Leaders of three civic associations from New Hyde Park and Albertson presented a petition bearing 4,000 signatures at the Town of North Hempstead clerk’s office on Thursday afternoon to put the town board’s plans to spend $7.5 million for improvements to the Roslyn Country Club property to a referendum.
Marianna Wohlegemuth, president of the Lakeville Estates Civic Association in New Hyde Park, said the 4,000 signatures submitted exceeds the 2,900 signatures required to put a referendum on the ballot, based on the number of registered voters in the town. The petition was filed within the 30 days Wohlgemuth said town law requires after the town board voted at its June 19 meeting to purchase 7.2 acres of the Roslyn Country Club property for $2 million and purchase a $7.5 million bond to pay for repairs to the pool and tennis courts on the property and create a town park.
“To have a parkland there, I don’t have a problem with that,” Wohlgemuth said. “To have a pool and make people pay $1,000. That’s unconscionable.”
The town plans to offer subscriptions to the pool facility for $975-$1,125 per family and $860-$960 per couple.
If the signatures on the petition are verified, the results of the 5-2 board vote on the $7.5 million bond would be set aside, with the issue to be decided by a “permissive referendum” in which the sale would be determined by town residents, according to Jim McHugh, past president of the Parks Civic Association in New Hyde Park.
“We don’t want to deny them their facility. We just want to set it up and do it like other park districts are done,” McHugh said.
Edward Scott, president of the Albertson Civic Association, said he started researching ways to overturn the town board vote because he thought the board squelched comments against the proposal at the June 19 meeting.
“Everybody was calling for a vote. They muffled our mouths,” Scott said. “This is a grass roots effort by the people.”
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman has said the subscriptions would pay for maintenance and the bond. But some civic leaders have disagreed, saying taxpayers wind up paying for it.
“No way in God’s little green acre that this will pay for itself,” McHugh said at the June 19 meeting.
The town board has 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 after it recently struck a verbal agreement with Manouchehr Malekan, current owner of the property that contains the pool and tennis courts. Malekan would retain ownership of approximately two acres that include a catering hall he would continue to operate.
Kaiman was out of town and unavailble to comment on the petition.
“The town will review the petition regarding a town board vote authorizing the acquisition of recreational and open space in the Roslyn area. We will review the documents and proceed in accordance with town law as it relates to the referendum process,” said Collin Nash, spokesman for the Town of North Hempstead.
Scott said he contacted civic association and community leaders throughout the town to join in the petition effort, which he said started on July 5. Ultimately, he said, there were 60 people collecting signatures on petitions as they closed in on collecting the requisite number required for the petition last weekend.
“It really wasn’t tough because the majority of the people didn’t want this,” said Scott.
Scott, a Republican, challenged town Councilman Thomas Dwyer - a proponent of the Roslyn Country Club purchase - for Dwyer’s seat on the council in the 2011 election.
Scott said support for the petition crossed party lines, and was particularly strong for the petition in New Hyde Park, Albertson, the Willistons, Westbury and Great Neck, where he said it drew 400 signatures.
In a cover letter submitted with the petition, Scott requested that the referendum be placed on the November ballot to avoid the expense of a special election.
Wohlgemuth said an attorney working on a pro bono basis had drafted the language of the petition to be certain that it was properly phrased. A “major push” for signatures in Carle Place, Mineola and New Hyde Park put the petition well over the 2,900 mark after it was 200 signatures short as of last Friday, she said.
“We even had people in Roslyn Heights who don’t want it,” she said. “And we had people in Roslyn Country Club who don’t want to give up their easements.”
Roslyn Country Club was a built by Levitt & Sons in the 1950s. The development included the pool and tennis courts and residents received easements to have access to those facilities for an annual charge of $100. Malekan closed the facility several years ago after a dispute with residents over the cost of access to the facilities.
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.
Malekan has said the deal with the town will only go forward if residents drop their suits against him.