In Hauppauge, a community divided by the Islip-Smithtown border, a group is pushing for more recreation space in both towns that would be accessible to residents of the hamlet.
A facility for "youth sports, picnic areas and a pool would give us a sense of community," said David Wolmetz, of Hauppauge’s Smithtown portion, and founder of the nonprofit advocacy group, Hauppauge Recreation Development Association.
During the pandemic, "Hauppauge activities struggled to find space," said Carla Simpson, a real estate executive who lives in the hamlet’s Islip portion and is running for a seat in the Suffolk County Legislature. "We do not have public space and park space for our children."
Smithtown and Islip do have municipal parks in the hamlet, but they are primarily resident-only, and not all are suitable for active recreation. Islip’s three hamlet parks include 30-acre Hidden Pond, which has a pool and ice rinks; Bretton Woods, which has a softball field, and Northfield Woods, a small neighborhood park with a half basketball court. Smithtown’s two Hauppauge parks — the fewest for any town hamlet — are Pine Cone Woods, with baseball fields and basketball courts, and 38-acre Bill Richards Park, with trails and fishing but no fields. The Hauppauge school district has its own fields, which it opens to youth groups like the Hauppauge Soccer League, but school teams get priority.
The hamlet’s 20,000 residents are roughly divided between the towns. About a fifth of all hamlet residents are younger than 18, according to the U.S. census.
Wolmetz said members of his group hope the towns will OK a joint parks pass that would let hamlet residents use town parks in the area. They have also compiled a list of 28 vacant properties, both privately and government-owned, where new parks could be built.
"That divide between the two municipalities is problematic," said Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim, adding that he and Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter have spoken about HRDA’s requests and agreed to "work together to see what we can do to help them along."
Smithtown lawyers are now reviewing the parks pass idea. One potential complication: "Does, for example, Huntington come in and want to make a similar agreement?" Wehrheim asked.
Islip spokesperson Caroline Smith said the town was "committed to providing every recreational opportunity to all of our residents."
Islip Council member Trish Bergin, term-limited and running against Simpson for the county's 10th Legislative District seat, said she was open to an intermunicipal agreement to accommodate hamlet residents as well as expanding Hidden Pond Park.
Some of the vacant properties Wolmetz's group identified are in the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge. Smithtown's 2020 rezoning of a portion of the Innovation Park allows for apartments to be built in some locations there. A 2019 Innovation Park report recommended development of amenities. Terri Alessi-Miceli, president of HIA-LI, the association that represents Innovation Park businesses, said in an email that "the possible introduction of recreational amenities and gathering places would be a great step forward."
Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) and State Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James), who represent residents on both sides of the town border, said in interviews that they were examining the issue but there would be no quick fix. Building a new park could be especially difficult, Fitzpatrick said.
"How do you raise funds, who pays to build it and maintain it?" he asked. And who can access it? One possible solution, Fitzpatrick said, is creating an independent Hauppauge Park District. But that would need the approval of local voters in a referendum and also add a line to residents’ tax bills, he said.
Hauppauge Soccer League president Ken Furuno, an FDNY firefighter who lives in the hamlet’s Smithtown portion, said his organization, "sandwiched in between two towns," sometimes suffers for it. During school closures because of the pandemic, the league's 750 players used municipal parks in both towns and drew complaints from neighbors.
They have since returned to school fields — gratefully, Furuno wanted to emphasize — but sometimes can’t get on until early evening. To play in the dark, they rent lights at a cost of more than $1,000 dollars per month.
Furuno said he supported HRDA’s efforts "trying to give Hauppauge a place to be Hauppauge instead of Islip or Smithtown."
Hauppauge park facts
- Population: 20,083
- Smithtown parks: Pine Cone Woods, Bill Richards Park
- Islip parks: Hidden Pond, Bretton Woods, Northfield Woods