Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart began Tuesday's regular town board meeting by assuring the overflowing crowd at town hall that he and the town board members have no intention of closing the Masonic Park in Tappan.
"You are all here because you care deeply about this cause, so let me cut right to the heart of the matter: There is no town proposal to close the Masonic Park by me or any of my fellow town board members and none of us have any plans to make one," Stewart said.
"It is unfortunate that event organizers have been told that their events are on hold. This has upset a lot of people, including our town recreation program. This decision has no basis in any proposal that I, or any other person in town government, has made or would approve."
Kurt Ott of the Noble Ninth, which is in charge of the property, attended the meeting but did not join in the public comments. He did confirm that his board has closed the park and that all events that scheduled there are on hold. He said he would report back to the board during a meeting early next month and the board will make a decision whether or not to reopen the fairgrounds at that time.
"The only thing I can say is we did not create the situation," Ott said. "Unfortunately it affects a lot of people."
Ott would not say what the town board had to do, if anything, to get his board to reopen the park.
"I don't know how to answer you," Ott said. "I guess it needs the approval from our board to open the gates of the park again. I will lay out to my board members the tremendous support we have gotten here tonight and overall. I hate to see anything negative come out of this. I don't like it."
Representatives of the Tappan Fire Department, Blauvelt Sons of Italy and the Nam Knights all spoke of the importance of the venue at 89 Western Highway in Tappan. All three hold events there. The Orangetown Parks and Recreation Department also holds its summer camp there.
"It has been suggested that the town of Orangetown adopt special parking rules specifically for the property owned by the Noble Ninth, a benevolent organization operated by the German Masons," said Bruce Leonard, reading a letter from the Fire Association of Tappan. "This is a dangerous and alarming idea. Harassment by elected representatives is perhaps the most dangerous type of harassment.
Many of the speakers came believing that Stewart or the town board as a whole had either closed the park or forced the issue to lead to the closure.
"We cannot shut the park." Councilman Paul Valentine said. "There is no legislation that has passed that puts the onus on them to do anything. There have been some suggestions that they may not want to listen. They don't have to listen. Suggestions were sent in a letter by Andy to Kurt that Kurt could have said (making a gesture to tear up the letter) he's running things as usual."
There have been increasing complaints about noise and parking issues by residents who live near the park.
"Have your events, but when you are down there enjoying the park recognize there are 100 families, many with small children, in the vicinity," said Jason Binder of Tappan. "We hear everything coming from the park."
Binder called for tighter parking restrictions, which would force the park to return to smaller events. One item that pushed the issue is the recent news of the Rockland County Irish Feis coming to the Masonic Park.
"It's only within the last year or so that we had more events down there that we had some problems," Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty said. "Some had to do with noise or parking on the streets where both sides were blocked or driveways were blocked. We've tried to work with the Masonic administration since last fall."
The complaints led to discussions among Stewart and other board members and Ott. Stewart read part of the letter he sent to Ott, claiming that it only suggested that organizers of events expected to draw more than 1,000 people talk to the town.
"Some events are very well planned," Stewart said. "For others, our police department does not even have a cell number in the event of an emergency, let alone a parking plan to make sure fire trucks and ambulances can get down side streets. Tragedy could easily ensue.
"I will continue to explore every possible option for keeping Masonic Park open."
"The Noble Ninth closed the park unilaterally to everybody," Leonard said. "It was not done viciously. It was closed for everyone. It was closed because of the letter."
Councilmen Denis Troy and Tom Diviny both said they told Stewart he had pushed the issue too far in talks with Ott. Both argued with Stewart over the issue during Tuesday's meeting.
"I tried to give you advice yesterday, for whatever that's worth," Troy said. "You poured gasoline on the fire."
Residents in attendance said the letter should just be rescinded. Diviny said Stewart should have brought the letter back to the rest of the council for revisions rather than sending it to Ott. He and the board had been working on it together.
"We spoke and you said you'd send us the revised version the next day," Diviny said. "You didn't. You sent it to Mr. Ott. I said I want to see it because I think what you're doing is interfering with individual property rights.
"You made a mistake. Admit it. We'll hit the reset button. We'll deal with Mr. Binder and his group. Mr. Ott will open the park back up to all the groups. Myself and Mr. Valentine will deal with Mr. Ott because obviously he doesn't want to deal with you."
"If that works, I'm in favor of it," Stewart said.
Stewart said he and other board members have reached out to Ott in hopes of getting the park re-opened.
"The Masonic Park is private property and the town has limited authority," Stewart said. "We have urged the Masons to immediately tell all event organizers to proceed with their plans as usual. We have not received an answer."
For more comments from regarding the Masonic Park, view the video clips attached to this report. Check back with Patch for more from Tuesday's meeting.