The Village of Munsey Park Board of Trustees monthly meeting on July 12 became heated when village residents voiced concerns about the plans for a new walkway connecting the Congregational Church lower parking lot to Munsey Park Elementary School.
The walkway is a joint venture between Munsey Park Elementary School, the Village of Munsey Park and the Congregational Church, with the school furnishing $70,000 received from a Nassau County grant and the village contributing $50,000 from a grant received from Senator Elaine Phillips. The project is being undertaken to provide a safer way for children to walk to and from school by keeping them off Northern Boulevard.
The residents living in the area were concerned the walkway would create congestion with cars dropping off and picking up children from school. There were also concerns regarding lighting and liability potential created by the walkway.
“The idea is to create an ADA-compliant walkway or a ramp that goes from Sargent Place down towards the school and makes an L-turn in order to comply with the elevation changes that are needed to maintain the maximum run of slope that an ADA-accessible ramp requires,” said Building Inspector Anthony DiProperzio.
The owner of a nearby home on Sargeant Place voiced concern that previous plans had shown the walkway to be closer to village hall, but current plans reflect the walkway will be just 27 feet from his property line. This was confirmed by DiProperzio.
“That posed a difficulty for the maintenance people because if the ramp would have run alongside the Village Hall, they would have no way to get their equipment onto Sargent Place,” said DiProperzio, explaining why the plans changed. “The railings of the ramp would prevent them from driving over the ramp onto Sargent Place.”
The walkway will have four light fixtures that are eight-feet high, use LED lighting and be on interval timers controlled by the village. One resident suggested motion-sensored lighting as a less intrusive way to light the path, however, the building inspector explained that the lights would turn on when a resident walks their dog or even if a car were to drive by. Another concern was regarding the village’s liability of the path when unlit, and DiProperzio replied, “that’s a legal issue.”
“We believe that we have a lot of traffic coming and going,” said Munsey Park Elementary School Principal Dr. Jean Kendall. “These are children we consider our family. The little ones who walk to school with their parents are facing a lot of traffic, narrow roads and a lot of cars. We see this walkway as an opportunity to increase safety, also to take some cars away from the crowds that enter off Abbey and alleviate some of that congestion.”
“You’ve got a perfectly adequate situation,” said Munsey Park resident Brian Dunning. “It’s a public sidewalk that taxpayers already pay for and that people have been using for years. So we’re spending money on a solution that doesn’t seem to be the least bit required. We’re inconveniencing at least one family who lives next door.”
Trustee Jennifer Noone explained that the board had previously brainstormed different ways of making the sidewalk safer, including enclosing it with a fence, moving the sidewalk or a pathway along the outskirts of Munsey Park field, all of which were not viable due to the state controlling the sidewalk and the fact that the pathway would need to be ADA-compliant. Dunning then asked Noone if there had ever been an incident that caused the need for the pathway.
“We haven’t had an incident yet,” replied Noone. “We want to prevent an accident from happening. We were thinking of different ways to make it safer because we were getting complaints from residents and children. I understand the negative aspects of it, but the benefits are going to long outweigh them.”
“This is not your hearing,” said Village of Munsey Park Mayor Frank DeMento. “It’s a public hearing that you are not entitled to speak at unless you are called on. So instead of interrupting, if you have something to say, please raise your hand and wait to be called on. You are being scolded. It’s the same five people who come to every single meeting and speak up because they don’t like anything we’re doing…what Mr. Dunning is talking about is opinion. He believes all the kindergarteners should be walking along Northern Boulevard because his kids don’t have to and he doesn’t care if somebody else gets killed.”
The crowd of Munsey Park residents were shocked and immediately prompted the mayor to apologize for his comment made toward Dunning and told him he was “out of line.” DeMento continued scolding Dunning, telling him he is not recognized by the board and that Dunning should apologize to him for a comment previously made to a newspaper.
Residents brought up the concern that Sargent Place may become a drop-off and pickup area for the school. One resident expressed unease that once the walkway is put in, it will become a drop-off area and create similar concerns to that of Northern Boulevard with excessive traffic and children darting away from their parents. Noone and DeMento responded that the village hired a Nassau County officer to ticket illegal parking and monitor the area.
School Community Association (SCA) Executive President Lisa Grygiel and Munsey Park SCA President Noreen LaBenne assured residents that parents will continue dropping off and picking up students in the same manner they always have as it is ingrained in their routines.
While hands continued to be raised for questions, DeMento referred to Munsey Park residents as “the peanut gallery.” He singled out specific residents in the audience and said that they were “not recognized.”
The meeting continued and the plans for the walkway approved along with the minutes from the June 1 meeting.
The board approved several personnel changes including the appointment of Tara Gibbons as village clerk/treasurer, replacing Barbara Miller and the reappointment of Maureen Mclean as deputy clerk.
Rob Farrer was appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals to replace Carol Dunning, whose term had expired. Farrer, according the village website, is also a member of Munsey Park’s Building Advisory Committee.
United Paving was approved for the roadwork on Inness Place in which residents will be informed via email while the bid for Ground Guys was approved for the Waldmann Memorial Park project.
“As a 44-year resident of Munsey Park, to hear that you can’t speak at a village meeting, I don’t know what to say,” said Mary Jane Lee, after the meeting adjourned. “To hear that as a villager and to live on the street that’s being attacked by this project and not being allowed to speak and to hear my neighbor be insulted in such a way is outrageous.”