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Baldwinites push for a park at Oakwood

Exploring possibilities for former beach club site

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Community members are pursuing a plan to potentially transform the former site of the Oakwood Beach Club, in Baldwin Harbor, into a green space for the community.

The property, at 8 Milburn Ave., went up for auction on Oct. 14, at a minimum price of $1.15 million, but was not sold.

Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, whose district includes Baldwin, hosted a Zoom meeting in September at which residents of the Oakwood Beach Club area discussed the fate of the property, a once popular and bustling exclusive beach club with a picturesque view of Baldwin Harbor.

Mulé said she and her office have conducted research and, although they are in the early stages of discussion, have reached out to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and an organization called the Trust for Public Land to explore options.

The goal is to have the Trust for Public Land, a conservation organization that helps municipalities develop parks, assist with “converting the blighted beachfront property into a community green space,” Mulé said.

“With the results of the auction, we are now able to continue our conversations and start narrowing down the best options for transforming the property,” Mulé wrote in a letter to residents earlier this month. “My office will continue to do further research to assist our partners with developing the best results for the community.”

The Oakwood Beach Club closed in 2011, and the property sustained damage during Tropical Storm Irene that year. The following year, Hurricane Sandy brought more destruction, and the site today appears dilapidated. The property is now owned by a man who bought the tax lien for it a number of years ago, and who owes more than $500,000 in back taxes.

At the September Zoom meeting, local residents said they would like to see the site turned into green space for the community to use, but noted that restrictions present obstacles. The nearly 3-acre waterfront property has a deed restriction that states it can only be used for recreation or for pools, Stuart Lang, one of the last presidents of the Oakwood Beach Association, said at the meeting.

Additionally, a large portion of the property has been designated as protected wetlands, which, residents said, could deter developers from buying the property, as it would prevent the construction of buildings.

“Bottom line is, we’re trying to figure this out,” Mulé said. “We’re trying to figure out how we can acquire the property, because it’s not as simple as foreclose on the lien holder. It’s just not that simple.”

If the county were to acquire the property, she explained, it would want to hand it off to the state immediately, but the state would have to agree to acquire the property.

DEC representatives said the agency is aware that the Oakwood Beach Club property is available, and officials remain “open to all discussions regarding the potential for future state acquisition.” The property is part of the South Shore Estuary Reserve, which is listed among the priority acquisition areas within the state’s Open Space Plan.

The Open Space Conservation Plan, according to the DEC website, is a statewide plan that describes current open space conservation goals, actions, tools, resources and programs administered by state and federal agencies and conservation nonprofits. Goals include protecting water quality, providing accessible outdoor recreation spaces and preserving wildlife habitats.

“It’s a very complex issue with many layers,” Mulé said, “and many pieces would have to fall into place, but interest is there, and this is something we’d like to see happen. I would say that there is hopefully a way forward with this — I’m feeling very optimistic.”

Mulé also said that, upon speaking with representatives from the Trust for Public Land, she learned that 47 percent of Baldwin residents live within a 10-minute walk to a park, which puts Baldwin below the national average for proximity to parkland. Because of that, officials may apply for a federal grant that could help cover the cost of converting the space.

And, according to the Trust for Public Land, which gathers and publishes park space data around the country, 2 percent of Baldwin’s land is used for parks and recreation. The national median is 15 percent.

“We don’t have anything formal in place here, but we do work with communities all the time to develop parks,” said Carter Strickland, state director of the Trust for Public Land, “and we’d be happy to do it here.”

Strickland said there could be state or federal grants to assist in the process, and possibly coastal protection funds. The municipality — in this case, the Town of Hempstead, Nassau County or New York state — would have to claim ownership of the property and dedicate it as parkland.

While talks are in preliminary stages, Lang said local residents support the push for a green space on the site. “The residents in the area,” he said, “are totally for whatever could be done to keep it as open space.”