Hamlet finally getting a park
NY Journal News
April 3, 2008

Camarda's $2M Carmel project follows controversy, redesigns

CARMEL - The long-anticipated and much-debated Camarda Park is closer to an opening day.

This week backhoes and trucks moved soil and pulled out trees as the $2 million construction began on ballfields and play areas off Seminary Hill Road. A groundbreaking ceremony took place Saturday.

The park is expected to open by July 2009 and will be the first one in Carmel's hamlet.

"We are finally able to provide a park for hamlet residents. Before they had to travel to Mahopac, Patterson and Kent. Now they will have their field of dreams," Town Supervisor Kenneth Schmitt said. "Finally, we have gotten to the point where things will happen. It is a momentous occasion."

The park sits on 37 acres behind Willow Ridge, a luxury subdivision, and near an older neighborhood with historic homes and stone walls along the winding Seminary Hill Road.

In response to community concerns, its design was scaled back from a sports center with many fields to a less developed site with one multipurpose athletic field for baseball, Little League, soccer and lacrosse games. There will be two basketball courts, a playground, nature trails and an open field. Also planned are a small building with restrooms and storage, and roughly 100 parking spots.

Developer Paul Camarda of Hudson Valley Realty Investments in Carmel donated the parcel in 1999 when he set out to build 71 homes in Willow Ridge near Lake Gleneida. He paid the town $213,000 in recreation fees and, though not required, also gave the land for a park named after his father, Paul A. Camarda. He touted the pending parkland in marketing materials, and residents in the 5-year-old subdivision have said they are disappointed it took so long. He also built a 850-foot access road.

"Many times in life you have to a wait for good things. This thing took longer than it should have but in the end is worth the wait," he said this week.

Camarda money is linked to much of the funding.

The largest chunk comes from the $1,150,000 the town received from the developer when it sold him a 19-acre parcel on Route 6 near Southeast. Camarda has wrapped that land into Gateway Summit, a proposed hotel-conference business center with retail and senior-citizen housing.

An additional $700,000 comes from the Parkland Trust Fund, recreation fees charged to the developers of new subdivisions. This includes payments from Camarda for Willow Ridge and nearly $300,000 from his two earlier projects, 37-home Laurel Farms and 58-home Centennial Ridge.

Another $350,000 comes from the town's General Fund.

On Feb. 6, the board unanimously awarded a $2,135,000 construction bid to Brennan Construction of Mahopac.

Some residents urged the town to move ahead, saying the fields were greatly needed. The Carmel Sports Association and Mahopac Sports Association, which organize youth sports, worked for the plan's acceptance.

"It will be good for local kids and local athletes, but also good for the community to have a park to enjoy, a place to go to walk around and have a picnic," said Mike Berg, CSA president and 14-year hamlet resident.

Opponents had cited environmental and safety concerns. They sued the town and won some changes to the original plan.

Cindy and Peter Katz, 34-year residents of Seminary Hill Road, had opposed the larger project, saying the road could not handle the increased traffic, particularly buses, and the steeply sloped parcel with wetlands would make construction costly and disturb a natural setting.

"I am saddened by the loss of the forest. There were very old trees that have been taken down," Cindy Katz said.

Her husband, Peter, said it was unseemly to build such an expensive park in view of the bad financial outlook for homeowners, local taxpayers and municipalities.

"We are building a multimillion-dollar park that will affect a small number of Carmel people while the county is threatening to do away with essential services," he said, referring to proposals to cut school resource officers and end countywide public bus service. "They are devastating the topography to build a park, and you have to wonder if the destruction is worth the service that will be provided."