By Danny Schrafel
The 8 acres that will one day become Sweet Hollow Park in Melville are still an unruly tangle of weeds and shrubs secured behind a chain-link fence. But the park-to-be already has its first official watchdog.
Melville’s Bob Sands, president of the Tuxedo Hills Civic Association, was named to the role in a June 17 vote by the Huntington Town Board.
With that four-year assignment, Sands, who was a major player in the 12-year journey that led to an official plan for the park, brings past experience as a steward of the Westhampton Dunes as well as of parkland in Key Biscayne, Fla. He has also served on the board of The Nature Conservancy.
“It’s near and dear to my heart to have something to do with the protection of open space and the development of usable green space for the community,” he said last week.
Park stewards are recommended to the town board for appointment by the conservation board and serve as volunteers who act as the “eyes” and “ears” for the park, reporting fallen trees and limbs, damaged equipment, litter and dumping and acts of vandalism.
Sands, who also heads the Tuxedo Hills’ neighborhood watch program, has proximity on his side, too – he lives across the street from the park, for which plans are still in the works.
“It’s something I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to do,” he said.
Preliminary plans for the park include walking trails, chess tables, bocce, tennis and basketball courts, plantings and possibly outside exercise equipment for adults. The design moves the most active uses, like basketball courts, close to Old Country Road to reduce noise and visual impacts to residential neighbors. The town is also pursuing grants for the focal point of the park – a statue evoking the roots of the Sweet Hollow community, as well as the cultural identity of the BAPS.
Sweet Hollow Park, to be built on an 8-plus acre portion of the former Meyer’s Farm at the corner of Old Country and Round Swamp Roads, was part of a complex three-way deal between a developer, town hall and the BAPS religious organization.
In addition to the park, the deal will yield 261 units of affordable for-sale senior housing on 18 acres at 25 Deshon Drive, called The Club at Melville. The town will award the rights to buy those homes during a lottery at the Cinema Arts Centre, scheduled for July 17.
On five of those 18 acres, the BAPS, who sold the Meyer’s Farm parcel to the town, will build a new mandir. Groundbreaking there took place in early June.
But, with advocates eyeing a park groundbreaking next spring, Sands said his first act of stewardship will be to make sure town dollars for the park remain committed.
“They’ve re-allocated the money elsewhere – we might have to wait,” he said. “We have a new battle to mount now.”
“We were told it [the money] was there. We asked several times,” Alissa Taff, president of the Civic Association of Sweet Hollow, added.
But town spokesman A.J. Carter said Monday there’s been a misunderstanding over Sweet Hollow Park funding, and that funding was “never formally appropriated.” The precise sum needed to build the park, he continued, will not be determined until a plan is finalized and put out to bid.
“It never was in this year’s budget,” he said.
Sands said residents will be at the next town board meeting to drive the point home that they want this park sooner rather than later.
“We’re hoping to have another chance to share the views of the community and make sure the town knows how badly their constituents want this in place,” he said.