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Smithtown leaders seek to put park at former psych center

Demolition begins at the former Kings Park Psychiatric

Demolition begins at the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center. (Aug. 13, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Ed Betz

With Supervisor Patrick Vecchio dissenting, the Smithtown Town board has launched an effort to build a park on part of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center site.

Critics, including civic activists, said town leaders were upending long-term efforts to renovate the 521-acre hospital site, which is owned by the state parks office. Two state lawmakers said they doubted Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would transfer state parkland to the town.

The town board voted 3-1 Thursday to ask Cuomo to transfer 55 acres for use as a park. The plan's architect, Town Councilman Robert Creighton, wants the town to build athletic fields on a section of the site near the intersection of Kings Park Boulevard and State Route 25A.

Vecchio had said the town lacks the funds to build a park.

In an interview, Creighton acknowledged the governor may not approve the land transfer. "We simply want to make it an opening to talk to the governor to see if he will consider giving us those 55 acres for recreational purposes," he said.

Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said Friday the town board was "getting a little ahead of themselves," adding it was unlikely Cuomo would agree to the deal. Cuomo's office did not return a call seeking comment.

"The state is not ready to make a decision on that," Fitzpatrick said. "I think they're going to get a polite response from the governor's office that 'When we're ready to talk about it, we'll let you know.' "

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said Cuomo approving the transfer would be "extremely surprising." The State Legislature must approve transfers of state parkland, he said.

A state parks spokesman declined to comment.

The Kings Park hospital closed in 1996, and the land was later transferred to the state parks office from the state Office of Mental Health, to block housing projects proposed by private developers.

Crews hired by the state are demolishing 19 abandoned structures there. About 153 acres of former hospital property have been turned into Nissequogue River State Park; state parks officials manage the remaining 368 acres.

Kings Park Civic Association president Sean Lehmann said the group opposes the land transfer. Northport resident Linda Henninger, a civic leader who runs a Kings Park community website, told the town board the transfer would be "a grave mistake."

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