State lawmakers approved legislation last Wednesday that would allow the Village of Kings Point to use a 1.1-acre parcel of land in Kings Point Park for Department of Public Works facilities, nearly two years after a state appeals court prevented the village from expanding its public works facility.
A Great Neck resident, Daniel Capruso, said the legislation’s approval shows why residents have little trust in their elected officials.
“The passage of this awful legislation exemplifies why the public is so disillusioned with Albany,” Capruso said. “The people see that everything that they hold dear is slowly being taken from them to serve the interests of the wealthy and the real estate developers.”
State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Old Westbury) and Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel (D-Port Washington) introduced the legislation on June 3 that would authorize the village to use the park for its DPW facilities on a smaller parcel of land than the 5.45 acres it had previously requested.
The legislation would allow the village to avoid the demolition of the public works facility as required under a 2014 state Court of Appeals ruling that found the village had violated state law in building it there in 1946.
The state Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed a state Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling that the Village of King Point’s plan to raze 5.45 acres of Kings Point Park for a department of public works building violated state law, and ordered the removal of a village salt shed on the property.
Capruso and three other Village of Great Neck residents, Alan Berkower, Elizabeth Allen and Julian Kane, filed the lawsuit in 2009 to block Kings Point’s plan to construct a new public works building on the parkland.
The village has been using about three acres of parkland for DPW facilities for the past 70 years.
Both Martins and Schimel said the new bill for a 1.1-acre parcel would “balance” the needs of the community.
“This protects residents’ quality of life and reduces the amount of land currently used by the village in Kings Point Park while ensuring the village can continue providing important services to residents,” Martins said.
Schimel said the two legislators walked through Kings Point Park numerous times to better inform themselves when making a decision.
“I lost many hours of sleep trying to arrive at this balance,” she said. “The legislation calls for 1.1 acres, much smaller than the three acres originally used by Kings Point Village for more than 70 years. That is pretty significant.”
Martins and Schimel have said the legislation would eliminate the need for widespread tree razing.
Capruso said the legislation doesn’t “save forest,” but instead destroys a half acre of it.
He also said that Martins told a group of environmentalists that he “would be highly reluctant to sponsor this type of legislation” and that Schimel sent a letter to him and Village of Kings Point Mayor Michael Kalnick stating that she would not allow the village to use any part of Kings Point Park beyond where its public works facility currently sits.
“Our elected representatives have gone back on their promises and are enabling precious forested parkland to be taken from the people and destroyed,” Capruso said.
In response, Schimel said she tried to “find fairness” between both sides involved.
“My original hope was to have both sides, the village and the plaintiffs, negotiate and arrive at their own settlement, which was not to be. We created ‘Solomon-like’ legislation,” she said. “I kept a keen eye on the balance between the Village of Kings Point and the park itself, always mindful of the impact on the surrounding community.”
Chris Schneider, a Martins spokesman, said that Martins told residents last year he would not sponsor a bill proposed last June by Schimel which would have designated 1.56 acres of a 5.45-acre piece of land in Kings Point Park for public works facilities.
Schneider also said that the bill passed by the state Legislature is a “separate and different measure.”
“It restricts the area to 1.1 acres, almost half an acre smaller than in the prior bill, and is less than the amount the village has been using at the site for the last seven decades,” he said. “This strikes a balance between protecting the community’s quality of life while ensuring the residents of Kings Point can continue receiving services.’’
To use the area for non-park functions, the village must also designate another area of the village as parkland, the bill reads.
The bill calls for a 6.64-acre parcel of land on lower Manhasset Bay along East Shore Road to be the substitute parkland. Some 1.57 acres of this land is above mean high water.
Capruso criticized the proposed substituted parkland because the village does not own that property – it would have to purchase it – and because it already owns some additional land on Sunset Road, where the village currently has a DPW facility.
“My understanding based on village meetings that I attended is that the existing Department of Public Works site on Sunset Road, land totaling almost two acres and most of it vacant, will then be sold for private residential development,” he said.
A spokesperson for the village said there were “absolutely no plans at this time to make any changes to the Sunset Road property.”
The legislation now heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, where he can sign the bill or veto it.