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Editorial: Bigger Than a Bread Box

The East Norwich Civic Association meeting on Sept. 24 had as a topic, the proposed sports fields at TR Park. It was in a way a continuation of the discussion at the Oyster Bay Civic Association a week earlier, but with some other speakers. It began as Charles Doering asked if there was an answer to the three letters sent asking the town about the Theodore Roosevelt Park Advisory Committee of nine members, which is called for in the deed. President Matt Meng answered that Steve Marks, executive assistant to Town Supervisor John Venditto, said the supervisor said they are re-organizing the committee and that Councilman Chris Coschignano is not involved with it.

Caroline DuBois of the Committee for Firemen’s Field said there were lots of questions about the proposed sports field in TR Park and what is planned for Firemen’s Field and that it calls for a master plan for them and the Eastern Waterfront. TR Park was eliminated from the discussions about the Eastern Waterfront although Firemen’s Field was included. Firemen’s Field is a transportation hub, she said.

Fran Leone’s issues were about the health of a turf field and asked how much it will cost to fix Firemen’s Field, and is there money left in the SEA Fund. [It appears that there is money still to be allocated but that there is a long list of proposed acquisitions currently being looked at. Money for fields would come from the Parks and Recreation budget of the SEA Fund grant, as was used to create Walker Park in Hicksville recently.]

Bev Zembko, who has chaired the food court for the Oyster Festival for about 25 years said the Rotary Club is looking at alternate sites for the event. She said the food court is tied in synergistically with the Arts & Crafts tent and the sponsors booths which support each other by their proximity. [The sponsor money supports the gigantic infrastructure that needs to be paid for however the festival turns out: in case of a dire weather catastrophe that keeps people away. In turn the sponsors are allowed to show the visitors their wares.] “There are 36 spaces for non-profit organizations and they depend on the Oyster Festival and I hope we can find another location,” she said. Two more Oyster Bay sports groups have asked for court locations to raise funds. “It breaks my heart – hoping beyond hope that we can find a way to make it all work out for everyone,” she said.

Mel Warren said he doubted finer places could be found in that it is a cohesive area, hard surfaced, that can accommodate the needs of the festival. He again championed his layout of the sports field with a north/south axis that allowed all the uses of the fields. [Later Bob Santos said that had been the choice of the sports groups.] Rob Brusca said it would be expensive for the town to relocate the tennis courts and using the area closer to the beach would bring in DEC involvement for permits.

A suggestion was made to use Beekman Beach for the carnival rides, but Ms. Zembko said it wasn’t large enough and it is used for parking for festival workers who arrive before and leave after the event. The carnival provides a good income for Rotary, she added – which goes back into the community.

Relocating the Arts & Crafts tent is difficult because of its size – 8 tons of tent, said Mr. Warren. The tents are put up considering the area can have 30 to 35 mph winds.

There was a discussion of properties that have been considered for the fields, and reasons why several of them will not work. Mr. Warren brought up the 43 acres of Goat Hill which is park land, which can be used for sports fields. “They can surely find two to three acres for fields there,” he said. People can access it through Lawn Lane by the Vernon School. “It’s worthy of looking at,” he said.

[Someone elsewhere suggested  re-designing Firemen’s Field with the sports field up against Memorial Field with Shore Road and parking located around its perimeter.]

Larry Weiss spoke representing the Oyster Bay Power Squadron and told how they already have problems with using the parking lot designed for use of the boat ramps. He said he was speaking for boaters and fishermen. Bob Santos said gently, he was representing 1,800 children.

Mr. Weiss said, “We come off as villians for ‘not doing it for children’s recreation.’” He said the issue was vehicular traffic.

Rob Brusca suggested traffic be controlled into the boating area to fix the potential and existing problem.

Mr. Warren commented that the Oyster Festival has grown over the past 26 years from having 80 crafts people in the parking lot behind Townsend Square with 15 nonprofit food vendors set up around the triangle park in front of the post office – and with an international bike race. The festival has more than doubled in size.

John Wallace was concerned and added, “In a couple of years the Oyster Festival will be dead.” “It will be a tough call for it to survive,” said Ms. Zembko. “It can’t go back into the village; it would be unsafe now. It’s a very big compromise, depending on the size of the field. Is it possible for it to be smaller?” [It appears to be a regulation soccer field size.] She added, “The Town of Oyster Bay is cooperating with the Oyster Festival Committee to find a solution for the 36 nonprofits; it has huge implications. Especially for the American Legion – many nonprofits can’t survive without the festival. There are 36 nonprofits and now two more sports groups want to join. Everyone is trying to survive and they need the Oyster Festival to survive. They are all putting money back into Oyster Bay.”

Mr. Santos said, “This is not an either/or situation.”

Ms. Zembko said she realized it wasn’t but that the effect was great. “I’ve tried but we can’t have a disconnect between the food court, the sponsors and the Arts & Crafts – it’s not going to work.”

Another comment about the turf fields involved storms and how wet that area can get. Mr. Weiss said after a recent storm the marina area was flooded and walking through it they heard the crunch of hundreds of horsehoe crabs underfoot.

Mr. Wallace said in the recent noreaster of 1992, water came up to the 50-yard line in the school’s Memorial Field.

“This is a waterfront area,” said Mr. Weiss. “There is a lot of stuff to look at because this is a waterfront area.”

“So we need more options,” said Mr. Wallace.

Someone commented, remember the old song, “They paved paradise and put in a parking lot – we’re reversing that with the fields.”

“We live off the Food Court,” said Mr. Warren. He said his Arts & Crafts are a side attraction of the food court, and that when it rains, people wait inside the tents for the weather to clear – rather than go home. That’s a lot of pluses, he said.

Mr. Santos was happy to say that the Town of Oyster Bay was keeping their promises in working on Marino Field. The town, he said was willing to work on the TR Park field too.

All in all, after listening to the people expressing their opinions, hopes, dreams and fears – all we could think of is that we need a group called the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Park Association. The proposed sports fields will greatly impact that side of the park. It is not only for the kids. It will have adult players too. It is after all a regulation soccer field that is calling the shots.

Mr. Santos talked warmly about seeing kids playing on the fields but it is to be noted that it will also be for adult soccer clubs to use. The park may be needed more than local residents suspect.

When you are giving away a resource there is always the law of unintended consequences. We think it would only be fair to have a Friends of Roosevelt Park who really get down to the nitty gritty and see what to expect out of the park plans and to really – really look around and see if there is not some parcel of land waiting for an interested buyer that is available with fields for the kids and adults too. where we can preserve open space and create fields, since we can’t create open space.

Someone has commented that the recent hue and cry about the Atlantic Steamer boat house will have nothing over the noise after the proposed sports fields are built.

During the meeting there were questions about where the money would come from for the proposed projects. FYI: the money for the proposed athletic field will come from the Parks Department budget if it is approved.

No budget line has been identified as yet for work on Firemen’s Field improvements which is seen by the town as being a couple of years in the offing. And, FYI: the town does not consider Firemen’s Field to be a brownfield. A brownfield is a former industrial site, and Firemen’s Field is a parking lot, according to the town.

According to the town, both projects exist independently – the plans are not tied together. The town has been aware of the work needed to be done at Firemen’s Field for some time.

So are the issues becoming clearer in your mind? It is a great deal to take in at one time – and things begin to blur together. That is why we think we need a group whose sole focus is to protect TR Park and work out a solution to all the issues at hand.