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Fern Place Neighbors Want Solution to Traffic Woes

District proposes new parking lot for its building leased to private school; neighbors doubtful anything will work.

A parking lot at a school no longer even used by the is at the center of a storm of controversy involving neighbors living nearby.

The former Fern Place School, now leased to a private agency that serves students with Down syndrome, has been causing parking and traffic issues in the otherwise quiet neighborhood about a quarter-mile north of Old Country Road, numerous residents said.

“We want to stress this point: We have no problem with the kids,” said Meredith Lewin, of Orchard Street. “It’s the behavior of the parents and the school district that has us concerned.”

"In the past few years, as the number of programs, staff, and students increased, the traffic situation has become terrible," said Jason Rosenthal, another Orchard Street neighbor. "The school is now growing too big for the space they have."

The district says it is sympathetic to the neighborhood’s problems and has proposed expanding the Fern Place parking lot to alleviate some of the concerns. It has proposed spending $80,000 in the 2012-13 budget to create a new lot with 30 or more new parking spaces directly in front of the school.

Some residents say that solution may simple create more problems.

Lewin now owns the house she grew up in, a pristine split-level directly across from the school she attended as a girl. In those days, the elementary school at Orchard Street and Fern Place was typical of other neighborhood schools sprouting from the dusty Long Island fields. In the course of the post World War II decade, sleepy Plainview was transformed into a booming bedroom community.

That sudden shift in Long Island's landscape can be seen from Fern Place, whose property backs up on another grade school, still in use by the district. Pasadena was built on one of Plainview's last remaining open farm fields. Lewin remembers it from her childhood.

But over the years Plainview has changed again. Now there are many fewer kids. The district closed Fern Place School more than a decade ago and leased it to the , or ACDS. The agency pays the district $400,000 per year for the rent. Its lease runs through 2018.

But the private school draws cars and small buses from all over Long Island, flooding neighborhood streets and forming bottlenecks at the entrance. (Lewin has documented the traffic snarls in photos; some are attached to this story.) The existing parking isn’t sufficient to accommodate the staff, forcing cars to park on Orchard Street and other nearby streets, neighbors said.

And, when special events take place at Fern Place, the overflow of parents’ cars often spills onto the front lawn of the building. In addition, the building has added a general day-care facility for children from 6-months to 5-years-old. That, too, has increased the traffic on mornings and afternoons.

All of which frustrates neighbors, who say their property values and quality of life is diminished by the traffic. They also complain of noise and litter.

Ryan J. Ruf, the school district’s assistant superintendent for business, said the district's proposal calls for safety barriers and a hedgerow to hide the new parking lot from the view of neighbors on Orchard Street.

“We are receptive to the needs of the neighbors and we hear their concerns,” said Ruf, echoing sentiments of at a recent Board of Education meeting. “We are willing to work with them to find a solution.” Both men said they are open to continuing discussions with the neighbors.

The district considers Fern Place an asset that may be of value to the district in the future. The tenants pay $400,000 to the district annually in rent, while the district has agreed to maintain its property. Ruf said the cost of the proposed new lot represents only a fraction of the district's $137 million proposed budget. The parking lot expenditure is not intended to benefit the ACDS, but the neighbors, he said.

Lewin and others suggested that a logical solution is to expand the parking lot onto the adjoining playing field of Pasadena School – literally the left-field fence of a softball diamond dividing the two school properties. That way, the new lot wouldn't face the homes on Orchard Street and would adjoin Fern Place's existing lot.

Ruf said the district discussed that option, but is reluctant to take away a portion of a playing field and replace it with pavement.

Lewin and others fear there is no viable solution. The proposed new lot would be directly in front of the school and would require changes in the traffic circle at the school’s entrance. She fears it could pose a danger to the kids and a continued burden to her neighbors.

"Not only is my tax money going to be used improperly," said Rosenthal, "this new parking lot, which will be an eyesore, will also decrease the value of our homes."

“I don’t want to look out my window and see a parking lot,” Lewin added.

Stefanie Nelkens May 04, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Has the Town of Oyster Bay been contacted to do a traffic survey of the affected area at these problematic times? They might be able to offer suggestions to alleviate the problem. Also, local legislators might have some insight to share.
Paulette May 04, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Renting a building of that size for $400,000 with maintenace provided is a bargain. I too live near this school and can sympathize with the homeowners directly across. Their right to a parking space in front of their house has been compromized. The value of their home has been decreased due to this situation. If a parking lot is needed, what about to the left of the school? There are certainly enough ball fields and parks that could sustain the sports currently held there. The homeowners should not have to look at a parking lot!! You wouldn't like it if it was across from your home!! Another thought, when a retail/professional space is built, the town dictates the amount of parking spaces that they should have. What happened in this case? Double standards?
merry l. May 05, 2012 at 04:51 AM
This is a school building that was rented to an organization which was thought to be a school but clearly it is a business enterprise. They knew what there parking needs were and they knew what the neighborhood looked like. How did they think they were going to get all of their cars in that lot?
Carole C. May 05, 2012 at 07:14 PM
At this time, perhaps what we need is to have a meeting with the town, the school board, ACDC representatives and the people on Orchard St. We may not all agree how to solve the problem, but we are all unhappy with the existing situation!
Tami May 11, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Exactly! I don't know what the answer is but this space not being used for a organization of this size. It news be go back to what it used to be 8 years ago when there were not multiple programs going on and only a few buses. The sports also has increased in the past 8 years. They didn't really use these grounds for sports. Every once in a while. This school board is very defiant and dont want to really listen to other opinions or our ideas. They just want to get what they want.

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