Residents feud over proposed playground in South Merrick

Santino to hold back construction until all are on board


Neighbors have been feuding over the proposed construction of a playground on the plot of land at the corner of Wynsum and Illona Avenues and tensions ran high at a Sept. 26 meeting of the South Merrick Civic Association.

“It’s very difficult to oppose a park for little kids,” said Michael Marcotullio, who lives adjacent to the site, which is currently recognized as a green space by the Town of Hempstead. Still, he said, he does not want to see the plot altered.

One of Marcotullio’s concerns is that the playground will increase traffic. He pointed to concern in the community about speeding motorcycles on the Meadowbrook and Southern State Parkways. “Imagine that on Wynsum,” he said.

“Yeah, those tricycles move real fast,” a neighbor interrupted, sarcastically.

Marcotullio said he was referring to the number of car accidents he has seen outside his house. Adding a playground, he said, could put children in harm’s way.

According to Nassau County police officials, however, there has only been one recorded accident at the intersection in the past 12 years.

Dana Rogoff, another resident, disagreed with Marcotullio. “Knowing that there are children playing in the area, I’m gonna slow down,” she said.

Merrick residents Jay Rogoff and Shawn Fields initially proposed the idea to build the playground. They formed a committee called LetsPlay11566, joined with the civic association and brought their proposal to Town of Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino, who showed his initial support in back-and-forth letters to Rogoff and the county. The letters were distributed among those at the meeting.

After receiving negative feedback from residents living in close proximity to the green space, however, Santino initially refused to add the playground proposal to the town board calendar for its Oct. 3 meeting, a representative of Santino’s office said.

At the civic association meeting, Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney pledged to add the proposal to the calendar herself if Santino would not— adding to the number of issues on which she and Santino disagree. Santino did agree, last week, to add the issue to the Oct. 3 Town Board meeting for discussion.

Nevertheless, an agreement between the county and town must be signed by Santino in order to fund the playground and he will not do so unless the residents of Wynsum and Illona Avenues approve of it, according to his attorney William Muller.

“What do we do about the people who purchased a house near Wynsum and don’t want a park?” Muller said, adding that Santino has an obligation to those residents as well.

Joe Baker, president of the civic association, said that while Santino sat on the issue, support for the playground has grown, and the committee now has a surplus of money for construction.

“We’ve done all our work as a civic and now it’s being held up by Santino,” he said.

Santino told the Herald last week that he had been misinformed about who was and who wasn’t on board with the project, adding that the initial exchange he had with LetsPlay11566 and the civic association was “clearly not reflective” of the opinions of the Wynsum and Illona Avenue residents.

In July, Santino wrote a letter to County Legislator Steve Rhoads requesting a grant of $75,000 from the county to go toward the park. The county agreed to appropriate 50 percent of the funds initially, and reimburse the Town of Hempstead the remaining 50 percent after construction was complete.

LetsPlay11566 received an additional $100,000 from New York State and raised over $25,000 through community fundraisers.

“We don’t need to be divided,” Rogoff said to the residents at the meeting. “Lets figure out how to make this work.”

At the meeting’s close, Rogoff agreed to meet with the opposing residents to negotiate the specifics of the playground in a way that works for both parties.

The project would start on a small scale, as the roughly $200,000 would only fund a portion of the playground, meant for 2-5-year olds. Rogoff intends on raising additional funds to eventually start construction on a section for 6 through 12-year olds.

The issue was set to be discussed at the Town Board meeting on Oct. 3.