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NEWSDAY/NEWS 12 SPECIAL REPORT
Public SpacePrivate Benefit

Public Space Private Benefit

Nassau spent $100 million from bonds to preserve about 300 acres of open space between 2006 and 2012. A number of the acquisitions have been hailed as successes, while others are barely used by the public and were purchased from connected sellers. These maps show where they are, how they expanded existing open spaces, and how some of them abut land retained by the sellers, effectively extending their backyards.

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Bought Kept Existing

Some sellers had connections

At five of the sites – marking seven different transactions – the original owners had political associations with county leaders or ties to the nonprofit that had a role in recommending which properties to buy. One seller was an appointee of the county executive, several were political campaign contributors to the county executive or were associated with campaigns and others were large-scale contributors to the nonprofit.

  • Red Spring Woods in Glen Cove
  • Red Cote Preserve in Oyster Bay Cove
  • Held Estate in Oyster Bay Cove
  • Smithers Estate in Mill Neck
  • Brooklyn Water Works in Freeport

Access never enhanced

At 10 of the sites – marking 14 different purchases – the county, in a 2011 written proposal, planned some level of public access improvements that were ultimately not completed. Three of those sites are largely or completely inaccessible to the public.

  • Red Spring Woods in Glen Cove
  • Red Cote Preserve in Oyster Bay Cove
  • Held Estate in Oyster Bay Cove
  • Smithers Estate in Mill Neck
  • Parkway Drive in Baldwin
  • Gold Property in Seaford
  • Banfi Farm in Old Brookville
  • Trout Lake in West Hempstead
  • Humes Estate in Mill Neck
  • Hall/Wood-Wentworth Estate in Muttontown
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Red Spring Woods, where the only significant improvements were made by an Eagle Scout.

Glen Cove: Red Spring Woods

The wooded preserve, tucked in a residential neighborhood, totals about 11 acres acquired over two purchases: $4 million for 9 acres in 2006, and $600,000 for 1.77 adjoining acres in 2009.

Issues: Nassau, under then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi, struck the latter deal with a seller who at the time worked as a Suozzi administration appointee and kept a portion of his family’s adjoining land. The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage” (beyond one marking its preservation), an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance and post-and-rail fencing around the entire property. It also proposed establishing possible trailways. Those improvements were not made, though an Eagle Scout installed a small post-and-rail fence at the property entrance and cut out a gravel parking space on the road shoulder.

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Red Cote Preserve off Yellow Cote Road in Oyster Bay Cove.

Oyster Bay Cove: Red Cote Preserve

Nassau created this new preserve, totaling roughly 30 acres, through three different purchases of land sliced from surrounding estates. In 2006, the county spent $6.5 million for 16 acres of the Pulling estate and in 2008, bought 7.15 acres of the Cutting estate for $3 million and about 6 acres of the Schwab estate for $2 million. The sellers or their families subsequently kept portions of their adjacent properties.

Issues: The sellers included people with ties to county officials and donors to the nonprofit that had played a role in which properties were recommended for purchase by the county. The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing a parking lot at the site, “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance and post-and-rail fencing around the property. The property is bordered in places by fencing from the adjoining private estate owners, but for years the only improvement completed by the county was the parking lot. In recent weeks, however, after Newsday inquiries, the county and nonprofit that helps maintain the site put up a small identifying sign and kiosk.

Oyster Bay Cove: Held Estate

This 7.98-acre parcel, featuring a pond, extended the back of the county’s existing Tiffany Creek Preserve. Nassau purchased the land for $2.9 million in 2009, under then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi.

Issues: Seller Michael Held, who retained the portion of his estate facing Shutter Lane, had advised Suozzi on an initiative during his 2001 transition to county executive. The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance, and establishing possible trailways. The property was connected with the existing preserve via trailway but requires a roughly 2-mile hike, alongside private land, to access from the Tiffany Creek entrance. It never received its own entryway signage or kiosk.

Mill Neck: Smithers Estate

Nassau purchased 25 acres from an estate controlled by philanthropist Adele Smithers and her family’s foundation for $7.8 million in 2008.

Issues: Smithers was a campaign contributor to then-County Executive Thomas Suozzi. The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing a parking lot at the site, “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance and post-and-rail fencing around the property. Only the parking lot, with a small strip of fencing around it, was completed. Elsewhere, boundaries between the site and the remaining private estates largely don’t exist.

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Site of the former Brooklyn Water Works in Freeport.

Freeport: Brooklyn Water Works

These 4.16 acres, adjacent to the county owned Brookside Preserve, were purchased by the county for $6.2 million from developer Gary Melius in 2012.

Issues: The deal – for a price that was more than double what the property had been appraised at several years earlier – was struck by the administration of then-County Executive Edward Mangano, a Melius friend and frequent recipient of his campaign contributions.

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Wooded land acquired at the end of Parkway Drive in Baldwin.

Baldwin: Parkway Drive

The roughly 3.4-acre property, consisting of nearly four dozen lots along Baldwin Bay, was acquired by the county over two purchases: $4 million for the bulk of the site in 2006 and $865,000 for outstanding lots in 2008.

Issues: The property is fenced off from public access at the dead end of residential Parkway Drive. The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance. The improvements were not made.

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The roughly 1-acre lot on the east side of Island Channel Road in Seaford,

Seaford: Gold Property

Nassau bought the 1-acre parcel along Island Channel Road – near 259-acre Cedar Creek Park – for $635,000 in 2008.

Issues: The site is lined with utility poles containing “No Trespassing” warnings and is walled with overgrown brush that discourages access. The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage,” an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance and post-and-rail fencing around the entire property. The improvements were not made.

Old Brookville: Banfi Farm

The county in 2009 joined with the nonprofit North Shore Land Alliance to purchase 24.9 acres owned by the family that runs the nearby Banfi Vinters. An additional 35 acres (bright green parcel) were subsequently preserved as part of a land swap between the county and a private individual in Oyster Bay Cove. Local farmers now raise crops on some of the former Banfi land.

Issues: The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance. The improvements were not made.

Preserved in county swap

West Hempstead: Trout Lake

The county in 2008 spent $1.3 million on 2.3 acres, featuring a now dry lake, in a residential area. The area, which long had been used for illegal dumping, was fenced off to restrict public access.

Issues: The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance. The improvements were not made.

Mill Neck: Humes Estate

This 15-acre property, part of the Humes estate, was purchased by the county for $5.2 million in 2009. Joined with land acquired by the nonprofit North Shore Land Alliance to the south, the former Humes land links with the privately run Shu Swamp Preserve to the northeast and Japanese Stroll Garden to the north to create 120 contiguous acres of publicly accessible green space.

Issues: The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance. That improvement was not made, though the adjacent Shu Swamp Preserve, run by the North Shore Wildlife Sanctuary, has its own parking lot and kiosk.

Adjoining open land
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Fence and faded sign at the estate.

Muttontown: Hall/Wood-Wentworth Estate

Nassau purchased the 18.3-acre site for $8.7 million in 2009. The property abuts the county-owned Muttontown Preserve, consisting of more than 500 acres.

Issues: The county, under a 2011 plan, proposed installing “proper signage” and an informational kiosk at the property’s entrance. It also proposed establishing possible trailways. The improvements were not made, though the existing preserve has those features.

Old Westbury: Boegner purchases

For a combined price of $6.2 million, Nassau in 2006 purchased or secured development rights to 47.5 acres owned by the late philanthropist Margaret Phipps Boegner.

Outcome: Through an agreement with its nonprofit operator, the land served to extend the existing Old Westbury Gardens museum and preserve.

Brookville: Old Mill Horse Farm

Nassau bought 40 acres, long used as an equestrian center, for $12 million in 2008.

Outcome: The county has since contracted with a private operator to run the Nassau Equestrian Center on the site.

Woodbury: Meyer’s Farm

For $4.3 million, Nassau in 2007 secured development rights to 8.5 acres of the Meyer family’s longtime property, ensuring it would remain as one of the county’s last remaining working farms.

Outcome: The family continues to operate a popular seasonal farm stand and greenhouse on the property.

East Meadow: Fruggie’s Farm

The county spent $2.1 million in 2008 to acquire the 2.5-acre property that had been operated as Fruggie’s Farm.

Outcome: The county now contracts with Cornell Cooperative Extension to run the property as the East Meadow Farm.

Malverne: Grossman’s Farm

Nassau bought the 5-acre property, which had ceased to operate as a family farm several years before, for $6.5 million in 2010.

Outcome: The Nassau Land Trust, a local nonprofit, has an agreement with the county to operate the property as Crossroads Farm at Grossman’s.

Valley Stream: North Central Avenue

This .7-acre lot, located in a dense residential area, was purchased by the county for $1.4 million in 2009.

Outcome: The county deeded the property to the Town of Hempstead for creation of a pocket park.

Oyster Bay Cove: Northwood Estate

Nassau purchased this 33.5-acre parcel for $11 million in 2006. Adjacent to the county-owned Tiffany Creek Preserve, the land was later deeded back to a private owner as part of a land swap agreement that netted the county another parcel of open space.

Outcome: The property, though now back in private hands, remains under a conservation easement and cannot be developed.

This project was written and reported by Paul LaRocco
Interactive map by Tim Healy, Will Welch, James Stewart and Matt Clark
Photo Credits: John Paraskevas, Howard Schnapp, Jeffrey Basinger and Alejandra Villa
Read the full Newsday investigation