Visitors on Saturday take pictures along the waterfront at Sunset...

Visitors on Saturday take pictures along the waterfront at Sunset Park in Port Washington. Credit: Linda Rosier

A growing number of Port Washington residents are pushing North Hempstead Town to act to ensure Sunset Park stays public as its owner considers transferring it to a nonprofit organization.

The push comes after some residents learned of the Alzheimer's Foundation of America’s interest in acquiring the 5.2-acre park from the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District.

The goal is to make sure "it’s publicly owned, and it’s dedicated in terms of having the assurances that it remains a park," said Jennifer Rimmer, a resident and former executive director of the civic group Residents Forward.

The Alzheimer's Foundation’s plan was to use Sunset Park as an affiliate to its Manhattan headquarters and continue it as a park, said Michael Ingham, a Farmingdale-based attorney for the sewer district.

If the transfer were to go through, it would come with a "restrictive covenant" that dictates it remain a park, Ingham said. "We are not just giving it away, so they can do whatever they want to with it," he said.

That plan, which was under consideration, is on hold, as the sewer district and town disagree on several issues, including the question of whether Sunset Park is considered parkland.

Under state law, parkland cannot be sold or used for nonpark purposes without approval from the State Legislature, according to the state Comptroller’s Office, noting parkland alienation can apply to a municipal park through a formal or implied dedication based on how the land is used.

Ingham said the district doesn’t have the statutory power to dedicate parkland.

"If my little district can’t create parkland by resolution or a deed, it doesn’t have the power to create parkland by alienation or long use," Ingham said.

The town, however, has a different interpretation.

"Whether Sunset Park is dedicated parkland or not, it is certainly thought of as a park," Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said in an Oct. 22 board meeting. "It has been used as a park for decades."

Town officials also vowed to keep the park public.

"The supervisor and I will not allow, and I will state it again, will not allow this property to be transferred into private hands," Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte said.

But residents want an assurance that goes beyond election cycles and for the parcel to be dedicated as parkland so that any changes in its use would be predicated on state approval.

Town officials maintained that a dedication is not necessary because they said Sunset Park is parkland and prefer the district keep its ownership.

Town Attorney Leonard Kapsalis said the town "would be OK with the district entering into a cooperative agreement" with a private foundation to help it maintain the park without giving up ownership.

As a special district, the sewer district cannot transfer a piece of land without town approval, according to Ingham.

In the district's view, Ingham said it's improper for the district to expend funding — about $50,000 out-of-pocket maintenance cost a year — for park purposes.

"We can’t be a park district and a sewer district at the same time," he said. "We shouldn’t be spending sewer district money on a park."

The town and the district are waiting for guidance from the comptroller’s office, which declined to comment on the specifics of Sunset Park.

About Sunset Park

  • Much of the Sunset Park property was acquired by the Port Washington Water Pollution Control District in 1931.
  • In 2012, the town board under then-Supervisor Jon Kaiman approved a resolution to authorize negotiation with the sewer district to acquire the park. But no deal materialized.
  • The district has license agreements with the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, the Port Washington Police Athletic League and John Philip Sousa Memorial Bandshell, who use parts of the park property.
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