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Editorial: Basketball court resolution passes but doesn’t feel like progress

Opinion / Letters July 13, 2022

Community members voiced their opinions on the Downtown Basketball Court Revitalization Project at a public hearing in Northport Village yesterday.

The look of defeat and exhaustion on the faces of the 1995 Northport High School Championship Basketball Team at last night’s public hearing was palpable: though a resolution was passed to move their court revitalization project forward, the spirit of the project and love for community that initiated it was drowned out by misinformation and malfeasance.

The board’s vote to hire the Village engineering firm for $13,500 to produce (another set of) plans for the “compromised” court was unanimous. But to many in the room, it didn’t feel like progress. It felt unorganized, lacked clarity and provided another stymie in what could have been a positive and transparent process.

The meeting began with an uplifting quote about compromise from the mayor; the Village had reached a deal with project organizers that reduced the size of the court as originally proposed, she said. Within one minute of her opening remarks, after briefly mentioning a reduced hardscape and saved trees, the mayor opened up the floor for public comment.

Participants had three minutes to speak and were not allowed to ask questions.

Without any updated information, many residents were left speaking about a plan they didn’t understand. Others spoke as if the original proposal was still on the table. It was frustrating and disheartening to witness a group of people who want to do something positive for the community be met with opposition fueled by misinformation, or little to no information at all. Opposition that has, in our opinion, been enabled by the mayor, and met with silence by some members of the administration.

Why weren’t the plans of the compromise publicly discussed before the hearing began? What would the green space look like under this new plan, and how does the board intend to include the native plantings as originally proposed? What about the pavers and the benches?

Nobody knew.

Why, leading up to the hearing, were ribbons tied around fifteen trees and stakes placed around the existing basketball court with no explanation of what they meant or how they reflected either project proposal? Where was the announcement on the Village website inviting the community to look at the court and the stakes around it, representing both the original court size plans and the compromise?

Were these acts meant to mislead residents into believing all of those trees would be lost should any size basketball court be built, despite professional renderings – provided by the basketball organizers – showing otherwise?

Those renderings, unveiled to the public by project organizers in December of 2021, presented to the current board (again) in May 2022, and passed around by community members at the meeting last night, show tree protection fencing in the same areas in which the mayor allowed pink ribbons to be haphazardly tied around trees. The same area that was mentioned repeatedly by residents last night as too important to be tarnished by a basketball court. Many of these residents had not seen the original plan, only the ribbons. They also did not understand that the new plan – of which no visuals were available – would leave most, if not all, of the trees standing.

The majority of people who spoke out in opposition to the court last night were guided by false information, not just about trees but about the court itself. What has been proposed in the compromise is much smaller than the standard sizes used in the professional, college or even high schools ranks. Yet people spoke of a full-size court as if the team was suggesting constructing a regulation-size NBA court in Northport Village.

An NBA court measures 94 feet long x 50 feet wide, while many high school courts measure 84 feet long x 50 feet wide. The size of the court agreed upon in the compromise is 64 feet long x 48 feet wide. That’s just 15 feet longer and 12 feet wider than the current court, which is in such a state of disrepair that weeds are growing through cracks in the asphalt.

The notion that the court should be moved to Steers Park was also shared by several residents last night, many of whom admitted to not being down there for quite some time. How did so many people suddenly come up with the same exact alternate plan? A “full-sized court,” bigger than even the compromise, was what the team deserved, some residents argued, as long as it wasn’t downtown.

But building a court at Steers was never part of the 1995 team’s vision and going through with such a plan would be a disservice to the project organizers and all the community members who donated to the project, as proposed, in Cow Harbor Park.

If the project is moved to Steers, who’s paying for it? The money raised via the team’s GoFundMe page would likely be returned as it’s not what was presented to the public. Matching funds, secured by Senator James Gaughran via a state grant, were intended specifically for basketball court improvements in Cow Harbor Park. “If they [Village officials] were going to use that money for something else, I think that would be very disingenuous of them,” Senator Gaughran said in a conversation with the Journal last week.

Would the taxpayers take on the financial responsibility of this alternative plan? Maybe the private donor alluded to by the mayor in multiple publications, the resident who spoke last night in opposition to the project, would be willing to put up the funds not only for a bathroom in Cow Harbor Park, but an “athletic facility” in Steers.

Speaking of, when asked who was paying up to $13,500 for the new plans, the mayor said the funds would come from either the money raised via public donation, or the state grant. Should this not have been decided prior to voting on hiring the engineering firm?

One final issue brought up at the hearing involved how to represent all community members while maintaining the Village’s integrity and “quaint” appeal. How does a beautiful new basketball court with modern rims, a safer playing surface, permeable pavers, and the addition of ecologically beneficial native plants compromise that?

If quaint is allowing a basketball court to languish into a poorly maintained eyesore right alongside one of the most trafficked sidewalks and pathways in the Village, then quaint is not what this community wants.

If representation is putting the preferences of the older generation first, while downplaying the needs and wants of the younger generation – people raising families and committed to a future here – then our officials should familiarize themselves with their duties as board members elected to represent all residents of Northport Village.

There is a middleground to be found, a middleground that honors Northport’s history and integrity while providing access to outdoor activity for our children in beautiful, safe spaces that benefit each and every one of us. This middleground must be acknowledged, nurtured and fought for.

The basketball court revitalization project is now in the hands of the Village board, entrusted to do right by Village residents and the 1995 team organizers. What will become of the court, gardens, benches and pavers? We don’t know and have little faith that the plan as originally proposed will be taken into consideration. Our hope is that people keep paying attention, and that when the information residents need to remain engaged is not clear, or even accessible, they call the mayor and her board to task and demand it.

This Village deserves better, and should never stop asking for it.