After years of complaints by residents about the conditions at Elmont Road Park, an online petition asking Town of Hempstead officials to renovate it had garnered more than 1,250 signatures as of Monday. But just last year, developers had agreed to fix up the park as part of the Belmont Park redevelopment project.
State officials and developers reached an agreement with the Town of Hempstead last May, after they met with residents to discuss how they could renovate the park to make it safer and more accessible to residents. The goal was to make it a family destination, according to Holly Leicht, vice president of real estate and development for Empire State Development, the state agency that promotes development in New York.
At that meeting, residents recounted how the park was once the center of the Elmont community, with residents of all ages congregating there to use its sports facilities and playgrounds, or walk on a trail with friends and neighbors. In recent years, however, it has fallen into disrepair, with missing swings, cracked pavement and collapsed fencing. The fields are overgrown and flooded, making it difficult for the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club to play baseball and host basketball tournaments there.
“It’s always been a challenge,” said Jon Johnson, president of the sports club, noting that the basketball courts had not been repaved in 15 years and the fields were more dirt than grass. Additionally, he said, sprinkler heads and pipes are exposed.
But residents said they would like to return the park to its former glory, with improved walking and biking paths, and increased lighting at night. They had hoped to see renderings of developer New York Arena Partners’ plans for the park prior to the pandemic, said Johnson, who served on the Belmont project’s Community Advisory Committee, and Empire State Development officials said in a statement that they “remain committed to upgrading Elmont Road Park based on community input.”
They are now holding conversations with the new town administration about these plans, ESD spokesman Matthew Gorton said, and they expect to begin construction “in the coming months.”
“We’re kind of in limbo right now,” said Justin Mays, who created the online petition on July 28. “It just seems like the people haven’t gotten a response.”
He explained that the Elmont community would like to know when New York Arena Partners will begin its renovations to meet its goal of finishing the repairs by 2021, and would like to be included in its plans. “We want to make sure that the people who already live here benefit,” said Mays, adding that parks in other communities do not “look like this.”
“It’s not some place you would want to bring your kids to,” he said of the park, writing in his petition that the conditions of its fields and courts are “disrespectful to the community.”
Similarly, Brett Walker, who grew up in Elmont, commented that it was “unfortunate that we officially have the worst park in all of New York, yet we pay some of the highest property taxes in the country.”
These points echoed those expressed in a similar petition in 2017 — before New York Arena Partners agreed to renovate Elmont Road Park — in which residents wrote that the park needed new benches, water fountains, restrooms and courts with new fencing and padding.
“Elmont residents should not have to travel to neighboring towns to enjoy a nice, safe, updated park,” they wrote. “We want our own safe, beautiful park for our kids in Elmont.”
Now, Mays wrote in his petition, “If we come together as a community, I truly believe we can get this done.”