Nassau County has abandoned plans to build a $12 million police precinct in the eastern part of the county because residents oppose the proposed site in a county park in Wantagh.
Now, county officials say they don’t know where they’ll build a new Seventh Precinct to replace the aging building in Seaford, which is already located in a flood-prone area and in desperate need of upgrades.
“We really don’t have any specific sites,” said Rob Walker, chief deputy county executive to County Executive Edward Mangano. “We want it to be in a good geographic place that serves the public. Eventually we have to make a decision one way or another, but you have to have [public] input first.”
Residents first learned, they said, of the county’s plans to build on Cedar Creek Park — about a half-mile from its current location — in early December when the county’s Planning Commission sent certified letters to nearby homeowners. County officials plan to meet with members of the community on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Many of the approximately 100 residents who received the letter said they are against the use of parklands for a police precinct and said traffic on the already-clogged Merrick Road would increase. Also, they worry about arrestees — some of whom are released on desk appearance tickets for low-level offenses — roaming the neighborhood and potentially committing more crimes after being released from the precinct.
The public hearing on the proposed subdivision of the land was to take place days before Christmas, but was canceled.
“We feel like we were kind of blindsided, that the county was trying to get this through without any input at all from the residents,” said Lisa Day, who lives across from the park on Larch Street in Wantagh. “We pay a lot of taxes. I don’t want to live across the street from a police precinct. I’d rather live across from a park.”
Nassau Legis. Steve Rhoads, (R-Bellmore), said he pushed to get the planning commission hearing canceled and organized a meeting between the police department and residents Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Wantagh High School.
“I want the community to be a part of the process,” said Rhoads.
Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter, who plans to brief the community Tuesday night, said the current precinct — where 188 people are assigned — is “grossly inadequate,” lacking space for interview rooms and a proper arrest processing area. And, Krumpter said, the site “has a propensity for flooding” and is too small a footprint for a modern space.
The police department’s Seventh Precinct, currently located at 3636 Merrick Rd. in Seaford, was constructed in the 1950s and last upgraded in 1968, officials said. If the facility were to stay at its current location, which officials said is unlikely, the building would have to be raised several feet because it flooded during superstorm Sandy.
County officials said they are at the very beginning of the planning process for rebuilding the Seventh Precinct, and have not yet mapped out a design for the facility, which covers a geographic area of Merrick, Bellmore, Wantagh, North Wantagh, Seaford and Massapequa. The county plans to pay for the project using capital funds.
Mangano said in a statement Monday that Cedar Creek is off the table: “The 7th Precinct will not be relocated to Cedar Creek Park.”
Residents said planning commission officials told them the plan would include the subdivision of one parcel of park land near the park’s entrance to construct the precinct with county funds, which would be two to three stories and be built on a cement base approximately 8 to 10 feet high, to adhere to flood zone specifications. Additionally, an 81-spot surface lot would sit behind the precinct. Residents also said they worry about the possible installation of a radio tower and gas pumps.
Walker disputed the accuracy of those plans, but said he could offer no specifics. He said the planning commission jumped ahead of the process by sending out letters regarding the possible land subdivision before the county had reached out to residents. “They just screwed up,” Walker said. “It was a miscommunciaton. They never told us.”
Day and her fellow neighbors formed the “The Committee to Preserve Cedar Creek Park” to stop the plan, writing a letter to the county and contacting elected officials.
“You have people walking baby strollers,” Day said of the popular park. “They’re going to be walking babies and kids past people coming out of cars in handcuffs? ... You’re bringing a criminal element. It’s nothing at all against the police, nothing at all against the police, it’s a just a quality-of-life issue for people who use the park and residents who live in the immediate vicinity.”
Also at issue is the park’s zoning designation. County officials say the park is part of the Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Plant, but residents dispute that. If the land is zoned as a park, it would require state approval to change its use.
Several other sites the county has considered, none of which the county owns, have also proven problematic because they lack proper road access or aren’t centrally located within the precinct area, Krumpter said.
“The county and the department will not put a precinct in a place that doesn’t make sense from a policing perspective, and we’re looking to get the community’s view on where it should be,” Krumpter said.
With Emily Dooley