August 11, 2016-- “It’s about unity in the community,” said Glen Cove resident Jack Vilella more than once to the three dozen or so picnic goers at Garvies Point Museum and Preserve this past Saturday evening. Advertised as “Glen Cove’s Uniting – A family oriented informational picnic,” the event attracted both Glen Cove residents and neighbors from nearby villages and hamlets looking for ways to revitalize a city that virtually all in attendance said has been heading in the wrong direction.
Although having initially received a permit to hold the picnic at Morgan Park, Mr. Vilella’s approval was rescinded by City officials a couple of weeks later.
“They never wanted to give us the permit in the first place,” said Mr. Vilella showing to Northwordnews a photograph of a bulletin board behind a desk at Glen Cove City Hall on which is displayed a copy of his “Glen Cove’s Uniting” flyer. On the flyer is scrawled, “These people are not to be given a permit!!”
In addition to the First Amendment restriction, Mr. Vilella, who has been vocal in his opposition to the Garvies Point re-development proposal, also took issue with the narrative that was advanced in the headline of an article appearing in Newsday describing him as “an opponent” of Glen Cove Mayor Reginald Spinello.
The idea for the picnic, Mr. Vilella said, developed out of informal conversations he had had with friends.
“I’m aligned with certain parts of the community that have concerns about some things that are going on,” he explained. “This is about bringing people together and sharing ideas.”
More structured than an ordinary picnic, with copies of an agenda listing the evening’s activities printed and distributed, the get together, which would be recognizable to most as the traditional summertime pastime with attendees seated at tables with attached benches dining on sandwiches, fruits and cheeses, featured informal presentations and performances by residents, a candlelight vigil, and a discussion about local issues moderated by Mr. Vilella, a role in which he seemed quite comfortable, perhaps as a result of his experience as an administrator for the Glen Cove neighbors facebook group.
Daniel Rios led willing participants in a Tai Chi session; Eileen Coles explained the mission of an organization she has founded called “Green Glen Cove,” and spoke of her efforts to develop the group’s website; and Nicole Loizides, a professional dancer, entertained with a “Copy Cat” interactive performance in which she turned directions from the audience into an impressive dance.
Throughout the performances and presentations and during what the agenda identified as a “Q and A Forum,” the picnic goers discussed local issues and concerns, with much of the conversation centered around how to reverse what many there agreed has been a long period of decline in the City and what could be done to foster a greater sense of community.
“Is there no hope for turning things around?” a woman asked.
Addressing divisions within the community, Mr. Vilella said, “Glen Cove has been run like this for a long time. It always has seemed that the community is at odds over something.”
Roderick Watson, a Glen Cove City Councilman added that he believed that institutions within the city are “so segmented” with there being little sense of coordination, cooperation or common purpose.
Often the conversation moved towards the Garvies Point re-development project, but at other times into other issues.
One resident said that she believed the current waterfront proposal is a missed opportunity. If you want to attract people to Glen Cove, you need to have a reason for them to be here, she asserted.
Another resident described the development as a “prison on the waterfront” that was unlikely to attract the people that can afford waterfront luxury housing.
Most who spoke on the issue were clearly opposed to the project, but at least one woman appeared to be more on the fence and asked another who has been a frequent speaker at City Council meetings whether she was opposed to all development.
“No,” was the reply. “This development is too big and too dense.” She continued that she believed there should be more commercial development as had been part of the original plan, and much less residential.
Another resident added that developers did not believe that would be profitable, and so a residential component was added that just became bigger and bigger over time.
“Why does it have to be a one billion dollar project?” someone asked. “Why not scale it down?”
“Profits,” replied another.
Ms.Loizides reiterated points she had made earlier prior to her performance - that more arts and entertainment venues would help make Glen Cove a destination.
“Entertainment is what brings people together,” she said. “It is a large part of what community is based on.” She said that the Glen Cove waterfront is a “diamond in the rough,” and could “not comprehend how someone is not looking to develop it in an more creative way.”
Another resident agreed and cited Huntington as a community that she believed got it right.
“There’s a vibrancy there,” she said. “There’s a reason to go to Huntington,” and cited the performing and visual arts as well as the bar and restaurant scene as a major draw. The Paramount Theater she continued has helped bring in visitors from around the region and even from Manhattan.
Still another resident agreed with the general point, but said he prefered the Paramount’s predecessor, the IMAC theater which highlighted more local artists. The original speaker agreed that the IMAC was a wonderful venue, but believed it did not bring in as many from outside the area.
Returning to the original question, another resident said that the schools needed to be improved to draw young families into the community.
Councilman Roderick Watson, who attended the picnic, offered that one of the major challenges the school district faces is the large English Language Learner and economically disadvantaged population. He proposed that community members with expertise that can be useful to the schools volunteer their efforts.
Another said that too many people, in particular more affluent families, were sending their children to private school.
The conversation then veered back towards the waterfront development and the School Board meeting held last Monday at which the Trustees discussed a consent resolution that would diminish the school’s share of the tax revenue generated by the Garvies Development while increasing the City’s share.
“The schools need the money the most,” one resident said. “They shouldn’t agree to this.”
Another resident who was at the school board meeting complemented the trustees for good questions and postponing a vote on the issue to further research and consider it.
And still another proposed e-mailing the trustees to let them know their opinion on the issue.
Mr. Vilella agreed. “That’s a great idea,” he said.
As the sun and the discussion began to set, Mr. Vilella said that moving forward perhaps a larger gathering could be organized and meetings held before city council meetings in order to “keep asking questions in order to get some answers.”
"We are going to change Glen Cove from the inside out," he added.
He then distributed candles and transitioned to the next item on the agenda - a candlelight vigil “to honor the brave law enforcement officers we have lost in recent, national tragedies.” As the candles were lit, he asked the picnic goers to observe a moment of silence.
A resident’s hand then shot up. “I think that is an appropriate thing to do,” she said, but added that she believed it was also important to honor people of color who have lost their lives unjustly in their contacts with law enforcement, and asked that those individuals be included in the tribute.
“Yes,” Mr. Villela agreed, “That’s what this is about - building unity in the community.”
Story by Northwordnews