Plans to turn a vacant Islip Town park in Central Islip that officials say has been the site of drug activity into housing for veterans have been set in motion by the Islip Town Board and state legislature.
The town board unanimously passed a home rule resolution at a special meeting on Wednesday, with accompanying legislation passed in both state chambers in Albany on Thursday. The town’s action allows Lowell Avenue Park, between Cypress and East Cedar streets, to be swapped with another swath of nearby, comparably sized land to serve as recreational space.
The idea for the housing came from Nelsena Day, a community activist, and other residents who have been complaining to the town and to Suffolk County police for years about the drug market at the park and at an adjacent shopping center that houses a deli and a now-shuttered laundry.
Day said locals began meeting among themselves and with police to discuss the issue, and many “were really frustrated that their children couldn’t go across the street and try to enjoy what little outdoor space they had.”
“There are some people thinking they can go on that property and do whatever they want to do and no one’s going to stop them,” Day said. “I get infuriated when I drive by and see them.”
William Doherty, deputy inspector of the Suffolk County police Third Precinct, said in an interview that 27 arrests have been made in and around the park since July 8, 2015, mostly of locals for possession of marijuana and other controlled substances.
A combination of the park’s location, its proximity to the shopping center, an opening in a fence and the lack of a discreet place for an unmarked police vehicle to conduct surveillance has made the area conducive to illegal activity, Doherty said.
Doherty said the town recently cleaned up the park and trimmed overgrowth in the back area, “which makes it less than an ideal place now to do any unlawful acts.” The drug dealers were often hiding their stashes in the bushes and waiting for a customer to come by before fetching the product, Doherty said.
The community’s complaints have spurred the department to add the location to their patrol check system, Doherty said. This allows police commanders to keep track of officers’ activity at the location when they’re deployed to drive by and park there conspicuously to discourage any criminal activity.
The project to build veterans housing at the park site will be passed on to the Islip Community Development Agency, Housing Authority or another suitable nonprofit that would then be in charge of development, town officials said. The replacement parkland would run along the west side of Lowell Avenue near Elm Avenue, according to a diagram prepared by the town.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said at Wednesday’s meeting that the 1 1⁄4-acre lot “has not operated as a park in many years” and that the project “is a good opportunity to bring this to a better use for the entire community.”
The field once had baseball diamonds on it, Day said, but now it’s just a barren plot.
“There are so many kids in this neighborhood. We don’t need that around here,” Day said of the drug activity. “Not with all these kids around who need to be safe, be protected.”