public will have to wait until March 31, was all he said. The TRA was unavailable for comment as we went to press on Monday, President's Day, a national holiday.
Matt Meng, East Norwich Civic Association president, commented before the location in the sump was known. He said, "I think it is good news that Firemen's Field is being preserved and the town realizes the importance of saving Firemen's Field for the community. It is great news for the firemen because they can preserve their drill team training track.
"And, I wonder about the new location. It is certainly a surprise that they can put a 70,000 square foot museum in the park. It seems like an environmental nightmare. Physically they may be able to do it but not environmentally. It doesn't bode well for the TR museum and it's a quiet exit strategy for the TRA: that's what it is."
"The good news is that we saved Firemen's Field, the bad news is we've lost the park," said Caroline DuBois, spokesperson for Citizens to Save Firemen's Field, at first blink, before the rest of the news - that the field is still being used for museum parking.
Bill Von Novak, president of the Oyster Bay Civic Association and a member of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum Citizens Advisory Committee, said he received a call from Newsday reporter and columnist Bill Bleyer who also knew about the new meeting date, which he discovered as he was checking the Feb. 24 calendar. Mr. Bleyer said he has seen a rendition of the new proposed location of the museum and it is on stilts over the sump in TR Park.
Mr. Von Novak said, "So my comment to the press is this puts the entire discussion on a new basis. There were people who had minimal concern about using Firemen's Field. Now you are going to put this in a place where our kids have recreation. This will alert people who didn't care about Firemen's Field but now it is cutting into their recreation. Then there is the issue of parking.
"Mr. Bleyer told me something about their building an overpass over the tracks to Firemen's Field for parking. So it will be used for a parking area. He said that the museum, still 70,000 square feet, will be built over the sump. To what extent is that going to take up more of the sports complex and where the baseball and soccer fields are located?
"As for the Oyster Bay Civic Association, Mr. Bleyer told me Mr. Venditto and the town said they will put out something shortly, and we are going to be in the fact finding for this new proposal. We will have to be the voice of the community and now there are a lot of empty spaces to be filled in, answers found before we open up the proposal to the civic association members."
On Friday, Renaissance Properties executive Walter Imperatore, a member of TRMCAT, was surprised about the change of venue for the museum and said, of the new proposal, "It's interesting. All these things are about the study and finding the right solution which is a process. I think that is all it can be. If nothing else it is good to get the study ready that people have been guessing about rather than people making judgments, then if people don't like it they have things to talk about and maybe might think it's not as bad as they think."
Trial attorney John Palmer, a founding member of the Save TR Park Open Space, commented on the plan to use TR Park as the site for the TR Museum. He again looked at the original deed and said, "It was designed to be a place of natural beauty. That was its purpose. Not to be an amusement park or site for museum but a place of natural beauty. It was for natural beauty, rest and recreation and the enjoyment of the public. A colossal museum will destroy the intent of the park and therefore is not permitted."
The important thing here, he said, is the intent of the givers. "They have a right to modify but it is not the right to get rid of the intent." Modify, he said, still just means some change in keeping with the intent.
Mr. Palmer took another look at the deed and concluded, "The town has to comply with the 1942 deed, that it is a park of natural beauty for rest and relaxation so if they substantially destroy it as a park there might be a remedy to prevent that.
"The town is obligated by section 64 to keep the terms of the deed. So it's not like the Town of Oyster Bay owns it and can do whatever they want with it. The people who granted it in 1942 set forth the terms of what it was to be. They can't modify it. They just don't have carte blanche," said Mr. Palmer.