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Town Waiting to Hear From Groups on Creating a New Field at TR Park

Bob Santos of the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Athletic Association has been spearheading the search for fields needed for the many local children involved in sports. Today, added to the old standbys of football, softball and soccer, lacrosse has been added. Today, girls get the same athletic opportunities as boys – including scholarships. Additionally some sports run for more than one season, adding to the need for fields which has expanded over the years.

At the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park which already has a softball/baseball field with two diamonds, there is a plan to add a turf football/soccer field. As planned it will be built in the current parking lot area, taking away about 75 parking spaces. There are currently 253 spaces at TR Park and a new configuration will have them with 143 spaces. Work is also planned to renovate Firemen’s Field where there are currently about 281 spaces and where there will be 318 spaces.

A town spokesperson said, “There is a preliminary plan but the town is still waiting to hear from the athletic association represented by Mr. Santos and he has been asked to see if the community supports this. He is supposed to get letters in support of the field at TR Park. It will be bringing in more noise and taking away some parking.”

She was asked about other sites in the community and responded to their use. She said the Mill Pond Overlook property was to remain in its native state. A Request for Proposals is going out for a Mill Pond Management Plan so people can enjoy the property. It is not for fields, sitting as it is on the water which is a sensitive area. The TR Park is a different story – it already has fields. The town is committed to leaving the Mill Pond Overlook for people to enjoy nature.

“TR Park is already a developed park with fields and swing sets there… It is a whole different animal,” said the town spokesperson. As for the Littauer property, the spokesperson said, “It is going to remain in the state it is in. It is treed, has some paths and the town has had groups in there: Scouts to work; garden club came to work; and they are working on renovations to the house to bring it up to code; installing rest rooms. It will be used for educational purposes; classes there for nature photography and utlilizing what is already there – the trees and flowers. There is also a small working garden that belongs to the caretaker that will be maintained. There are no playing fields and no large concerts anticipated.”

As for the Hallock property, the town said, “It’s not on the radar. TR Park is what is being looked at and there is a rendering for the fields. Now what is needed is broad-based support in writing – letters from organizations supporting the fields at TR Park.”

As for using the new Centre Island Beach fields, the local groups have priority in their use.

When asked about the possibility that there could be scheduling problems about parking with the loss of some of the spots the town spokesperson said the town will be in charge of scheduling so it can take into consideration groups using the park at the same time – and there will be additional parking at Firemen’s Field. An example of an event is the annual Polar Bear Swim which fills up the TR Park parking lot.

“The town Parks Department will schedule the fields and picnics and they know what parking is available and there is parking on both sides of TR Park. There will be parking for both swimmers and boaters.

“The town has already gotten a letter from the Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce supporting the fields, and has been told a number of other local groups will be submitting letters shortly.

“If the project does proceed, Firemen’s Field will also be repaved, and restripped so any overflow parking can go there. The engineers are trying to replace spaces lost within the park itself,” she said.

Talking to the Community

Bob Santos held two meetings in the Friends of the Bay meeting room in Townsend Square where he presented the plans being considered. Patricia Aitken, FOB acting director said, “Our big concern is always water quality… but this is a terrific way to get kids in the open and be aware of the waterfront. This park should be the crown jewel of all the parks in Oyster Bay. FOB always has issues about water quality and as long as the designers keep that in mind, we are not opposed to the project. The park is beautiful and should be enjoyed.”

Some of those attending the meeting were: Bob Santos; Rob Brusca; Jaime Deming of the WaterFront Center; Ralph Fumante of OBC deputy mayor; John Specce and Bill Bell of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum; Isaac Kremer of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association; Matthew Meng of the East Norwich Civic Association and Bill Von Novak of the Oyster Bay Civic Association.

“It was a good cross-section of the community – and all there at one time to see the plans. “They were able to show the community what they planned before it is too far in. They were asking for opinions and I give them credit for that,” said Ms. Aitken.

“There may be some people who are not crazy about the use of the park, but kids have to play somewhere. It gets them off the streets into a safe environment,” she added.

George DeMartino’s view of the issue is that he doesn’t want to oppose the proposed use of TR Park. He said, “What’s the point. I don’t see an alternative. Even the proposed TR Museum tried to find places to put things. I have three kids and they do need some more sports playing space. The only thing I don’t like is they are taking 75 parking spaces - while drawing more people to park they will have less space for parking. It’s the same Ponzi game but for a better cause, but I don’t see another solution.”

As for purchasing the AvalonBay commercial property, he said it would go for something in the $15 million range. Especially since they have been paying about $200,000 in taxes on the site.

Mr. DeMartino said there is a positive aspect about increasing the number of fields at TR Park since it brings foot traffic back to town. “Not only our own residents but visiting teams and their parents and supporters,” he said.

Mr. DeMartino said, “This is the perfect time for the OB-ENAA to do this. They have a plan. I don’t want to stand in the way of this if there were another plan. They didn’t start with the park in mind, they started with other spaces.”

Water Quality Issues

Caroline DuBois had some issues on the proposed use of TR Park and the proposed work at Firemen’s Field. She is concerned that work there could rearrange the water table and create problems in basements around the area. She said the same problems are there that existed with a museum was proposed, including loss of parking.

She said in the plan, they are taking away 75 parking spaces but will renovate Firemen’s Field and re-strip and re-pave it and add trees, lighting, bushes, garbage cans and maybe reorganize the entrance to the park and a walkway over the train tracks and maybe add a bathroom.

Ms. Du Bois said it is time to back up and have a master plan. She asked if a new field would mean the school’s Memorial Field would be abandoned and asked why not fix up Memorial Field.

She said, “If they are doing Firemen’s Field it should be done in an eco-friendly way where the runoff can go through a filtration system so the oil and grease doesn’t go into the harbor. We still have an underground stream there and it is still a flood plain. The park is also on a flood plain so it is worth asking – what are you improving in that kind of area.

“A flood plain is a flood plain – what happens to the fields if and when there is a flood,” she added.

In a recent proposal for the use of TR Park for fields, there was a suggestion to use the Capone property on the waterfront for additional parking, but that area is now being used [as proposed in the original Western Waterfront Plan] for a water rescue building. Ms. DuBois asked, “Where is the TR Park Advisory Committee that Councilman Chris Coschignano was chairing. Charles Doering and Fran Leone want to be on that committee – they are part of the user groups. Let’s get a fisherman, a boater, a clammer on the advisory committee. Let’s not put the cart before the horse – let’s get a master plan,” said Ms. DuBois.

Phase One and Two

Mr. Santos said when this work is completed, Phase One of the project, they still need more fields – which will be Phase Two. He said, between all the sports programs we have over 1,000 children involved and some sports are going into multiple seasons. Soccer is now played in the fall and spring; Lacrosse and baseball are spring and football is in the fall with practice sessions in the summer. In the fall, soccer and football share the fields. In the spring, three sports share the fields: lacrosse, baseball and soccer.

There are benefits to playing sports beyond just physical activity. Lacrosse brings in scholarships to some children today, and a certain percentage of parents are looking at scholarships for their children, he said.

He said the issues go back to the Town of Oyster Bay in that there are no regulation football, soccer or lacrosse field that are TOB facilities. Here, they are all school fields. Schools have teams and priority for their fields so there are scheduling issues that become complex, he said. In other towns there is much more use of school fields, in village and towns other than Oyster Bay.

[If you consider it, there are no fields being offered in the surrounding villages of Oyster Bay Cove; Mill Neck; East Norwich; Muttontown; Upper Brookville; Centre Island, Cove Neck – while children from all those areas attend the local schools.]

Mr. Santos said “We would definitely like to see a Phase Two after improving the Marino Fields on Berry Hill Road and there will still be a need for fields either from open space or commercial space for the OB-EN kids. It’s going to take time so the sooner we look at alternatives so that we can get what we need - for the kids – the better.”

The next step will be a campaign for open space to become fields. Ballfields are grass and dirt and still open space. There may be a need for bathrooms, he added.

Mr. Santos said, “The town and all the local associations are being very cooperative. We are all on the same page. That’s the good news. And, the funding is guaranteed by Mr. Venditto so there is not a whole lot holding us back. The Marino and TR Park fields should be ready by Spring 2010.”

They are not tearing down the existing tennis courts and basketball courts. Another consideration is that the proposed fields are located in the active part of TR Park. “That is why the Theodore Roosevelt Association is cooperative: because we are putting the turf field in the part that is for sports fields. It also makes the most sense to put it there,” he said.

[The remaining area on the easterly area of the park has a TR Rock garden and a fountain area crying to be restored and redeveloped.]

Bob Santos said the work being done is Phase One of what is needed. The key points, he said are: “We are on schedule, we have regular meetings with the town and the associations in town all have been invited to participate - they are all going to give letters of support for the project,” said Mr. Santos.