During a recent town of North Hempstead (TONH) meeting, town officials spoke about reassured residents that they plan to keep Sunset Park in Port Washington a public park.
The park is currently owned and operated by the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District (PWWPCD), which runs a pump station along with other equipment on the property. In September, the town and the district began discussions regarding the possibility of transferring ownership of the park to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.
During the Oct. 22 meeting, TONH supervisor Judi Bosworth and councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte stated that they were not in favor of the transfer, and will do everything possible to ensure that Sunset Park remains in public hands.
“They do want to get rid of this piece of property,” Dalimonte said. “The supervisor and I will not allow this property to be transferred into private hands. It will always remain public.”
“Whether Sunset Park is dedicated parkland or not, it is certainly thought of as a park,” Bosworth said. “It has been used as a park for decades. If there were any sense of anything done with that land, other than it being the green space that it currently is, that would be considered alienation of parkland. That would need to be approved not only by the Town of North Hempstead but by the state as well. I understand that there are several members of the community that are raising these concerns but this is the land that belongs to the Port Water Pollution Control District. It is their land and whatever leases they enter into need to be very clear about what is allowed there and what is not.”
TONH Planning Commissioner Michael Levine stated that the alienation of parkland issue is where the town and the district have differing opinions.
“The one issue where we and the district do have a difference of opinion is whether this is subject to alienation,” Levine said. “So the district has said because they’re not eligible to operate a park, this can’t be a park, and they’ve described it as simply vacant land owned by the district. But, it does not matter if there was ever a formal dedication of parkland or not. How it’s been used, how it’s been maintained. This is established as a park. So it is subject to alienation legislation, and then whatever long-term conditions are put on that.
So we’ve taken the position and both the councilwoman and supervisor stated, this is always going to be a park. It’s the fact that it may transfer to private hands, it may not but if it does, it does not mean it’s an eligible development parcel.”
Several residents also brought up concerns regarding whether the new BW district zoning code would allow for buildings to be constructed on Sunset Park. Town officials quickly stated that is not the case.
“The [sewer district] will tell you that no one can build on Sunset Park,” Dalimonte said. “There are sewer lines throughout the entire park and they have easements to them. They own this property.”
Dalimonte stated that they were waiting for an answer from the New York State Comptrollers office to find out exactly what can be done with the property. The town is trying to find out if the property can still remain publicly owned but be leased to a private entity. Dalimonte described this as a “friends of” agreement, which would requite that entity to be responsible for the parks maintenance and operation.
While the town is waiting to hear back from the New York State Comptrollers office, Michael Scotto, a president of the John Philip Sousa Memorial Bandshell Committee recently created a Facebook group, Friends of Sunset Park.
“The bandshell has a use agreement with the district who owns the land,” Scotto said. “The bandshell committee had kicked around the idea of approaching the district and seeing if it would be possible to—if they were going to transfer it—to transfer it to us. But that never came to fruition and any thoughts of that with the pandemic—nobody was expecting anything to happen.”
Scotto stated that after the September meeting held by the PWWPCD, the bandshell committee reached out to Dalimonte to see if they could help in any way. In October, Scotto stated they began working on creating a nonprofit called Friends of Sunset Park, to help maintain and preserve the land.
“We created this nonprofit to basically support the town or the sewer district in maintaining and improving the park,” Scotto said. “That’s what we are hoping to do. I think we’d all be happy with the status quo, that if there’s a decision that says that the district can own the property as long as they don’t expend tax payer funds. Then the nonprofit would basically maintain it. We could apply for grants and beautify it. But until we get a decision [from the state] we don’t really know. We did this to support the town or the district’s ownership of the property so that tax payers won’t be on the hook for the maintenance.”
The Port Washington Camber of Commerce, the Port Washington Police Athletic League (PAL) and the John Philip Sousa Memorial Bandshell all hold licensing agreements to use portions of the property. The town is still waiting to hear back from the New York State Comptrollers office about what they can do with this property.