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Neighbors oppose restoring vehicle access to Smithtown park  

The entrance to Morewood Park off Abbot Road

The entrance to Morewood Park off Abbot Road in Smithtown, seen on Sept. 13, where the park is undergoing some renovations. Credit: Veronique Louis

Smithtown is renovating Morewood Park, but some residents oppose plans to restore its four long disused parking spaces.

Neighbors are circulating a flyer warning that motorists will speed down Abbot Road to reach those spaces, endangering children used to playing in the cul-de-sac next to the park. Opening access to the parking area will mean Abbot Road no longer terminates in a true cul-de-sac, which could lower property values, they said. The flyer also says that the original parking area was shut down because of past drug-related issues and asks residents to attend a Sept. 19 town council meeting.

Town officials said residents who wanted the option of driving to the park requested the parking area as part of a $120,000 renovation that includes security cameras, a new playground with turf surfacing and upcoming improvements to two basketball courts.  The parking area is now locked; the spots are scheduled to be restored in spring, town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said.

Concerns surfaced over the summer after the town announced concrete and asphalt work for Morewood including parking restoration, raising questions about who the park should serve in a neighborhood residents and officials say has transitioned in the past decade from older families and retirees to younger couples with children.

Neighbors have “pretty much had their own private park for a long time,” said Councilman Thomas Lohmann, the council’s parks liaison, in an interview last week. “But 118,000 people live in this community and any of them can go to that park if they want.” Hills in the area make it hard for some residents to walk to the park, and parking restrictions on area streets make driving there difficult, he said.

Parking spaces and other accessibility improvements are not just a matter of policy but fall under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, Garguilo said: “We are required to make those changes anytime we do repairs or renovations.”

Public safety officers will patrol the park and parks department staffers will lock off the parking area at night, Garguilo said.

Officials and longtime residents agree that the park has had problems. In interviews, residents mentioned a burning couch, beer bottles and somebody who set off explosives, probably firecrackers, damaging the children’s play area on two occasions. Garguilo said fellow staffers recalled that loitering became a problem about 20 years ago, roughly coinciding with an accident at a ski lift at the park. In response, officials closed off the park to cars; it had previously been possible to drive from Abbot Road through to Stanwich Road. The ski lift was also removed.

“It’s been quiet for a while,” said Alice Bock, a retired teacher and 50-year resident whose family was one of the original buyers in what she said was then known as the Hill of the Oaks development. Maybe now town officials feel they can safely install new equipment, but “the less loitering, the better,” said Bock, who opposes installing parking.

Audrey Walker, a stay-at-home mother, and Lauren Bonamo, a SUNY administrator, said they were skeptical the town would uphold commitments on safety and enforcement when some basics — like locking and unlocking at regular hours — aren’t being taken care of now.

Garguilo said that residents can call public safety any time they see a problem, and asked them to have faith: “It’s going to be a gated park, well-lit, with security cameras up at the entrances. I think if they give it a chance, they’ll see,” she said.

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