Rally '07 - Keep The Park In Kings Park

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Stop The Sale And Clean Up Your Mess

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Rally '07

The Children
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Other Coverage

The Times of Smithtown
Kings Park to Spitzer: Don't take our park

Community protests possible state reversal

By Joe Darrow

"Keep the park in Kings Park," chanted Kings Park residents, young and old alike, as they marched down Route 25A toward the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center (KPPC). Around 200 community members gathered Sunday to protest the Spitzer administration's seeming reconsideration of their predecessors' decision to preserve the psychiatric center property as parkland.

"Now that there's a new governor in town, does it mean that we should have to wait another 10 years?" asked Lori Carragher, a resident of Kings Park. The community has put over 10 years into fighting to get this land remediated and preserved, she said, and under Governor Pataki, the state had finally agreed. "Now why all of sudden change it? It's not fair to the community."

To many, transfer of all 368 acres of the property into the Nissequogue River State Park seemed like a done deal after state officials, including former Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro and Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), secured the transfer during the final week of the Pataki administration. However, recently appointed Parks Commissioner Carol Ash has refused to state her support for the transfer, but rather has said her department is still examining its ramifications.

State representatives, local officials and civic leaders fear Ash's silence means that the current administration is looking to reverse the park plan. In response the Kings Park Neighbors' Association staged an enthusiastically attended rally, with protestors marching from the parking lot opposite the firehouse along Route 25A to the entrance to the Nissequogue State Park on Sunday. Brightly colored signs bore phrases such as "Make soccer fields not excuses," "Spitzer and Ash: hypocrites or for the environment? Keep it parkland - clean up the state's mess," "Governor: please don't let them take our park away," "Don't be dark - keep our park" and "You would have to be crazy to take our park away."

Greg Henninger and Lori Trotta, children of Kings Park Neighbors' Association leaders Linda Henninger and Rob Trotta, spoke to the crowd over megaphones and told of their experience with the KPPC land.

"We were born the same year the hospital closed; while we have changed a lot in the past 11 years, this property has stayed the same. Just sitting there. We don't understand why it wasn't a park a long time ago," they said. "In social studies we learn that government is there to do the things that make our lives better. Then how come the government will not clean up its own pollution? Then how come they make it a park one week and the next week they want to take it back?"

"We are not giving up under any circumstances," Senator Flanagan reassured the protestors. Afterward, he said the best indication of Spitzer's intent for the land will be whether he re-appropriates the $25 million designated for the site's cleanup to some other use in his budget proposal this week.

Meanwhile, Flanagan has written to Ash and Spitzer asking for "100 percent clarity" on their intention to honor the previous administration's move. "Until they give it to us - in the form of saying 'yes' - I'm going to assume that's not what they want," he said.

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and County Executive Steve Levy addressed the protestors, exhorting the Spitzer administration to honor the community's wishes and keep the property as parkland. Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in a letter to the governor, copies of which were circulated by rally organizers, voiced his support for preserving the KPPC land. "Designating this area as a park is a decision supported by all local elected officials and is overwhelmingly popular within the community," he wrote.

State Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said that because the transfer was accomplished on the last day of outgoing Parks Commissioner Castro, he thought the Spitzer administration might be wary of a "backdoor play." However, "Commissioner Castro's goal from day one was to have this entire parcel under Parks Department control," Fitzpatrick said, adding, "Whether you accomplish the goal on day one or the last day, it's still now parkland."

Dick Amper, executive director the Pine Barrens Society, spoke to Kings Park residents about the power of their protest to influence state government. 'I have never in all of my work ... seen a community more insistent that they get what they want and what they want is a park," Amper said. "You will win this fight, I promise you."

"This should send a very strong message to Albany we want to keep our park," Neighbors' Association President Henninger said afterward.

Parks Commissioner Ash did not return calls for comment as of press time.

CLICK HERE to view photos of the rally .

Stop The Sale And Clean Up Your Mess

November 11 '05 Coverage

Group rips state's sale of facility site


November 12, 2005

About 200 angry residents turned out Friday to protest the sale of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center site because they said the ground is contaminated with dangerous metals.

Chanting "Stop the sale, clean up your mess" and waving placards, the adults and children marched about a block along Route 25A to the entrance of the former facility, to say the state's contract with the Arker Companies to develop the land is no good because the site is environmentally contaminated.

"It's a very political deal. An unbelievable deal that does not benefit Kings Park," said Rob Trotta, one of the event's organizers.

"We want to stop the sale. We have researched this deal and it stinks. The site needs to be cleaned up by New York State because they are the ones who polluted it. The state owes us something and it doesn't appear they are listening," he said.

In January, the Empire State Development Corp. accepted a $6.5-million bid from Woodmere-based Arker Companies for the land. Trotta said the deal may be tainted by political patronage because Charles Gargano, Gov. George Pataki's chief campaign fundraiser, is the head of Empire, and Arker Companies was one of the governor's biggest campaign contributors.

Trotta also complained the contract says that 1,800 high-density housing units will be built there but does not say anything about cleaning up the 368-acre site, which he says is polluted by mercury, arsenic and lead.

"The contract has been left intentionally vague," Trotta said. "There is no criteria which says how the site will be cleaned up. How can there be a fair bidding process when there is no criteria to go on?" he asked.

In an undated statement released Friday by the Arker Companies, George J. Carfagno, a spokesman for the firm said, "We are committed to working with our neighbors and other stakeholders to propose a redevelopment plan that will meet community objectives. ... When closing is behind us, we will be able to pursue redevelopment planning in earnest and work with the community in a process of dialogue and accommodation." However, Trotta said residents are prepared to take the fight to the next level.

"We are not going to stop. We are going to raise money and sue the state of New York for not cleaning it up if we have to."

November 11 '05 Video
CLICK HERE to view video of the rally.

November 1 '05 Coverage

The Times Of Smithtown
Residents Rally Against Arker


November 2, 2005

Kings Park residents took their opposition to the redevelopment plan for the Kings Park Psychiatric Center one step further this Tuesday with a rally in front of Senator John Flanagan's office. But Flanagan wasn't in.

About 100 people held picket signs and marched en masse from St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church in Smithtown to the senator's district office. As they stepped from the sidewalk onto the lawn in front of the building at 260 Middle Country Road, they shouted in unison, "Stop the sale. Clean up your mess." They then marched in a circle, continuing their chant.

Tuesday's rally was only the beginning, some said, in trying to stop the sale of the state-owned Kings Park Psychiatric Center grounds to Arker Companies, a Woodmere developer with plans to put 1,800 units of housing on the 92 acres of the site that are available to be developed. Residents say the high-density will overburden the school district and will cause traffic congestion in the tiny hamlet. They are also dismayed that the state has left millions of dollars in property remediation to the prospective buyer. The estimated cost of the cleanup seems to keep rising, and residents say the state should pay for it prior to any sale. They charge that Flanagan has not been pro-active in trying to get the state to clean up the property.

"It's evident that Arker has given thousands of dollars to Republican politicians and the governor and it appears they're trying to push this sale on us," said Robert Trotta, one of the event organizers. "We're not going to let this developer mess up our town. Kings Park has been victimized twice, once by the pollution and again by the threat of over-development."

In 1996, when the state closed the psychiatric hospital, several buildings were imploded and buried on the site. There are also miles of underground asbestos-laden tunnels once used to heat the hospital. The 370-acre parcel, which sits along the Nissequogue River, is mostly a ghost town, dotted with abandoned and decaying buildings.

Dick Amper of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society made an appearance at the rally and spoke to the participants at length. "You're not wrong you're right," he told the crowd. "The Kings Park Psychiatric Center started a long time ago when we did not know any better, but ignorance is not bliss. Today there is no excuse not to solve this problem."

Amper told the residents not to give up their fight. "This is not a NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] issue," he said. "It's not the best situation. The best solution is to clean up the mess they've [the state] made. It's got to stop, and it's got to stop right now."

St. James resident Mary Beth Chasteen, who appeared at the rally with her mother-in-law, May, agreed with Amper. "We're totally against this. This is highway robbery," she said.

"The neighborhood is really punch drunk," said Kings Park resident Seth Glazer. "We've been fighting this from the very beginning."

Trotta said that Flanagan had been notified of the rally on Monday and some wondered whether or not the senator was actually in the building.

Flanagan's chief of staff Ray Bernardo was in on Tuesday and met with some of the protesters in the waiting room of the senator's second floor office. He said he would not speak for the senator, but added, "I'm more than happy to listen to the concerns and pass them along to the senator."

Kings Park Neighbors' Association executive director Leslie Zindulka was miffed by the senator's apparent snub. "If you didn't prepare a statement," she said, "and you see over 100 of your constituents outside and you don't come outside to make a statement? Why not come out and address your constituents? We've talked. We've written. We've come to visit and still no response. I just don't get that."

A press person from the senator's office released a statement to the Times of Smithtown later in the day.

"Senator Flanagan has always supported an open exchange of opinions and ideas on all issues affecting the residents of the second senate district," the statement reads. "He frequently meets with state and local officials, local organizations and individual residents concerning the proposed sale of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center property. His overriding concerns on this issue continue to be enhancements to the tax base through reasonable development along with extensive community input as the town acts on zoning and planning issues. Senator Flanagan remains actively involved in issues surrounding the future development of this site."

"This is just the beginning," Kings Park Neighbors' Association president Linda Henninger said following the rally. "KPNA has sent letters and it hasn't been successful, so we're stepping it up a notch."

Both Henninger and Trotta were pleased with the turnout for the rally.

"I think the biggest thing you can stress is that this is 36 hours of planning," Trotta said.

"It's a Tuesday," Henninger said. "People took the day off to come here and this is just the beginning."

November 1 '05 Video
CLICK HERE to view video.

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