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Editorial: Can the Oyster Festival and the New Athletic Field Live Together in Theodore Roosevelt Park?

As the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Athletic Association looks at Theodore Roosevelt Park as a way to solve their lack of fields problems, the Oyster Festival Committee faces a new issue. Can the Oyster Festival and the new athletic field live together in Theodore Roosevelt Park?

Over the years the festival has faced numerous challenges often involving its location. Before Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto came to office, the town had not allowed the festival to take place for the park in fear that it would damage the property, but he changed. Currently, the food court is run in the TR Park parking lot and the carnival takes place in Firemen’s Field.

With the proposal to put in a football/soccer field in the TR Park parking lot the question is – what happens with the Oyster Festival.

Firemen’s Field with new amenities might not be able to hold the carnival for kids – which adds to the financial success of the festival.

The Oyster Festival Organizing Committee issued a statement of its views on the plan to build a new athletic field in Theodore Roosevelt Park. The wording, from stakeholders in the event – in terms of those who run it and those who benefit from it - shows its concern – including the fact that so many organizations in town use the Oyster Festival as their main fundraiser – one of the reasons for the event being created.

The committee said: “Every October, the Oyster Bay Rotary Club welcomes upwards of 200,000 guests to Oyster Bay Village and Theodore Roosevelt Park for the annual Oyster Festival. At the same time, more than two dozen community nonprofit organizations participate in food sales and other efforts, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, creating significant operating funds for their organization. These efforts ensure the continuation of vital social, recreational and educational programs serving local residents without burdening the taxpayer.

“The Oyster Festival believes youth playing fields are important to the community - just as is operating the Oyster Festival. Eliminating the space containing the iconic Festival food court could impose major burdens on Festival participants, reduce the event’s appeal to guests and deprive Oyster Bay of financial benefits.

“The Oyster Festival wants to discuss, with all appropriate parties, viable options which will allow for a youth athletic field and permit the Oyster Festival to continue its successful and vital work for our Oyster Bay-based nonprofit organizations,” they concluded.

As we made calls to community members, it turns out that at this point in time we have a great many local civic groups that are interested in seeing what is best for the area: Oyster Bay, East Norwich and environs. With two civics looking out for residents: the OBCA and the East Norwich Civic Associations; the Rotary Oyster Festival Committee; Friends of the Bay looking after the water quality and environmental issues; the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce looking out for merchants; the Main Street Association stepping up to support historic structures and historic integrity; as well as many other important voices in the community; we can see that Oyster Bay is starting to work as a unit. People are talking and already looking for solutions to this new problem.

With 75 parking spots taken away from TR Park and about 30 added at Firemens Field, the question is where will the people park when they want to go to the beach? Saturdays and Sundays the parking lots fill up. The proposal will increase the parking in Firemen’s Field but will people want to park there – after paying for a parking permit from the town. Will that change and decease the revenue for the park?

A longtime local residents who wears many hats commented on aspects of the issues saying, “A large number of people in the community will feel they are finally getting their sports field but at what expense.

“A lot don’t have appreciation for the Oyster Festival unless they like to go to it, but it is good for the community. It brings Oyster Bay into the limelight and you want to be there. We don’t need to be a dead-end. Oyster Bay was an active little town in the early ’80s without store vacancies, but things are happening now and we want people to see the charm of the town and possibly make them think of opening their own business here and even moving here.”

Tom Reardon asked if it was possible to reconfigure the new field to take up less parking. Possibly putting it perpendicular to Firemen’s Field and closer to the ball field.

We have been covering the issue of fields for some time. It has been a longstanding problem in the community that only now has gotten a possible solution. Writing this commentary our thoughts keep flipping to previous stories where fields have been discussed. One of those issues was the use of school property but we have been informed that the school wants to keep its options open. The hamlet – which has limited space – is still being used to solve problems for the entire community. We guess that is why we continue to mull over the issues.

The town is telling us they are not giving up the Littauer property – where there are 36 acres of open space. In our opinion playing fields are a good use of open space.

Well – that is us. We tend to drag our feet when giving anything away at Theodore Roosevelt Park. But you know that already.