Financially strapped local governments across New York State too often see selling parkland for development as a way to make a quick buck. While there are bright spots—like the City of Troy reversing its decision to sell off its scarce green space—others are moving forward with their plans to sell parkland, in some cases, like in the City of Poughkeepsie, despite strong community opposition.
Before taking parkland for non-park use—a process called park “alienation”—a municipality must get permission from the Legislature. In most cases, the Legislature has required the municipalities to either provide replacement parkland or dedicate funding toward the acquisition of additional parkland or park improvements.
As typically happens, a slew of bills to alienate parkland appear near the end of the legislative session and move quickly through to passage. By our count, this year alone there were 22 bills to alienate parkland, 14 of which passed both the Senate and the Assembly and now await the Governor’s signature. Of those that passed, 11 involve the selling of parkland to private interests. In all, local communities will suffer a loss of nearly 40 acres of parkland if the bills are signed.
One example is Wheaton Park in the City of Poughkeepsie. The nearly 2.5-acre park includes the historic Pelton Mansion, home to the former Poughkeepsie Day Nursery for more than 100 years. Located a block from the Poughkeepsie train station, the park offers views of the Hudson River and the Walkway Over the Hudson.
The City intends to sell the land and mansion to a developer for the construction of condo units and to use the proceeds to make capital improvements to existing park facilities. Despite concerns over proper due process and strong community opposition to the plan (a petition to save the park garnered 600 signatures), the Legislature approved the alienation of the park just two weeks after a bill was introduced; the bill now awaits the Governor’s signature.
Legislators treat bills to alienate parkland as local issues and are reluctant to question the bills’ sponsors or local legislators; however, the public trust doctrine which guides the protection of parks and other natural resources makes it clear that parkland belongs to everyone, not just the surrounding community.
There are some bright spots. The City of Troy voted down the alienation of Kennedy Park, reversing its earlier decision to put the land surrounding Kennedy Towers, a senior housing development, up for sale. The City of Albany also recently completed the rehabilitation of a neglected park in the Arbor Hill neighborhood.
Contact Governor Cuomo and urge him to veto bill A.7980 (Skartados)/AS.5812-A (Serino) to alienate Wheaton Park in the City of Poughkeepsie:
By phone: 1-518-474-8390 (9:00 am – 5:00 pm)
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224