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Basketball court revitalization project up for public hearing July 12

Village by: Chrissy Ruggeri, June 24, 2022

A group of teenagers plays basketball on the morning of Monday, June 20. A public hearing regarding the future of the Northport Village basketball court and its proposed revitalization is scheduled for July 12 at the Northport American Legion.

A public hearing for what has become a drawn-out journey to fulfill the vision of a refurbished, modern basketball court in Northport Village will take place next month, when residents will have an opportunity to voice their opinions on and ask questions about the project proposal.

To date, the Downtown Northport Basketball Court Revitalization project has raised $66,700 from 234 donors, the majority of whom come from or live in Northport and East Northport. A $75,000 State and Municipal Facilities (SAM) grant, which was made possible with the collaboration of New York State Senator James Gaughran and the Incorporated Village of Northport under the previous board of trustees, more than doubled the monetary support for the project.

Located in Cow Harbor Park on Woodbine Avenue, the community basketball court has fallen into a state of neglect and disrepair over the years. Last summer, members of the Northport High School 1995 Long Island Champion Boys Basketball team spearheaded a campaign to revitalize the property and create a safe and engaging space for children in the community to gather and play ball. Project organizers presented their plan on July 6, 2021 to the then Northport Village Board members, who approved the proposal unanimously.

With over $140,000 raised and the public support of Village officials, numerous business owners and residents alike, the team was hoping to break ground in the spring of 2022, but the plan has since stalled. At the end of a meeting last week with the 1995 champions, Trustee Meghan Dolan (the Commissioner of Parks) and Assistant to the Mayor Don Tesoriero, Northport Village Mayor Donna Koch said the groups were at an “impasse,” according to those present at the meeting.

The unanticipated standstill has left the community confused, with conflicting messages from both Village and Town of Huntington officials.

Upon Mayor Koch’s election in March, basketball court project co-organizers Chris Wiebke and Doug Trani met with the mayor at the courts, where measurements were staked and discussed. The trio talked about the plan for over an hour, including what areas of green space would be affected and which would remain the same, said Mr. Wiebke.

Shortly after that meeting, and with the new Northport Village Board of Trustees in place, the team was asked to present their plans again at the May 3, 2022 public meeting at Village Hall. At that time, Mayor Koch explained that the plan would have to be approved by the Town of Huntington (TOH) in order to move forward. After the presentation, Trustee Joe Sabia said “We are all on board, it’s beautiful, the problem is we have to get to Huntington.”

Meanwhile, discussion about the bathrooms within the TOH-owned Woodbine Marina, just adjacent to the basketball court, resurfaced. At the June 7 Village board meeting, the public was told that the bathrooms had been condemned. When Trustee Sabia asked Mayor Koch if the bathrooms had anything to do with the project, she responded, “Not at this time.”

On June 10, TOH Public Information Officer Lauren Lembo told the Journal that “everything is approved on the Town's end for the Village to proceed with their project. The bathrooms will be relocated to Cow Harbor Park and rebuilt by the Village to be used at the park.”

It has since been confirmed that Mayor Koch met with Town of Huntington officials to discuss the project the week of June 6; no other board members were present, including Trustee Dolan, who said she was never informed of the meeting. The mayor later told the Journal that the meeting with the town “brought additional insight to the projects and provided approval for the combined creation of public restrooms and [the] basketball court beautification project.”

Following her talks with the TOH, said Mr. Wiebke, the mayor told project organizers that because the bathrooms in Woodbine were condemned, the revitalization plan would have to be altered, with the relocation of public bathrooms into Cow Harbor Park and a decrease in size to the basketball court itself, from the full court that was initially proposed, to a half court with one basket.

“We are flexible with any element of this project, except that the court needs to be a full court with two baskets,” Mr. Wiebke told the Journal. This is the expectation from the people who donated to the project, he explained, but the plan can be altered in other ways to reduce the overall footprint if necessary, perhaps with adjustments to landscaping, masonry and other proposed components.

After their most recent meeting with Mayor Koch, project organizers asked the Laurel Group, who specializes in commercial landscaping projects and has donated their services to the revitalization project by providing renderings and structural drawings, to put together another plan that includes the bathrooms, as requested by the mayor.

At this past Tuesday’s June 21 board meeting, however, the team learned from Trustee Meghan Dolan’s commissioner report that TOH Supervisor Ed Smyth had never condemned the Woodbine bathrooms and had not directed the Village to make or limit any improvements to the basketball court, which was confirmed by Mr. Smyth’s office on Wednesday. After hearing this news, the team decided to hold off on having new plans rendered until after the July 12 public hearing on the project. “For [the Laurel Group] to dedicate any time to this is pretty amazing, so we don’t want to ask them to do work unless it’s necessary,” Mr. Wiebke explained.

According to Trustee Dolan’s report, which was read out loud by Trustee Dave Weber in her absence, other issues that Mayor Koch has brought up regarding the project include the new court being “too big” and “too noisy,” a supposed concern among “anonymous” residents and business owners. “Upon learning this,” wrote Trustee Dolan, “I then asked the Chamber of Commerce to discuss this project at their executive meeting and was advised: they have no position on this project.”

Trustee Weber noted at Tuesday's meeting that to his knowledge the board had not received any letters or correspondence from anyone who opposed the plan. The mayor did not make any comments about the project during the meeting, even when asked about it during the public participation portion, and when contacted for comment by the Journal, responded: “At this time I will not be making any statements until the meeting of the 12th.”

In a June 22 post on the Downtown Northport Basketball Court Revitalization Facebook page, organizers elaborated on the project’s scope: “This has never been a regulation size full court, and would not be suitable for any adult league play,” the post reads. The new design is a slight expansion of the very small court that is there now and the expansion would not take away green space that is currently used for other purposes, organizers said.

So what’s next?
There will be a public forum on Tuesday, July 12 at 6pm, at the Northport American Legion on Woodside Avenue. Residents are encouraged to come voice their opinions on the proposed plan, said Mr. Wiebke. Trustee Dolan asked, and the mayor agreed, that prior to the hearing, they stake out or mark the size of the court so that residents can have a better understanding of what’s being proposed.

It’s also possible, after the public hearing, for a board member to introduce a motion to add an item, or resolution, to the meeting’s agenda. If the motion is seconded, the item can go up for a vote and would need a majority (three board members) to pass. If a board member introduced a resolution to put the court revitalization project out to bid, and it passed, the bidding process would proceed.

Trustee Dolan ended her report by explaining how the court is meant to be “a safe outdoor space for kids and adults to shoot around, with the ability to have a real game.” The spirit of this project is “uniquely Northport,” she added, because it involves “people who grew up here with love for this Village giving back to the place they love – donating their own time, money and expertise to give us something better and to preserve a legacy for the love of the game, for our kids and our kids’ kids.”

Mr. Wiebke expressed the same sentiments, emphasizing that all that really matters is agreeing on a plan that provides “a beautiful and playable space for basketball in Cow Harbor Park.” He’s looking forward to the July 12 hearing and is feeling encouraged by the community support. At the risk of using another sports analogy, he said, he and the other project organizers are ready to “work as a team and find a way to win” for the betterment of the children within the community.

According to the presentation given by the project organizers on May 3, the plan as originally proposed includes:

  • New playing surface

  • New “state of the art” equipment

  • Full landscape upgrade including all native plantings

  • Surrounding hardscape rebuild

  • Water permeable pavers

  • New fencing and court barriers

  • New 360-degree seating

  • Modern water management, including rain gardens and new drywalls

Size of entire park area: 59,200 square feet
Size of existing basketball court (playing surface area): 2,100 square feet
Size of proposed basketball court (playing surface area): 3,300 square feet

Northport Journal coverage of the Downtown Northport Basketball Court Revitalization project since its inception can be found here.