Pushback Over ‘Pay To Play’

New Hyde Park Village mayor says he may be open to alternatives.

Area residents are conflicted about new ‘pay to play’ rules for village non-residents at Memorial Park in New Hyde Park.
(Credit: Janet Burns)

Locals are conflicted over so-called ‘pay to play’ rules recently enacted at Memorial Park.

In late June, families rallied outside the park to protest a recent policy that requires non-residents of the Village of New Hyde Park to pay a fee per person, per day to use Memorial Park. During the June protest and at a village meeting a few days later, several community members reportedly expressed outrage and frustration over the rules, which apparently now require some of the park’s nearest neighbors to pay for use.

Under the current policy, Village of New Hyde Park residents must obtain ID from the village for themselves, children aged five and up, and any dogs in order to use the park. Non-village residents must now pay $10 per person, per day to use Memorial Park, Nuzzi Field, and adjacent areas.

One longtime resident of the Village of New Hyde Park who spoke to Nassau Illustrated News about the new rules called them “disgraceful.” The resident, who declined to publish their name, also noted that they’re planning to leave the Village of New Hyde Park (in part because of the many various fees and kinds of paperwork involved in village residence), and said they wouldn’t be getting a park ID in the meantime “on principle.”

In April, Village of New Hyde Park Mayor Christopher Devane spoke with Nassau Illustrated News about the “pay to play” rules, noting that Memorial Park was officially designated as residents-only a full decade ago, in 2012, or “three mayors ago,” as he put it.

“The problem [here] is twofold: one, non-residents do not pay for the upkeep of the park [through village taxes], our residents do,” Devane said. “And two: my feeling is that if somebody passed by the park and saw that it was crowded, and it did get crowded, say there was a village resident and they saw the swings were being used or the basketball court, the baseball field or the children’s playground was being used and they decided, ‘you know what, I’m not going to go to the park because it’s too crowded.’ That is just fundamentally unfair … [and our] main priority is village residents.”

“It certainly won’t be an open door policy as it has been in the past,” Devane said in April. “We’ll have a guest policy but as for what that policy is, I say potentially a happy medium is for every village resident to be afforded one guest.”

In a follow-up interview this month, Mayor Devane explained that, per current policy, guests of village residents will pay $5 to use the park, per day, and that children under five “from anywhere in Nassau County” can use the park for free, and without ID. “Anyone in Nassau can use the park, but they’ll be asked to pay a fee.”

Devane said that when he took office in April 2021, he soon began visiting Memorial Park to assess the complaints from some village residents, and to informally survey people using the park about whether or not they lived nearby. He estimated, for example, that roughly 60% of people playing pickeball there were not from the Village of New Hyde Park. Devane also said that, among other things, “Behavior on the basketball courts included cursing and playing loud music,” and that trash, drug use, and graffiti were big problems (descriptions that some area residents dispute). After a few months, he said, he determined that the villagers-only policy needed to be enforced.

Devane said that he started announcing plans to enforce the villagers-only policy at Village of New Hyde Park board meetings from July 2021 onward, and announced publicly this spring that village residents could start getting their park IDs at Marcus Christ Hall.

According to Devane, the village has already issued around 1700 IDs (he didn’t specify if these included dog IDs, which confirm animals’ vaccinations, he said). Today, a single, supervised entrance to the park replaces its previous six entrances, part of the approximately $250,000 to $300,000 of village money that Devane says was recently spent on fixing up the park.

Since then, he said, “There’s no more unruly behavior … It has all stopped immediately.”

Devane also told Nassau Illustrated News that he and six appointed village residents had formed a park committee in response to the pushback, and which will have its second meeting the week of July 13. He also said he’s open to discussing a compromise with community members, such as people that live near Memorial Park in New Hyde Park but not within the village, but repeatedly emphasized that the back-and-forth so far hasn’t been cordial.

“Ask the non-residents if they’d be willing to pay any fee at all,” Devane suggested.

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