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At OBCA Forum Public Questions Plans for Sports Fields at Theodore Roosevelt Park

The Oyster Bay Civic Association invited people involved in the multi-use athletic fields proposed for Theodore Roosevelt Park to come and talk to members about the project. Matt Russo, Town of Oyster Bay chief engineer; Andrew Galgano representing the Oyster Bay-East Norwich Youth Athletic Association, and Jack Libert, Town Commissioner of Public Works, were the speakers. The meeting, held on Sept. 17 at the Italian-American Club, allowed people to question the proposal.

Andrew Galgano of the OB-EN YAA said their search for fields started three years ago asking the town to use SEA Fund money. Supervisor John Venditto said he was willing to help the group.

Mr. Galgano said the community fields over 700 kids in soccer; 420 in baseball; 400 in lacrosse and about 300 in football. Today, he said, the teams play all year long, which can include clinics in the winter and travel teams in the summer. He said 50 percent of the OBENYAA games are played at Stilwell Field; Syosset Woodbury Park; Burns Park in Massapequa; and in Bayville – with town permission. He said the parents are the coaches and the kids are willing to play – so it is important to the parents to get some much needed field space in the area. He said Dawn Cerrone, OB-EN athletic director, has worked with them carving out spots they can play including half a soccer field, and girls softball is played at the high school upper field.

At TR Park the town will continue to use natural grass on the existing field that they are renovating. It will be a bit larger after it is re-graded. There is an existing grass soccer field that will be eliminated as the new field is put into place. Matt Russo said the town felt it was too complicated to move the tennis courts, and it is a simpler and less expensive project, as the field is now positioned in the preliminary drawings. He said soccer needs a bigger field than football, which explains the footprint of the proposed field. In creating the field using the existing parking lot at TR Park they will be losing a net total of 93 parking spaces after adding spaces at Firemen’s Field to the count. The turf field will be at grade level in the area by the water basin. From there it will be raised gradually to the north where there will be a 3 to 4 ft. retaining wall to create a flat turf playing field since they don’t want the rubber to move. They will have storage pits underneath with herringbone laid pipes. The system is designed to be able to take five inches of stormwater. Underneath the turf will be a sand and rubber mix. There will be 12-foot fences near the goals to the east and west. The turf field will sit on eight inches of stone. Next comes a permeable weed free fabric; a French drain with holes in a fill of sand and gravel for filtration of water. Firemen’s Field will have the concrete taken up; the water problems addressed, the drainage addressed, the lot improved with lighting and landscaping added. The fields will be done first and the improvements to Firemen’s Field done next.

Mr. Libert said the town will also improve the parking near the picnic areas, with gravel and sand, at the east end of the park. The TR Memorial areas will also be restored.

He said the Theodore Roosevelt Park Advisory Committee became unglued when several members moved away. He said of the proposed field plan, “This is not a done deal.” He said the parking issue was the biggest concern. He said many community groups are in support of the field. He added the town is making arrangements with the Hispanic Cultural Center to provide their members with playing time.

Mr. Libert said previously the area under consideration was being looked at for the proposed TR Museum so they understood the problems involved. He said the museum proposal ended, stating it was for lack of financial backing but he said, “I think it was well on its way to going away prior to that time.”

He said because of the field’s proximity to the shoreline, they would be putting in a modern drainage system. It goes into storm sewers before it goes into the bay. The old field will drain into catch basins but will not be as sophisticated a system as for the turf fields. Mr. Russo said the field will have sports lighting [as does the current field]; and an electrical control building.

Community Comments

Fran Leone questioned the use of the artificial turf which has health concerns. It heats up; children may swallow the materials; there is a question of it causing cancer; [and a website cautions that cuts from the turf may be infectious and should be given prompt attention]. She said a Mt. Sinai doctor asked for a moratorium on its use. She said The San Francisco Examiner said they are stopping the use of turf because of health risks. “The jury is out because there is not enough data,” she said. The material is also flammable. She added that communities in Connecticut and New Jersey are taking out turf fields after putting them in. So, she said, the issue is whether or not to use turf; and not that it is the best place; and players are cautioned to be well hydrated [or to go into the shade]. She said the fields can heat up to 125 to 130 degrees.

Mr. Russo said the town looked at the health issues and said the NYS DEC and the DOH say there are no adverse health issues, except the heat issue and said they will post signs about the heat. The fields will be shut down when the temperature goes to 90 degrees.

Mr. Galgano said it was a case of heat versus rain: rain doesn’t affect playing on turf, heat does. As for grass, he said, “At Vernon we use grass and the sod had to be replaced three times around the soccer goals.” He said St. Dominic’s used the Marino field for a week of practice and they played after a rain and destroyed part of the field. They have to replace the sod around the goals every year.

There is also a restriction as to gear, said Charles Gaulkin. The players can’t use metal cleats, no golf cleats as they can on turf. Only plastic cleats. There is also no food, gum or chewing tobacco allowed on the turf fields.

The map of the field indicated a new entrance into the park near the existing entrance off Maxwell Avenue that would allow faster access to the new playing field from Firemen’s Field which they want used for access to the fields. Charles Doering asked if there would be nighttime games – there are now, said the experts. Isaac Kremer asked that MSA and the OBRM groups meet with the planners to talk about the entrances – of which there appear to be several being proposed, including the current one the town proposes to improve and the one included in the railroad museum plan leading from Audrey Avenue. There will be a plaza at the LIRR museum, said Mr. Libert. [The plaza takes away some parking from that area and the museum is counting on Firemen’s Field for its visitors to park.] Mr. Libert said architect Joe Reilly’s plans for the plaza are “in the works.”

Historic Design Plan

That spurred a question from Fran Leone on the loss of the original concept of the park designers – for the entrance to have a view of a double row of trees around a lawn with views of the flagpole, and the bay ahead.

Judy Barnett asked if there will still be parking along Shore Road – which there will – which adds to the parking count. “The parking lot at Firemen’s Field was called a brownfield. Will you enhance the drainage?” she asked.

Mr. Libert said they discovered the last time (when the museum was proposed) that it has to be done. The asphalt will be taken off and the drainage issues solved. It will be a major project, he said, and would take place after the turf field is installed. Mr. Russo added it will take a long time to figure out the drainage issues and access to the park. He said the rendering of the fields in the park were an artistic rendering, not an engineering drawing.

Someone asked about the use of the park for the Oyster Festival, the Triathlon, the Bluefish Tournament – can we do that still? He said the area surrounded with a 12-foot fence would look like a prison and was told there are fences there already around the tennis courts and sump.

Mr. Russo said the field could be used with products that are available to cover it, that can be bought and stored or rented. But the conclusion was you can’t cook on the turf, there can be no flames, no chemicals and no food court there. He said there will be bleachers, three rows high behind a 3- foot chain link parent containment area of black vinyl chain link fencing.

Parking Restrictions

Mr. Libert said there were specific areas to be used for recreation in the park. There would be no additional parking in the Memorial area and the DEC has restrictions as to parking there. He added that it appears that the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company is having problems about their new parking lot by their boathouse – that the DEC objects to it and Mr. Libert said, “They put in the lot without the proper permits.”

OBCA board member Louise Rea asked about the loss of 73 parking spaces and asked about loss of town revenue. Will parking at Firemen’s Field require parking stickers? Mr. Libert wasn’t sure what would happen since there are restrictions to charging a fee at Firemen’s Field/War Memorial Field according to the letter sent to the town when the field was given to them.

Charles Gaulkin said too much grass is being lost to asphalt in the park. He said there were several topics of discussion such as the parking effects; the several entrances; the effect of and the effect to the OBRM plaza; the firehouse lack of permits. He said, “You need an overall plan – everything is being proposed in a haphazard way.”

O.J. Donovan asked, “Isn’t it normal for fields to have a north-south orientation? Mr. Galgano agreed but answered, “It is what it is.”

Mr. Donovan asked if there will be free access to the fields since it appears it will be all fenced in. The answer was that there would be ramps on the north side; they would not lock the gates, since the fields are open to the public for use. The existing fences on the ball field do not have locks. The turf has an 8-year maintence guarantee based on the number of hours of player time.

The park is for the public’s use and the town accepts the problems and responsibility for maintaining the fields here as they do throughout the town, said the town representative. Mr. Russo added that the fields require a permit to play, but, “feel free to walk on it. The public is paying for the field so the public has access to it. The turf fields are vacuumed and get full service mechanical cleaning quarterly. It is a function of use by hours,” he said.

Bill Von Novak said his former school had an artificial turf field and track that were open to the public and fixed when needed. He said there were a lot of ways to repair turf fields.

Mr. Donovan asked what other sites were considered and the answer was “many.” Mr. Galgano said there was more space at Vernon but no lights and they play until 10:30 p.m.

Rob Brusca said he had submitted the former Hallock property, now owned by AvalonBay Communities, the 5.3 acres they paid $8.7 million for, to the SEA Fund for town acquisition with no response. He said the ENCA and OBCA had asked for five acres of the Littauer property and were told no – that it was not in the spirit of the acquisition – it is to be a preserve. The 16-acre Christie property was received by the OBEN School district 50 years ago for ball fields, but the district concluded it is is green space and there would be problems with the Village of Muttontown and it is next to the Muttontown Preserve. Mr. Libert said there were environmental problems there.

Not a Water Related Use

Larry Weiss said the Oyster Bay Power Squadron (with 140 boaters) held a board meeting on Monday, Sept. 1999 and said TR Park is a waterfront park and there is deep concern about the use of the launch ramps when the plan gets rid of 93 parking spaces. The park loses 110 spaces, said Mr. Brusca but many are picked up at Firemen’s Field.

Mr. Weiss said, “The majority of people driving to any event are pulling into the park and will fight for a spot by the door [of the field]. Everyone is going to drive in. We are inviting people to park in the launch area which can be dangerous in an area where people are towing boats if people are bringing kids to the site. The accidents will be more than inconvenient fender benders since the parameters of use of the area are extremely difficult.” And, he added that originally they were told the fields would not be used in the summer season, but it turns out they will be used by the travel teams. He said they already have problems with people in cars parking in the ramp parking area where the sites are double the length of a regular spot. “You can’t take away 110 parking spots and not have it affect the ramp parking,” he said. He added no one obeys the parking signs.

Mr. Brusca said he didn’t disagree but the problem exists currently and said the answer was enforcement by the town of the parking restrictions.

Mr. Gargula said he was a boater and from his experience, when cars are parked in the lot (which Mr. Weiss said was shown in an aerial photograph) 90 percent go onto boats. They are fisherman who walk into the boats, said Mr. Gargula.

Mr. Weiss said the boaters cannot support the fields until the parking issues are solved. And he added, “Appropriate use of this water area is for beaches, fishing, a marine launch ramp. We have just built a new field (Marino Park) and now more are needed. But it is not an appropriate use of waterfront land. You have to be sure we don’t diminish that use. If there is a big event – such as the fire department picnic – I can’t park by my boat. With less spots, no one will park in Firemen’s Field.”

Mr. Doering said in the 1970s the deed was amended to allow a temporary ball field and it has become permanent. He said it was a lot of land to give up and a lot of parking spaces to lose. Mr. Libert said the loss of parking was a real consideration.

O.J. Donovan suggested a solution of mixing regular grass and artificial turf as a compromise but Mr. Russo said it can’t be done. There are problems with the mowing equipment and dirt and weeds can get into the synthetic turf.

Rob Brusca summed up the arguments for the fields saying: the field was in the proper recreational area, so it is the proper location for fields. The attention to the fields in the park would bring more attention to the park and therefore the town will improve it for everyone. It is a connection to the downtown area and connects the waterfront with the downtown area.

TR Park Advisory Committee

During the meeting, Barbara Parry made a motion for the civic association to establish a committee to look into re-creating a Theodore Roosevelt Advisory Committee as outlined in the deed and championed by Charles Doering; and to report back to the board. Mr. Von Novak said there was no need, saying “We are for it already.” They plan to create their own committee.

TR Statue

During the OBCA Sept. 17 meeting at the Italian-American Citizens Club, Charles Gaulkin asked when the statue of Theodore Roosevelt will be seen at the triangle at Berry Hill Road and South Street. He asked if the state disagreement about curbing material was holding up the new parklet.

TOB Parks Commissioner Jack Libert said they met Thursday with the committee and finalized the plans subject to getting all the permits needed from the state. The big part of the project, he said, was moving the LIPA poles and the telephone poles. The committee wants no overhead wires to intrude onto the scene with the statue.

The biggest reason for the delay, said Mr. Libert is funding. He said the proposal had great ideas with a price tag not sustainable for the location. New plans are being re-engineered and re-scaled down by architect Joe Reilly, he said. It involved moving a thousand pound granite block that was being flown in from somewhere.

Mr. Libert said they will present the plan to the community. The permits are expected to be ready in December. He said they tried asking the legislature for funds but they couldn’t do it. This spring the statue will be moved, he said. If it is a mild winter it might be ready by February, he said.

The bid documents are needed to go out because of the Wicks Law.

Finally the town thinks it can afford the plan and satisfy the committee. “It has taken way longer than anyone would have liked,” said Mr. Libert.

The Oyster Bay Civic Association has 121 paid up members as of its Sept. 17 meeting. Membership chair Sam Spiegelman said a new member paid up in October qualifies them to be paid up for all of next year: a bonus. Bob Martin discussed the traffic problems he has been championing since his accident in East Norwich. Dr. Scott Cavanuollo is also interested in having the traffic problems solved.

Pete Hosey suggested South Street could use some pedestrian walkways. “Elderly residents have to run across the street,” he said.