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'Don't take our space': Brentwood residents object to plans for state park

Brentwood Soccer Club president Violette Smith speaks at

Brentwood Soccer Club president Violette Smith speaks at a gathering of Brentwood residents at Brentwood State Park on Saturday. Suffolk County Legis. Sam Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) is at right wearing a ski cap. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Brentwood residents from children to senior citizens and local legislators Saturday gathered at Brentwood State Park with a loud message — they don’t want New York State to go forward with plans for the park that they fear may price out children and the community from using it.

Led by Suffolk County Legis. Samuel Gonzalez (D-Brentwood),  about 100 residents gathered at the park to voice their opposition to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation’s plans to seek a private sector partner to design, build and operate a new soccer field or fields and training facilities at the park. The agency began taking requests for proposals from interested companies on Dec. 11.

As many held signs with messages such as “We Love Our Community, Don’t Take Our Space,” “Our fields, our home away from home” and “Save our fields!,” those who spoke at the news conference said they worry that the agency’s plans could potentially privatize the park, making it harder for local children who play in soccer leagues at the park’s fields to afford playing there.

“Under what I understand, the money that ... [private companies] are going to be charging is extravagant, it’s too much. They’re going to price our children right out of the park. Where are they going to play soccer?” asked Gonzalez, to which the crowd cheered.

Violette Smith, a Brentwood resident who has coached children in the Brentwood Youth Soccer Club for 22 years, said soccer in the park has been a refuge for Brentwood children. Playing soccer and making friends, Smith, the club's president, added, has helped keep youths away from the influence of gangs like MS-13, which have cliques known to have operated out of the community for years.

“When those teams break up, those kids are now subjected to the street. They become vulnerable to recruiting to gangs, to drugs. That is not what we want for our kids here. We don’t need anyone to come here and make our problem worse,” Smith said after the conference as she stood with several children who played soccer at the park regularly.

Daniel Gomez, 13, of Brentwood, plays center back in the Brentwood Youth Soccer Club. Having played there for the past seven years, Gomez said the park’s soccer field give youths a place to forget their troubles and make friends.

“We love that when we come here, we see everyone with a smile when they play. Over here, everyone can come and we all enjoy playing, no matter what our age is or what our race is. We feel like we belong here and we take this as our home,” Gomez said.

Joseph Lopez, 27, of Huntington, said learning how to play soccer at the park under Smith while growing up in Brentwood helped him pursue a soccer career that eventually led him to play professionally overseas. He is now an assistant soccer coach at the club.

“This community and this club showed me a lot of positive guidance to keep me out of trouble and focus on school and the right path. Being in this community, it’s so easy to go the wrong way. I’ve seen it through my friends and growing up here,” Lopez said.

Randy Simons, chief of staff for the state parks office, said in an interview Saturday the agency "respects that the community wants to be involved, and we 100% agree with that." The proposal requests, Simons added, are part of engaging the community and getting ideas in order to "arrive at something that meets everyone's interest, specific to the current park user groups."

Simons said the agency is committed to “closely evaluating these proposals to ensure the end result enhances the park and meets the needs of the community it serves.”

“Our top priority is to ensure it [whatever proposal is chosen] will protect and preserve access to existing fields and reserve meaningful beneficial use of proposed new facilities for the public, including current park user groups. If a proposal is selected for consideration, we will then invite the community for further discussion,” Simons said.

The agency has received two proposals to date and expects to decide on a proposal by this summer, Simons said.

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