New Hyde Park Mayor Christopher Devane stressed the need for civility during a tense Board of Trustees meeting Thursday night when speaking about potential compromises on non-resident access to Memorial Park.
“I don’t want to be your enemy,” Devane said to the crowd of over 50 people at Marcus Christ Hall. “I want to make it work and have a solution going forward and we have to act civil towards each other.”
Since May 16, New Hyde Park residents need a village ID to enter the park, which can be acquired at Village Hall. Non-residents, including residents of North New Hyde Park, have to pay $10 per person, per day, to use the park.
The Village Board unanimously voted earlier this year to enforce the policy, which was made in 2012 but never followed as strictly as it is now.
Village residents spoke strongly both for and against the new policy during a one-hour public comment period regarding Memorial Park.
Diane Bentivegna, a lifelong village resident, commended the Village Board for listening to their voters.
“Our Village Board was, is and always will be responsible to the needs of village residents. That is why we chose to live in this incorporated village,” Bentivegna said. “That’s why we choose to pay an additional tax on top of town, county and schools. The new policy has taken 10 years to realize; it was a generous free ride for those who entered our parks despite the signage at the entrance.”
Devane, who was elected 14 months ago, has long discussed issues he has seen at Memorial Park and has been vocal about his intentions to make the park open to residents only.
The mayor said he has gone to the park constantly since being elected and has had discussions with who were there to let people know of the plans. Devane described trash, inappropriate language, drug dealing on William Street, dilapidated basketball courts and hoops and graffiti as some of the reasons he said conditions at the park were getting out of hand.
“I would assume we would like a safe, clean park,” Devane said. “It was not safe and it was not clean last year.”
Devane said his residents footed the bill for the cleanup that went on at Memorial Park, including renovations to the courts and a new dog park, bocce ball court and memorial.
News12 and CBS both reported on a protest outside the park last week where kids, parents and residents picketed outside the gates. Devane told Blank Slate Media he was heckled and followed to his car recently after visiting the park.
“If there’s a protest at the park and I walk out to my car and you follow me, prevent me from leaving and start shouting at me,” Devane told the audience, “that is not going to make me want to open up the park.”
Multiple residents spoke against the policy due to safety, cost and the embarrassment of asking friends for the money to pay for the rate.
“My family can gather the proper IDs and gain entry to the park, but I would find it immoral to enjoy it when the majority of my children’s friends are being excluded,” said Gene Dirks, a resident of 10 years. “I don’t want to stand inside the park and see children on the outside, no longer allowed to enter.”
Additional issues for concern included one entry and exit point, the potential weekly costs and damaging relationships for children in the village who go to the same schools.
“We are living in 2022 where guns are a way of life,” said resident Gabrielle Massey. “We have seen shootings happening across the country and I am very worried that should something happen in our park, there’s only one way in and one way out. If there is a medical emergency there’s only one way for paramedics to get in it is just not safe.”
Trustee Arthur Savarese said that he is currently looking into emergency entranceways for the park.
No new plans were finalized and it is unclear what the village board will take into consideration moving forward. Devane said roughly 1,600 residents have gotten their village IDs for the park and that he is looking forward to having civil discussions where both sides can happily meet in the middle.
“I can’t guarantee you anything, but I’m guaranteeing I’ll sit across the table from you and have a reasonable, rational and intelligent conversation,” Devane said. “But if it devolves into what has transpired already, then there’s nothing to talk about because I am not going to engage with someone who’s screaming in my face.”
On the financial front, New Hyde Park has a budget of $7.4 million for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.
The budget called for additional appropriations of $747,433.44, an increase of 11% over the current year. An increase of $719,872.52 in the tax levy represents an additional 15.66% over the current year.
The village estimates that the average household will incur an additional $200.88 in its tax bill as a result of the budget increase.
In unrelated village news, the New Hyde Park Fire Department is dedicating a memorial and bronze firefighter statue to the 38 members who have achieved 50 years of service in the department. The dedication will be held on Thursday, July 7, at 6 p.m. at the corner of Jericho Turnpike and Central Boulevard.