A planned Smithtown park near the Whisper the Bull statue on West Main Street could include trails, picnic areas and boat ramps for people to rent kayaks and canoes or launch their own, the town’s top planner said in an interview with Newsday last week.
"It’s small, acreage-wise, but we think it’s a big deal for the community," town planner Peter Hans said. "It’s in the center of our town and the town would take a lot of pride in the property."
The plan for the town’s first new park since 2010 is still at an early stage and contingent on New York State legislation that could take a year or more to pass. It would combine land from Suffolk County’s Paul T. Given Park, a 9.9-acre parcel east of the Nissequogue River and south of Main Street, with the Oasis Gentlemen’s Club, which sits on a fifth of an acre south of the road and west of the river. A quarter-acre piece of land next to Oasis already owned by the town would bring the size of the new park to more than 10.3 acres.
Town officials earlier this month arranged to buy Oasis — a strip club long seen as a civic embarrassment — for $815,000. Under a land swap with the county, the town would take Given Park and the county would take 38-acre Bill Richards Park, north of Veterans Highway and adjacent to another county holding, Blydenburgh Park.
Land swaps involving parks, even between eager municipalities, require state legislation and approval from the governor, a process known as alienation. Assemb. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said it was too late to move a bill before the current legislative session ends on June 10, but he would introduce a bill for the next session. Alienation bills typically move at the end of session, but "I’d like to see if this can be accomplished earlier … This is a great idea," he said. State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) would introduce a matching Senate bill.
Among the town’s first tasks, said Hans: removal of invasive Japanese knotweed south of Main Street to showcase park features like a historic iron pony truss footbridge and make it easier to access the river. Street trees planted alongside Main Street could shelter the road from traffic and bioswales would channel potentially polluting runoff away from the river, he said.
County parks Commissioner Jason Smagin said the swap would allow his department to expand its trail network from Blydenburgh into Bill Richards, eliminating a fence that divides the two properties and bringing new uses to the expanded site.
Linda Sandsted, owner of Nissequogue River Canoe and Kayak Rentals, who has rented vessels for 30 years to the public at Given Park, said she was excited about work that could bring more visitors to the Nissequogue River, which she said was healthier than ever. Along with herons, egrets and snapping turtles, "it’s the first year we’ve had eagles," she said.
News of the planned swap had made her nervous about the fate of her business and one run by a friend, Bob’s Canoe Rental, owned by Bob Koliner.
But Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the town would pursue lease agreements with both businesses. "They’re a huge part of the community," she wrote in a text message. "Our hope is that we can help build on their business."