Philip Tavella had big plans for Cedar Creek Park.
The financial consultant-turned-developer from Massapequa envisioned new athletic fields, a miniature golf course, driving range, an indoor recreational “sportsplex” center and go-cart tracks, among other new facilities at the 259-acre county park that borders Wantagh and Seaford.
For the past four years, Tavella says, he’s been the director of the nonprofit Darryl Strawberry Foundation. The project at Cedar Creek would feature continuous programs for children like his son, who has special needs.
The total price tag for his dream: $26 million, he tells the Press, all to be financed by himself and four private companies, whom he declines to name. The cost to taxpayers, he says: zero. And it wouldn’t affect operations at the park for regular users one bit, he says.
“We don’t take away 1 percent of any public usage on that park,” says Tavella. “We would be increasing public usage of the park.”
But not everyone shares Tavella’s vision.
Although already shelved by the Suozzi administration due to lack of public input, Tavella’s plans have ignited a firestorm of controversy among environmentalists, residents, civic leaders and lawmakers from the area not quick to be extinguished, with its recent culmination a public meeting held at Wantagh High School on Oct. 21 in which participants called for a permanent moratorium on development projects within the park.
“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” charges Bruce Piel, a parks advocate, Wantagh resident and founder of Park Advocacy & Recreation Council of Nassau (PARCnassau), one of the loudest members of the opposition. “And Cedar Creek ain’t broke… Leave it alone.”
Opponents rattle off a litany of complaints against Tavella’s proposal, ranging from allegations of a total park takeover to complaints over noise, pollution and safety concerns to conspiratorial claims involving the park’s largest resident, the Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant. Among their biggest gripes, however, are concerns over the privatization of public parklands.
County taxpayers have paid dearly, for decades, for the maintenance and upkeep of Nassau’s parks, they explain. Leasing public lands to private entities alienates resident users, and deprives them of services they’ve been paying for, they argue.
“Leave our public parklands alone!” yells Lisa Schary, of Long Island Environmentalists.
Another thorn in the side of park advocates, is what they deem the county’s hypocrisy of seeking new parkland while dismantling the parks system—and entertaining projects like Tavella’s.
County taxpayers voted in 2004 and 2006 to pay $50 million and $100 million, respectively, so the county could acquire and maintain new land for preservation. These Environmental Bond Act funds were intended for the acquisition of open space, improvement of existing park lands and the remediation of brownfields, explains Piel.
Piel and Schary point to the 2007 transfer of nine county parks to the Town of North Hempstead as a bastardization of this consensus. The arrangement included 12 county roads—and $3 million from Nassau. The parks transfer still hasn’t been approved by the New York State Legislature, as required under law.
“It’s hypocritical for our administration to encourage the taxpayers for bond money that should be used to purchase and restore and make our open space and parkland better for everybody to just turn around and want to sell or privatize anywhere they can,” adds Schary.
Local lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also oppose Tavella’s proposal.
“It’s starting to smell every which way but Sunday,” says Nassau Legis. Dennis Dunne, Sr. (R-Levittown), whose district covers the park.
“I will never approve a go-cart track,” laughs Nassau Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick).
Tavella, in an expletive-riddled interview, believes there are deeper roots to his proposal’s denouncement, alluding to “dirty politics” and “lies” by a number of Nassau lawmakers. He refuses to elaborate other than saying it would “kill them” should he share the details.
Regardless, the battle is far from over. Tavella says he will petition the county again after Election Day.
“I am not giving up on this,” he vows.
And opponents will be there to fight its resurrection.