Since the $3 million renovation of Elmont Road Park was completed last month, some Elmont residents have expressed concerns that the Town of Hempstead has failed to effectively communicate with them about holding community events at the town-run park.
However, town officials maintain they are committed to helping residents hold events at the park, which both parties agree is particularly vital after the isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fenol Larock, a 2020 graduate of Elmont Memorial High School, said he began planning a basketball tournament in November that he had hoped to hold at Elmont Road Park in an effort to bring the community together and foster outdoor activities for young children in Elmont.
Larock said the Town of Hempstead failed to communicate clearly with him, and often did not respond to his requests for contact. He added that town officials promised to reach out to him but then asked to postpone their discussion for future times.
The town has disputed Larock’s account of what happened. “The Town of Hempstead Parks Department had an open dialogue with Fenol Larock about the basketball tournament,” town officials said in a statement. “They communicated eagerly over the phone, through email and even at in-person meetings with Mr. Larock.”
Larock said the town eventually requested that he reduce the size and format of the event, which he said he did. The town conceded that its parks and recreation department had concerns about the size of the basketball tournament, lasting four days, which is longer than any event the town had ever hosted, the town’s statement said. “The park was concerned about handling a crowd of that size for four consecutive days in addition to the high pedestrian traffic the park normally sees during the summer months,” the town explained.
“The Town of Hempstead has never hosted an independent basketball tournament of this size,” the town added.
Town officials said they recommended that Larock and other coordinators of the tournament reach out to Nassau County Parks Department and to the Dutch Broadway School, which has a history of hosting large basketball tournaments and apparently inspired Larock’s tournament.
In addition, the town said it did not receive proof that Larock altered the format of the event.
The Elmont resident said the town initially worked with him, which is why he became confused and frustrated by the town’s later rejection of the tournament because of what he said the town deemed to be a “fraudulent” permit application.
“We were so confused, we were just trying to do something with the community,” Larock said, stressing that the goal of the tournament was to foster community engagement and that the event was supported by many community members. “Why is it so hard to do a community event?”
The town said his application was not accepted because Larock filled out a special permit application, which can only be obtained in person through a representative from the department of parks and recreation. Larock claimed to obtain the permit from the town’s website, where it is not available, according to the town.
While the town said Larock submitted “the correct document,” it stressed that the document “was given to him from another source and not the Town of Hempstead Parks Department.”
Larock and some community leaders, such as Jon Johnson, president of the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club and a community advocate, said that many residents feel the rejection of the basketball permit is part of a pattern of behavior by the Town of Hempstead rather than an isolated incident. But Larock said he still wants to move past the disagreement over the basketball tournament and develop a positive relationship with the town. “I plan on doing stuff for the people here for a long time,” Larock said.
Larock said he loves the Elmont community and that he plans to work to support local children in the future. “It would be best to stay in the community and to help and grow,” he said, urging young people to stay in Elmont and build their lives there.
Larock said that the community needs these events because they serve as outlets for recreation and outdoor play for children.
“The Town of Hempstead is always communicating with residents and civic groups about community events and the best way to get the most out of our local parks,” the town said in the statement. “We encourage community events as long as they are within reason and do not violate any town permits. We actively encourage residents to visit town parks and understand the importance of organized recreation during both the pandemic era and post-pandemic era.”
Larock said he plans to hold the basketball tournament in a county park outside of Elmont on July 30, adding that he wants to hold the event in years to come.