The Town of North Hempstead board voted 5-2 to purchase 7.2 acres of the Roslyn Country Club property for $2 million to create a town park after a contentious two-hour public discussion on Tuesday night.
The board also voted to issue a $7.5 million bond to pay for repairs to the pool and tennis courts on the Roslyn Heights property and to spend $75,000 on architectural fees. The pool and tennis courts has fallen into disrepair since the facility was shuttered five years ago.
“I think this is going to work,” Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman said before he cast his vote for the property purchase.
Town Councilman Thomas Dwyer formally introduced the measure, saying, “I think this discussion has run its course. We have a great opportunity to buy this park.”
The vote followed party lines, with Republican board members Angelo Ferrara and Dina DeGiorgio opposing the purchase. Ferrara said his vote was “unpolitical.”
“I don’t have a problem borrowing the money to buy this land,” Ferrara said. “I think we’re opening a Pandora’s box that we don’t need to have a park district.”
The $2 million for the land purchase will come from the town’s environmental legacy fund.
In response to a question from DeGiorgio, Dwyer said the town will pay $150,000 in annual debt service for the money.
At the outset of the discussion Kaiman said there are “risks” to the purchase because there may be years when the town would not be able to pay the $1.25 million debt service and operating costs from memberships fees it will charge for town residents’ use of the park facilities.
The town estimated principal and interest payments on a 15-year, $7 milion bond at $596,000 per year and annual facility operation costs at $656,650 per year when it recently struck a verbal agreement with Manouchehr Malekan, the owner of the property. While construction costs are expected to be $6.8 million to refurbish the facility, Kaiman said the board was opting for a $7.5 million bond, anticipating what he called “soft fees,” including architectural costs.
Under the verbal agreement, Malekan would retain approximately three acres of the property and continue to operate the Royalton catering facility located there.
Most of the town residents who filled the town board meeting room on Tuesday night spoke in favor of the purchase. Others mirrored Ferrara’s opinion that creation of a park district would be the proper course to reviving the park.
“A prospect like this is unlikely to come again,” said Todd Zarin, president of the Roslyn Country Club Civic Association, who called the arguments against the purchase “misguided.”
Roslyn Heights resident Robert Hersh said he respected the town’s “expertise” in building recreation facilities and suggested residents from outlying areas were unfair in their criticism of the deal.
“They have their pool but they don’t want us to have ours,” he said.
Diane Hirsch called the deal a “no-brainer,” saying, “The risk is a couple of bucks per taxpayer versus the reward of open space and a place to take your family.”
But Roslyn Heights resident Lloyd Gelb said it was “amazing” that the financial figures published on the town’s Web site were in balance and suggested all aspects of the project had not been considered.
“No traffic studies have been done. No environmental studies have been done. No public polls have been taken,” Gelb said.
Kaiman said the projected membership fees - $975-$1,125 per family and $860-$960 per couple - were calculated to cover the costs.
“That was the point,” Kaiman said.
Jim McHugh, president of the Park Civic Association in New Hyde Park, questioned the financial figures the town had published.
“You worked towards your solution. You wanted it to pay for itself. So you made the numbers work,” McHugh said.
He said the debt service would actually cost the town $755,000 annually, including the debt service on the $2 million purchase itself. He also said the membership at the facility had been 750 members at its peak. Assuming 500 members from the immediate area, he said it was “not realistic” to expect 500 member from outlying areas to join to meet the town’s projection of 1,000 members.
McHugh said annual costs of operating Clinton G. Martin Park in New Hyde Park are $1.1 million and said Roslyn Country Club was likely to run $1 million in the red.
“No way in God’s little green acre that this will pay for itself,” McHugh said.
Kaiman called McHugh’s analysis - interrupted by calls from residents for him to sit down - “like a rabbinical interpretation of Passover.
He conceded that McHugh’s estimate of $750,000 for the annual debt service was probably accurate, but said if that represented a deficit on the facility, the annual cost would be an additional $2.70 in taxes to all residents and businesses each year.
He said the town had looked at other pools and tennis facilities in developing its estimates.
“I think we’re going to make the membership,” he said.
Supporters of the town’s plan say residents in Roslyn Heights, the Willistons, Old Westbury and Mineola would be interested in joining the facility.
Before the vote was taken, DeGiorgio questioned whether residents of the Roslyn Country Club, originally a community developed by Levitt & Sons, would willingly “extinguish” their easement rights granted for access to the private park.
Kaiman said the town would extinguish the easement rights through eminent domain.
“To have a conversation with 668 property owners is impossible,” Kaiman said.
He said the value of the easements would be compensated by the improvement to park facilities. He acknowledged some residents might object, but said a separate town hearing would be held on the land-acquisition process.
The acquisition also hinges on residents dropping numerous lawsuits against the owner, according to Malekan. Those lawsuits were brought after Malekan shuttered the facility in 2007.
Lawsuits went back and forth between Malekan and the 668 residents of the Roslyn Country Club development when Malekan contested their rights to use the facility for $100 in annual fees, a source familiar with the suits said.
Last week Malekan said he expected the lawsuits would be dropped since they were aimed at gaining access to the facility.
“They can’t have the cake and eat it,” he said.