Mar 13 2020

The Garden City News: American history battles parking as Village awaits bids

Rikki N. Massand has written an article on the next Motor Parkway battle.


Howard Kroplick

American history battles parking as Village awaits bids

March 13, 2020, The Garden City News


At the Village Board of Trustees’ meeting on Thursday, March 5, a parking project slated to cover the historic Long Island Motor Parkway with gravel and provide added parking areas for visitors to Stewart Field became the center of attention for Garden City Mayor Theresa Trouvé, historians and village administration as they were challenged about the validity of specs for the parking location.

The bid period for the project opened in February and the project could soon be awarded by the Board of Trustees at its upcoming meeting on March 19.

Seconds after the meeting ended, Mayor Trouvé approached Village Historian Bill Bellmer and former village historian Cyril Smith and said she felt “left behind” since the Nassau County Legislature signed off on the lease for the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, and that the specs of this project had proceeded with little attention to details including the creation of a “history park” behind Stewart Field and backing up to the new Residence Inn by Marriott property (on Ring Road).

Bellmer commented at the Board meeting that neither he nor Smith were approached with prospective plans for the parking surface to go atop the stretch of the Motor Parkway, and their concern was heightened by the gravel covering concrete that dates to its construction prior to 1908.

“We found out that the parking area/ field of 45 spaces that is designed at the Motor Parkway will not include any of the Parkway itself. The Motor Parkway will not be visible after the work that is contemplated is done — it will be graveled over,” he said. Smith says the murky situation Garden City is in now, despite claims that one day gravel could be cleared at the site, “with any parking that goes in right now, the Motor Parkway is finished.”

Village administration intends to have contractors erect a retaining wall in between the southern side concrete of the historic Motor Parkway and the north “anchor” fence separating the brush behind the Parkway from Stewart athletic fields. “What they explained is for parking they need to provide a level-enough surface for the gravel to be placed there, which amounts to more construction than I even envisioned. This is what Village Administrator Ralph Suozzi noted and I have outlined alternatives to this design,” Cyril Smith told The Garden City News in an interview.

At last Thursday’s meeting Mayor Trouvé announced that Trustee Brian C. Daughney explained as part of the village’s lease with Nassau County for the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, the village is responsible for taking care of the property and creating a commemorative history park area. Questions remain on the ultimate fate of the Motor Parkway stretch, owned by Nassau County and now leased by Garden City for parking.

Village Administrator Suozzi commented that a February 7th meeting he had included Bellmer, Smith, Superintendent of Recreation and Parks Paul Blake, Superintendent of Public Works Joseph DiFrancisco and for the Stewart Field/Motor Parkway parking field the historical markers there were “under the radar” in focusing on project specs to get added parking in place for this coming spring sports season at Stewart Field.

Suozzi told the mayor “we’re trying to get our hands around it because there are project pieces involving the Rec. Commission, plus Finance with our budgeting and purchase orders.”

Bellmer says from an engineer’s standpoint while gravel would not directly damage the historic concrete of the Motor Parkway, driving over it several times could, and the original Parkway would no longer be visible.

“If they placed the gravel south of the concrete, more towards the fence and Stewart Field, they could leave the concrete exposed. As far as the north of the historic Parkway is concerned the village has not said anything about how the project would remediate that — as far as I can see where gravel will go atop the Parkway to its end, where the dirt portion sitting north of the Parkway would start. The reference point and visibility of the Parkway is the structural concrete — only on the south side, the north side no longer has one until you are down by Clinton Road — as well as posts (mile markers) still in place,” Bellmer said.

Suozzi commented on progress of the parking project and historical commemoration as separate topics, for the moment.

“We are trying to get Mr. Bellmer and people involved with the parking area’s process all together because the village’s historical markers ultimately go on public land. We want to make sure that objects did not appear and ‘they just popped up,’ he said, referring to a slew of markers Bellmer presented to the Board for other parts of Garden City.

“The Power of Place”

Smith has offered tours of the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, prior to any gravel or construction on it, to notable Long Island and Garden City village leaders including Kevin Devlin, director of Community Outreach for Congresswoman Kathleeen Rice’s Garden City office; Mark Kennedy from New York State Senator Kevin Thomas’ local office, directors of the Eastern POA and others.

About 12 hours after the March 5 meeting ended, last Friday morning Smith and Bellmer welcomed Mayor Trouvé as well as Village Administrator Suozzi and DiFrancisco to the site behind Raymond Court, and the trio of village leadership toured the area with Mayor Trouvé going all the way to the Clinton Road end, braving the trenches of tree branches, mud, debris and natural greenery — which Smith says is partially regeneration of the Hempstead Plains lying underneath the now 113-year-old Long Island Motor Parkway stretch.

Accompanying Mayor Trouvé, Suozzi, DiFrancisco Bellmer and Smith on Friday, March 6 was Hempstead Village Historian Reine Bethany, who took special attention to the fact that there’s nothing established on Long Island tracing the history of the old Hempstead Plains with special commemorative plaques, picture details or interpretative signage, “to illuminate the power of place.”

Smith contends that there is a missed opportunity to reimagine the project and create everlasting legacies of famed American aviator Charles Lindbergh; the women of American aviation history from the early 20th Century; the Hempstead Plains that Alexander Turney Stewart — founding father of Garden City — came to prospect and eventually purchase over 150 years ago as well as the first roadway in America engineered and constructed for automobile use (the Motor Parkway).

Smith recalls that several years ago U.S. Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, who lives in Garden City, sponsored a House of Representatives’ Resolution (Bill 4484) calling for the preservation and commemoration of Long Island’s unique place in American and global aviation history — with Roosevelt Field, Curtiss Field, and the U. S. Army Air Corps’ Mitchel Field trace the first nonstop transatlantic flight (Charles Lindbergh’s May 1927 flight to Paris) and the takeoff spot for Amelia Earhardt, who in 1929 helped form the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of licensed female pilots.

“This dovetails perfectly into the need for a well-designed History Park and preservation. That bill was co-sponsored by the other seven U.S. Congressional delegates from Long Island, across party lines. They all signed on board for that but what would they preserve if they don’t start with the aviation history in the immediate vicinity of the Long Island Motor Parkway, the Hempstead Plains, where there’s so much American aviation history. Reine Bethany was correct to point out on Friday (March 6) that this can have wider positive consequences for the Village of Garden City because there is no center, designated area or plaques on public display in such a setting to explain what the Hempstead Plains were all about — that would be appropriate and the Plains had an effect on so much of Nassau County with the history of other towns — on top of American aviation, Women in Aviation, and U.S. military history. This represents truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that fits with the (2019) Centennial celebrations of the Incorporation of the Village, the Sesquicentennial of A.T. Stewart’s Land Purchase in July 1869. This would be adding to the project scope and positive legacies of the mayor, the Board of Trustees, Administrator Ralph Suozzi — would there be pride for the Village by putting just the 45 parking spaces back there while burying the Motor Parkway? I don’t think so,” Smith said this week. Military History sites future examined

The vicinity in which the Motor Parkway crosses past Stewart School and east to Raymond Court is also home to significant U.S. history as during the Revolutionary War this part of the Hempstead Plains was used as an Army enlistment center. Not long after, during the War of 1812 and the Mexican- American War from 1846 to early 1848, it was a training center for infantry units.

During the American Civil War the Plains was still rural and uninhabited and became the location of Camp Winfield Scott. Almost 30 years after A.T. Stewart’s (1869) purchase and early stages of his “vision of a Garden City” the military role of the area was reprised, in 1898 — for the Spanish- American War, as noted by a lone historical marker in the parking lot south of Stewart Field, the site was known as Camp Black.

Cyril Smith commented that with the centennial of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight approaching in 2027 as well as the United States Semiquincentennial year (250th) in 2026 the spot can come into further focus and a Commemorative History Park on the Motor Parkway would be a Garden City village-led initiative as the lessee there.

“A Commemorative Park for multiple facets of history here would display the rich and textured legacy of Garden City’s importance in major American Aviation, Women’s and Military history. Even the original Hempstead Plains can be addressed as the wild prairie grasses have returned along the Parkway since it shut down in 1938. I have also spoken with Garden City Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Edward Cannone on the feasibility of a nature trail leading from behind Stewart School, including a bird sanctuary and an outdoor learning lab for children. Stewart School and the Motor Parkway share a fence, worthwhile although it’s just for the small portion leading up to Clinton Road,” he explains.

Smith attended and spoke at the Town of Hempstead Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting on Tuesday, January 28, raising big-picture concerns for the historians on that board, which does not regulate village or Nassau County property, but he sought direction and collaborations with its chair Dr. Paul Van Wie, a Molloy College professor, Clerk of the Nassau County Legislature William Muller, Levittown Historian Joshua Soren, Town Buildings division liaison Michael Hartofilis and former Hempstead Town Historian Tom Saltzman. Smith also attended a Town Hall event held by Congresswoman Rice, and spoke to representatives from her office. Smith is now trying to contact the Nassau County Legislature and the office of County Executive Laura Curran regarding the long-term viability of a Motor Parkway and greater historical project

His prevailing suggestion for the village to improve upon parking issues for Stewart Field would be use of the Marine Base parking lot on the south side of Stewart Avenue, which he says is feasible and agreeable, especially for weekend use.

Smith’s conversations have led him to believe that property, owned by the government agency (U.S.) General Services Administration, commonly called the GSA, could be for sale given the economic climate and recent investment by Southern Land Company in the 555 Stewart Avenue parcel for a new 150-unit apartment housing development.

Smith cited the persisting issues with traffic in this easternmost stretch of Garden City, traffic issues and needs for another traffic light on Stewart Avenue at Raymond Court, brought up during 2018 hearings on a zoning change and variances for the 555 Stewart Avenue property in front of the Board of Trustees. The zoning ultimately involved a change from commercial use to residential use to accommodate the parcel being turned into multi-unit housing with a 10% quota for affordable housing units, mandated per the MHANY-ACORN ruling against the village a few years ago.

“The GSA is exploring selling the Marine Base which means a higher density-use building would go in there, necessitating a traffic light. Especially with the former Newsday lot adjacent to it, making for a continuous larger property. With that purchase, a developer could concentrate on developing the two properties south on Stewart Avenue (including the base) with a total 13 acres!” Smith said.

“I predict that after the first time parents, coaches and anyone attending sports events and practices at Stewart Field parks at the Motor Parkway site, entering and exiting through narrow Raymond Court all the way and having the major aggravation of traffic to get on and out of Raymond Court to and from Stewart Avenue there’s going to be minimal use. Which is why I also now try to point out to village officials the problem inherent in parking there — parking situations will be aggravated and not helped and alternates exist,” he explained. 


Mar 15 2020 ksenia stumpf 7:46 AM

please send this to as many people as possible
newsday anyone to get history on track

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