Park planned in Melville land swap is put off

A complex deal to allow construction of affordable A complex deal to allow construction of affordable senior housing, a park and a house of worship on two sites in Melville is moving forward. This is an illustration of the proposed project. Photo Credit: Michael Schnurr

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Construction has begun in the Town of Huntington's innovative three-way deal that allowed for affordable senior housing, a Hindu temple and a park to be built in Melville.

But residents who pushed for Sweet Hollow Park say they've been told the park portion of the complex deal is on hold until the town comes up with money to pay for its completion.

"We had been asking for a park since 2001, long before this deal," said Alissa Sue Taff, president of the Civic Association of Sweet Hollow Inc., one of the architects of the deal. "It's been promised to us; we were told there was money not only to buy the land but to furnish the park and build it. Now we're being told something different."

Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said there was never a time frame for the $1.75 million park to be built. The 8.1-acre site has been cleaned and plans were drawn up, he said.

"Sweet Hollow is an approved park and will be built," Petrone said. "Now whether it's another six months, or eight months or two weeks is going to depend on the funding cost."

The park is to be built on the Meyers Farm property at Round Swamp Road and Old Country Road. The land was purchased in 2003 by Bochasanwasi Shree Akshar Purushottam-Northeast, a Hindu organization known as BAPS, which planned to erect a temple on the site.

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But area residents preferred a community park, so town officials, BAPS and the Civic Association of Sweet Hollow Inc. devised the plan that transferred development rights from one property to another.

Last year, the town closed on the $1.3 million parcel for the park, using town Environmental Open Space and Park Improvement Fund money. Taff says the town commissioned a park committee and named a steward. She said the expectation was that the park was coming sooner rather than later.

But Petrone said other parks that were approved have also been delayed while town officials figure out how to mete out funds. He said the town's open space fund allows for the purchase of land to build parks: "But when you have several parks, you only have so much flow of cash or resources in that fund."

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The town has had three open space bonds: $15 million in 1998; $30 million in 2003; and another for $15 million in 2008. The money is placed in four funds: acquisition, which has $5.4 million; park improvement, which has $504,000; neighborhood enhancement, which has $800,000; and green projects, which has $409,000.

Petrone said he is considering floating another open space bond next year or dipping into capital funds.

Town board member Gene Cook, who voted against the resolution that made the three-way deal possible and has criticized his board colleagues about buying open space because of the cost to taxpayers, said he could have predicted the delays. "I'm not surprised we're running out of money," Cook said. Petrone disputed that assertion.

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