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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.

merry l. May 02, 2012 at 04:40 PM
No worries. You should see the many different ways my name has been (mis)spelled.
Simba May 02, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Merry There are some regs, not all kids get to ride the bus http://www.pob.k12.ny.us/Page/21
Tom May 02, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Why I drove my daughter to school is private. If every parent tried to drive their child to school it would be unmanageable.
Carole C. May 02, 2012 at 06:22 PM
The expansion of the parking lot is a step in the right direction. We completely support the use of the Fern Place School by the ACDC but as long time residents of Orchard Street have been directly affected by the increased programs offered. As soon as we move our car from in front of our home, the space is filled by a staff member of the school. To address the traffic, safety issue on Orchard St. we suggest making this street one-way going north and opening a road so that traffic can leave the school closer to the water district property. That may alleviate the backing up of buses and reduce the environmental impact they create.
Tom May 02, 2012 at 06:28 PM
That is worth looking into. That would eliminate the traffic going from Orchard into the John's parking lot. Maybe make Fern Place one way in and the new route by the water district as one way out at least during normal school hours. There is only one house on Fern Place so maybe this could work.
ScottRAB May 02, 2012 at 06:36 PM
a. Why not widen the driveway to permit the buses to park and not block the traffic going to or from the school. b. for kids that can walk a block or two, provide a place to drop them away from the school - something called 'drop and walk' c. The configuration of the on-site parking lot they have does not appear to be the most efficient use of the space, or management of the traffic flow. Some one-way aisles with angle parking might move traffic better. d. If there isn't already a place on-site for parents to drop kids, consider carving out some space for this very short-term use.
merry l. May 02, 2012 at 07:18 PM
To get back out to Orchard near the water district would require cutting through the town park land.
merry l. May 02, 2012 at 07:20 PM
These are great suggestions. There is a piece of land that belongs to Fern butit is inside the fence on the Pasadena side. Perhaps we could "recapture" that for your short-term use idea.
S. Joy May 02, 2012 at 07:38 PM
The daycare program is not new. It has been at ACDS for over a decade.
Joe Dowd (Editor) May 02, 2012 at 10:14 PM
This has been a very thoughtful and civil discussion. Thanks to all who took part. I'll bring it to the attention of the district again. They promised me they'd work with you.
Tami May 02, 2012 at 11:35 PM
This is not the answer at all. The traffic has never been an issue until about three years ago. The school increased programs which causes all of these problems. There shouldn't be a one way street because what has been created. We as residents pay 14000 in taxes to not deal with this confusion. When I first moved here it was like a school didn't exist. Now the school took over the street. What's next? If we continue to satisfy their needs, the situation will always be in their favor not ours. We live here they don't. In response to all schools having traffic, this school is privately owned for special needs kids. They have some busses but not all go to pick up kids so the parents have to take the kids to school. Our children don't use the school. Anyone from across long island can attend. For the sports games, just until recently, we have been battling with them too. They park where ever they feel like and create severe traffic situations on the weekend. We had the town put signs up just so they would stop parking at all ends of the street when there was plenty of spots still in the parking lot. They just wanted to be closer to the fields. Making a one way street will inconvience residents to only go in one direction out of the street. That wouldnt be fair or reasonable.
Tami May 02, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Making a parking lot will not alleviate the traffic problems on the street. If it does get created to accommodate the number of vehicles required for staff (which is about 3 to 4 times the number of students) and parents, then they are going to realize that the proposed lot will not be enough. They will then propose to make additional parking lots, and since agreed upon originally, will be able to proceed. The next step would be to expand the school. Everyone is talking about letting the school have its lot, but doesn't realize how far it might be taken after being accepted originally. The money allotted to create this supposed parking lot, which was estimated at $80,000, is part of the proposed budget. However this money was an additional part of the budget. That makes an increase in taxes for everyone who lives in the town. As the actual increase per household is minimal, why should taxpayers pay for this which they cannot use. Why can't that money go towards things OUR children CAN use, for instance, new textbooks.
Stefanie Nelkens May 03, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Looking at the photo with the buses in the street, my concern is how could an emergency vehicle get through this area during this time? Or how can a resident leave or get back to their home? Just a thought.... So long as the residents who live in the affected areas have a place for their cars in their driveways and agree to this, what if parking was restricted at certain times so the buses could line up by a curb and not in the middle of the street? If they didn't block driveways, traffic could at least pass through.
ELLEN May 03, 2012 at 01:39 PM
WERE SHOULD THE SPORTS PEOPLE PARK ? i PAY 15,000 IN TAX , AND THE DISTRICT OWN THAT BUILDING WHICH ITS GETTING PAID FOR-GUESS YOU DON'T HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS KID- THEY HAVE TO GO SOMEWHERE AND THE WHOLE THING STEMS FROM POOR CIRCULAR DESIGN TO BEGIN WITH NEEDS MORE PARKING-BOTTOM LINE OR MAYBE THE SHOULD MAKE APTS OUT OF THE SCHOOL OR A BUSINESS-THEY U SHOULD REALLY HAVE SOMETHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT! EVERY SCHOOL HAS TRAFFIC IN MORNING IN AFTERNOON -AND SPORTS -SHOULD HAVE DONE YR HOMEWORK AND NOT BOUGHT A HOUSE WHERE THERE WAS A SCHOOL OR MOVE
Tom May 03, 2012 at 03:40 PM
I don't think you would have to go all the way over the the water district. Perhaps just half way past the end of the traffic circle. Look at Parkway School for a similar setup with one way in and one way out. Then you could put the additional parking lot in front to give the school the parking needed to get the cars and buses off the street.
Tom May 03, 2012 at 03:42 PM
You have to remember that most of the kids are pre-k and disabled. We are talking about 3 year olds with Down syndrome so asking them to walk a couple of blocks is not possible.
Tom May 03, 2012 at 03:49 PM
ACDS has paid more than $4 million to the district. Spending $80,000 to give them a decent parking situation does not seem unreasonable. It sounds like you want a vacant building. Will you and the other residents of Orchard St. make up the shortfall of $400,000 every year? or do you expect the rest of the residents of the district to make up the shortfall? ACDS is something that Plainview-Old Bethpage should be proud of. It is a great school providing a very needed service to children with developmental disabilities.
Tom May 03, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Part of the cause of the backing up of the buses is that they are all going to the traffic light at Orchard and Old Country Rd. Perhaps some of the buses could be routed to go to Virginia Ave. or Jamaica Ave. and use the traffic lights on S. Oyster Bay Rd. Spreading them out would reduce the overall effect of having all the buses.
Tom May 03, 2012 at 04:02 PM
I agree that people using the sports fields should be required to use the school parking lot. Coaches should tell parents (perhaps leaflets handed out) telling everyone to park in the school lot. There is a Saturday recreation program at ACDS for disabled children but there is still plenty of parking in the school lot.
Tom May 03, 2012 at 04:16 PM
If you look at Pasadena School you will see a one way entrance/exit setup. Something like that combined with extra parking in front of Fern Place school should reduce the traffic on Orchard.
Carole C. May 03, 2012 at 10:09 PM
Is this a day care limited to children with Down Syndrome?
Carole C. May 03, 2012 at 10:23 PM
We're residents on Orchard St. for over 40 years and yes, the traffic problem has gotten much worse. We do not in any way object to ACDC using the Fern Place school but having buses line up on our street, idling and sending out exhaust fumes and blocking our visibility so that we could safely pull out of our driveway is not a solution! Also, there already exist "no parking signs" in front of some of the houses right near ours and we have had to juggle our cars in and out of our one-car driveway. WE DO NOT WANT PARKING TAKEN AWAY FROM OUR STREET-that is one of the reasons we bought a house here!
Carole C. May 03, 2012 at 10:26 PM
In response to "Tom", this is why we had suggested making Orchard St. one-way. You are also right about the cars going into John's Farms parking lot-they often race down the block to make the light!
Tami May 03, 2012 at 11:49 PM
In no way am I disagreeing with what the school is for and what they do. What I am disagreeing with is the size of the school and how they are increasing in size yearly. This school needs to be placed in another location that can accommodate the size of their staff, students, and visitors.
Tami May 03, 2012 at 11:59 PM
I don't appreciate people accusing me of not wanting the children to get services. All I'm saying is when I first moved here and there was not much going on at the school I expected it to stay like that. Now that the school has increased it needs a larger facility to accommodate the childrens needs and the schools needs. This property was not built properly beecause it was not ment for this large facility and the narrow street was not ment for this much traffic. The entire layout is not ment for a block like orchard.
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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