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Glen Cove picnic draws waterfront development critics

Former Glen Cove Mayor Donald DeRiggi addresses community

Former Glen Cove Mayor Donald DeRiggi addresses community members during an organized picnic at a park in the city early Saturday evening, Aug. 6, 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

About 30 people gathered at a Nassau County park in Glen Cove on Saturday afternoon for a picnic featuring tai-chi, soft drinks and fiercely worded conversation against a proposed waterfront redevelopment.

Picnic organizer Jack Vilella, an opponent of the giant housing, parks, retail and office project called Garvies Point, said the event wasn’t designed to organize against the project — although no one spoke in favor of it.

Vilella said he invited people of diverse viewpoints to the picnic and said the consensus against Garvies Point “really indicates the project is not popular with the people, the people are screaming and the mayor is ignoring the screams of the people.”

Mayor Reginald Spinello said in an interview before the picnic that many supporters of the project are reluctant to speak publicly in favor of it because Garvies Point opponents regularly jeer supporters when they speak at council meetings and other venues.

“They think because they speak the loudest that they speak for everyone,” he said, adding that he was re-elected last year as a strong backer of Garvies Point. “That’s not even close to the case.”

The picnic itself was embroiled in controversy after the city parks department rescinded a permit to hold it at Morgan Memorial Park.

Vilella, an attorney, said it was an attempt by Spinello to silence opposition; the mayor said he had no role in the decision.

City Attorney Charles McQuair said it would have violated a legal requirement that the park be reserved for “quiet rest and recreation.” On Saturday, Vilella sat on a picnic bench as attendees spoke in low voices and asked how the picnic, shifted to county-run Garvies Point Museum and Preserve, would have disturbed city park users.

Local topics other than Garvies Point came up, including programs for the Glen Cove City school district.

Waterfront project opponent Maureen Tracy said the hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for developer RXR Glen Isle Partners, and a city proposal to distribute a smaller share of Garvies Point revenue to the district than it usually gets from such developments, will hurt schools.

“You’re all talking about improving the level of education, but RXR wants the school district to accept less money,” Tracy said, urging attendees to email school board members to vote down the reduction in the district’s tax allocation.

Spinello argued that without Garvies Point, the waterfront land would continue to yield no revenue for the school district.

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