After more than a year of debate, proponents of a playground in a vacant field in Merrick rejoiced last week as the Hempstead Town Board voted to accept county funding to start construction on the project.
The playground, to be built at the corner of Wynsum and Illona Avenues, drew significant support as well as pushback from residents, with many who live nearby making it clear that they were worried about public safety and their property values.
A civic association meeting also attended by Hempstead town attorney William Mueller, followed by debate at a Town Board meeting in October, exposed deep divides, even though $75,000 in county funding was awaiting town approval, and the organization that supported the project — Let’s Play 11566 — had already raised significant matching funds of its own.
Town Supervisor Anthony Santino and his voting majority put off a decision on Oct. 3, with Santino insisting that he wanted to see some consensus among residents before the project moved forward.
However, at the Nov. 14 Town Board meeting — the first after the Nov. 7 election in which Rockville Centre Democrat Laura Gillen defeated Santino — a majority of the board voted in favor of accepting the funds.
Democratic Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby abstained from voting, along with Santino, while Council members Erin King Sweeney — a proponent of the project, which is located in her district — Bruce Blakeman, Ed Ambrosino, Anthony D’Esposito and Dennis Dunne all voted yes.
There was no discussion before the vote, in contrast to the Oct. 3 meeting, at which the item was tabled after a number of residents voiced their opinions.
In a statement on Facebook, the organization Let’s Play 11566 thanked King Sweeney, as well as Blakeman, Ambrosino, D’Esposito and Dunne for their votes.
“We appreciate that [King Sweeney] is looking forward to working with all of the residents to make this park appropriate for the neighborhood and a success for families,” the statement read. “Thank you to Legislator Steve Rhoads for securing this grant from Nassau County and all of your support and hard work throughout this entire process.”
During last week’s meeting, King Sweeney thanked the residents who had consistently reached out to her and worked toward making the park a reality.
“I’m looking forward to working with the Merrick community on [a] playground that all neighbors can be proud of and that is appropriate for the neighborhood,” she said later, in a statement.
Merrick resident Jay Rogoff, who heads Let’s Play 11566, said on Nov. 16 that he was “elated” that the project would move forward, and outlined his group’s next steps.
“It’s been a lot of hard work from myself and Shawn Field and our board,” he said. “Working with [King Sweeney] and [Rhoads] has been phenomenal.”
According to Rogoff, his organization’s next step is essentially to receive a check from Nassau County, conduct an engineering study and then start building.
Rogoff blamed politics for the stalling of the project, adding that he found it “interesting” that Santino began to push back on the project after he began feuding publicly with King Sweeney.
“It is apparent that there was either someone with power blocking this park or Mr. Santino’s feud with Ms. King-Sweeney was affecting the positive decision here,” he wrote, in an email.
“We’re looking forward to working with the new supervisor, who was a supporter of this project,” Rogoff said, of Democratic Supervisor-elect Laura Gillen.