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Some want Oak Beach engines muzzled

A motorist in a Corvette departs Rocket Park

A motorist in a Corvette departs Rocket Park in Oak Beach. (July 10, 2011) Credit: Kevin P Coughlin

The hot rods rolled into Oak Beach Park around 6:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday, the motorcycles a couple hours later. By then, hundreds of customized vehicles and automobile lovers packed the parking lot and muscle cars peeled out onto Ocean Parkway at 15-second intervals, the roar of engines followed by tires screeching.

Those who gather here every summer Sunday say the lot -- site of the former Oak Beach Inn -- is one of the last places on Long Island where they can take part in a quintessential part of American culture that hurts no one. Some residents of the pricey beachfront homes on this remote South Shore barrier island take a less benign view.

"I feel like I'm on a racetrack," said Barbara McGinn, a real estate broker who lives on Oak Beach Road, one of a handful of streets running along the water that can only be accessed through the lot.

"Somebody, at some point, is going to get killed," said Tom Morrison, a financial adviser who lives on Sandy Drive.

But John and Dottie Warren, who live just yards from the lot, said they're rarely bothered by the noise and are happy to see the park used. Paul Guzzo, who lives a few houses away, agreed: "It's one day a week, for a couple of hours."

Oak Beach Park is a jurisdictional oddity, owned by Suffolk County, maintained by Babylon Town and abutted by a state road, Ocean Parkway.

A Babylon spokesman said the town sometimes receives complaints but passes them on to county or state police because it has no jurisdiction.

Suffolk police Marine Bureau commander Harold Jantzen says the park hasn't been a "source of a lot of police problems." State police, who are responsible for the parkway, site of most of the acceleration and engine-revving, acknowledge problems in the past but say they were largely solved when they began posting officers in the parking lot on Sunday mornings, as manpower allowed. None, however, were present on a recent Sunday.

Officers have written tickets in the past for vehicles making "unsafe starts" or lacking front plates, said spokesman Frank Bandiero, but have received no complaints from residents this year: "I guess you could say the situation was remedied."

Morrison scoffed at that and said he has complained many times this year. "It's an accident waiting to happen."

Suffolk County bought the 9-acre property for $7.95 million two years after the Oak Beach Inn closed in 1999, and demolished the nightclub to make way for a town-run park that is not yet complete.

Auto lovers began gathering soon after the demolition and neighbors' grievances have followed. Noise tops the list, but some also said congestion sometimes makes it hard to get to church services at the community center and could slow emergency vehicles that need to pass through the lot to reach houses down beach roads.

Car lovers respectfully object. "I guarantee you that 99 percent of the people here would move and do what they could to help," said Jimmy Gaffney, a Huntington Town truck driver who was watching cars peel out of the lot. "I don't want the neighbors to say we're low-rent, lowlife people because we like loud cars."

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