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Councilman Tom Lohmann

Residents question how town officials are selecting priority list of park updates for upcoming 2019 capital budget

A spring rider at Morewood Park in Smithtown

Town of Smithtown officials have taken steps to approve roughly $4.5 million in investments in its parks, but residents are questioning which ones are given top priority. 

Smithtown approved a $174,500 contract to redesign Flynn Memorial Park into a modern sports complex while greenlighting plans to construct a new playground and spray park at Callahans Beach at its July 17 meeting. The total price tag for those two projects is estimated at $4.5 million. 

“We are doing a lot of work that needs to be done at the parks and beaches at a huge financial cost,” Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said. “It won’t be done in one year, it has to be done smartly. But, it has to be done.” 

The barbecue area at Callahans Beach. Photo by Kyle Barr

At Callahans Beach, town officials have proposed a plan to rip up a portion of the asphalt parking lot in order to install a new playground at an estimated cost of $175,000, a spray park for roughly $150,000 and to construct picnic area shelter for approximately $200,000. Lohmann, who serves as the board’s liaison to the town Department of Parks, Buildings & Grounds, said the improvements are a result of the town’s approved lease agreement with Propagation Solutions Inc., for Site Tech Wireless LLC to install a 150-foot cell tower in the upper parking lot. 

“As part of their recommendations and requirements for the cell tower, we had to make changes to Callahans Beach,” the councilman said. “We will be adding the playground and some beautification to ensure it is still aesthetically pleasing.” 

Lohmann said the town hired St. James-based RDA Landscape Architecture to create a plan for the Kings Park’s Flynn Memorial Park project. One of the first steps is $2.2 million for all new LED lighting for the fields along with new field layout, new fencing as well as a new concession stand in the center of the park that will also contain bathrooms. The proposed plans call to tear out the existing facilities, install a new playground, repave the parking lot and redesign the layout to reduce it to one main entrance.

“By making it a true softball-baseball complex with a playground for kids to come play on, we hope it will help drive people into our communities,” Lohmann said. “It will be done and upgraded to where it should have been many years ago.” 

The latest announcement of capital improvements to Smithtown’s parks comes shortly after the town celebrated the grand reopening of three parks after $1.3 million in refurbishments: Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset and Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James.  

Smithtown residents have questioned how elected officials are deciding which parks take priority in receiving upgrades. 

A Town of Smithtown parks employee spreads fresh wood mulch at Morewood Park July 27. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Michael Vizzini, a four-year homeowner on Stanwich Road, said he hopes there will be some consideration given to Morewood Park. The park consists of two basketball courts whose surfaces have a spiderwebbing of cracks stretching across it, with the back boards showing signs of rust. The playground fell victim to a fire more than 10 years ago, according to the town parks
department, and was rebuilt on a soft wood mulch base with metal slides, a set of swings and dotted with a few spring-based animals on which to ride. 

Vizzini, who lives adjacent to the park’s back entrance, has been looking for a way to improve its aesthetics since he moved in. 

“I’ve called the town to see if they will remove the partial sidewalks so I can plant bushes there next to my white picket fence,” he said. “Contractors won’t touch it, it’s town property.” 

Vizzini said he purchased on Stanwich Road to be close to the park for his two young children, but unfortunately, there isn’t much there on which they can safely play. 

Commack resident Bridget Zaminer, a Knolls Lane homeowner, said she’s lived in the area for three years and has only taken her three young children to Morewood Park a handful of times to use the basketball courts. 

The basketball courts at Morewood Park. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“The play equipment is old and dingy,” Zaminer said in an email. “Not to mention, I would not want to be there alone since it’s so desolate.” 

Lohman said the town’s parks department did a full review in 2017, which estimated the town would need $11.6 million to bring all its parks and beaches up to date.  

“Where do you get $11.6 million?” he asked. “Monies weren’t properly put back into the property to keep these facilities and assets up to standard.” 

The councilman said factors used to determine which sites will get funding include estimated community use, safety concerns and consideration for those facilities where the town provides additional services for which a fee is paid — such as boat slips at the marina or sports fields utilized by adult leagues. He admitted dozens of town “pocket parks,” or recreational areas surrounded by residential properties like Morewood, are in desperate need of updates so it’s a tough call. 

Lohmann said he has a meeting with Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and parks director Joseph Arico scheduled for Aug. 2 to discuss the town’s 2019 capital budget and which parks to update. Residents should be pleased to know sites being given consideration include the town’s marina and Morewood Park. 

“[Morewood] doesn’t get a tremendous amount of use,” Lohmann conceded. “But with younger and younger families moving into the neighborhood, it’s getting attention.”

Children enjoy the upgrades to Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

More than a dozen excited children climbed over a Nesconset playground Monday afternoon, as families took in the park’s first upgrade in more than two decades.

Town of Smithtown officials celebrated the completion of $1.3 million in upgrades to three town-owned parks this week, which also came in approximately $62,000 under budget. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconest July 9, followed by a celebration for Gaynor and Veterans
Memorial parks in St. James held July 10.

“There is no more important mission we can do than to build parks like this for the children who are growing up here,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “It’s been a long time coming.” 

Town of Smithtown officials celebrate the opening of Joseph Andreoli Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Joseph Andreoli Park, commonly referred to as Gibbs Pond park, received two new playgrounds. For older children, there are five different slides, several climbing obstacles and a swing set. A second area for younger children ages 2 to 5 consists of several tiny houses they go inside with interactive features.

“It’s visually appealing,” Shannon Cooley,  a Nesconset resident, said as she watched her 3-year-old daughter play. “It’s colorful, not faded, and everything feels inviting and welcoming.” 

Cooley said her favorite part of the renovations are the separate play areas created for young children and the new Classic Turf, a synthetic grasslike “shag rug” that replaced the former wood chips.

Both Cooley and Nesconset resident Morgan Tavis said they appreciated the modern, clean look, but if they had one criticism of the design, it would be a lack of shaded areas. “A shaded area for respite would make this into a full day activity,” Tavis said.

Wehrheim said there will be further improvements made at the Gibbs Pond park. Boy Scout Troop 566 has offered to build benches that will be installed by the town, according to the supervisor, and renovations to
make the bathrooms handicapped accessible are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019. Shaded canopies will be installed over the playground’s slides, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo, to prevent them from becoming heated and potentially burning children.

“This is the first of many,” Wehrheim said, indicating more park renovations are in the works for 2019. “We made a commitment when we got elected, one of those commitments was to renovate and bring our parks into the future so I am very pleased and honored this afternoon to tell you we have kept that campaign promise.”

Joseph Andreoli Park, off Gibbs Pond Road in Nesconset, now has a separate playground for children ages 2 to 5. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Both Gaynor Park and Veterans Memorial Park in St. James have received similar upgrades, according to Smithtown Parks Maintenance Director Joseph Arico. Gaynor Park has received a similar new playground set and field upgrades. The existing tennis courts at Gaynor were fully resurfaced and the basketball court was enlarged from a half court to full regulation size. 

Veterans Memorial Park, located off Moriches Road, had more recently received upgrades to its sports fields. Roughly $300,000 was spent to install a new playground set along with a new artificial grass surface and a resurfacing of the water park playground to improve safety, according to Arico.

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R), who served as the town board’s liaison to the parks department on the project, voiced his approval of the final product. 

“We are putting money back where it belongs in our parks, beaches and infrastructure so that we, the residents, have a nice place to bring our children, grandchildren and enjoy this beautiful town,”
Lohmann said.

Smithtown resident Tom Lohmann takes the oath of office after accepting appointment to Smithtown Town Board. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

To the surprise of some residents at a Smithtown board meeting last week, Tom Lohmann was sworn in to the town council position he ran unsuccessfully for in November.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), whose campaign team included Lohmann and Nesconset resident Robert Doyle, said in a statement that after “vetting multiple candidates” and sifting through four resumes, Lohmann emerged the clear winner based on his credentials.

Lohmann, a Smithtown resident, is a former member of the New York City Police Department and current investigator for the county district attorney’s  insurance crime bureau. Wehrheim said the new counilman has shown an ability to maintain confidential information, a knowledge of town laws and codes, and a deep understanding of what the residents want.

“I did not feel there was a rush to appoint anybody.”

— Lynn Nowick

“Ultimately, the deciding factor was in choosing an individual who would work the most cohesively together with the entire town council,” the supervisor said.

But not everyone agrees with the town board on this decision, including one of its own.

Councilwoman Lynn Nowick (R) abstained from voting on the appointment Jan. 9, saying she felt as though there should have been a more thorough vetting process. The councilwoman said she felt there should have been open interviews conducted with all interested candidates during one of the board’s work sessions.

In fact, Nowick said “there was no process” or any townwide notification that the council was accepting resumes for the position. She also said she wanted to hear community input before a decision was made.

“I did not feel there was a rush to appoint anybody,” Nowick said. “It was only Jan. 9. I’m certain we could’ve survived for a few weeks … I would like to have met as a group and interviewed [prospective candidates].”

Among those who spoke out against Lohmann’s appointment was Robert Souto, of Nesconset. Souto said he felt the position should have gone to Democrat Amy Fortunato instead as she placed third in the general election, behind the two incumbents, receiving 17.6 percent of the votes. He asked board members “what was going on” with their decision to appoint Lohmann.

“This is out in public now and it just doesn’t look good,” Souto said. “It seems to be tainted. It’s not a good way to start out.”

Ed Maher, chairman of the Smithtown Democratic Committee, said to the best of his knowledge, there was no official request by the town for applications to fill the position and he was never contacted about a vetting process.

He said Fortunato sent her resume in for consideration, but did so unsolicited, separate from the Democratic committee. Fortunato said she didn’t receive any response from Wehrheim or the town after submitting her resume.

“I think that the Republicans in town made the decision that Tom Lohmann was going to be appointed and they went and did it,” Maher said. “I don’t want to see the town return to where the town’s Republican Committee seems to be making the decisions of who gets to be in town government.”

“This is out in public now and it just doesn’t look good. It seems to be tainted. It’s not a good way to start out.”

— Robert Souto

The party chair said he is hopeful that the Democratic party will be represented on the town board after the town council elections this November.

Joseph Saggese, a St. James resident and Certified Public Accountant, also submitted an application for the open town board seat. Saggese has served on the Smithtown Central School District’s board of education for seven years and has been on the Smithtown Board of Ethics for six years. A registered Republican, Saggese said he was encouraged by other Smithtown Republicans to apply.

“I spoke with Ed Wehrheim and he told me he was going with Lohmann,” Saggese said. “He has a loyalty to the guy that ran with him. I understand loyalty, but there are other ways to repay loyalty. I wish him and everyone else luck though.”

Nicole Garguilo, town spokeswoman, said Lohmann was appointed because he brought a much-needed law enforcement background to the table. She said it was felt he will be an asset when it comes to interacting with the 4th Precinct, emergency medical services and tackling the opioid problem.

Lohmann has been appointed to serve through Dec. 31,  and will have to run a campaign for re-election this November if he wishes to serve the remaining year of Wehrheim’s council seat from Jan.. 1 to Dec. 31, 2019.

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