2016 Inspiration Award winner: Frank McAlonan
The making of Sayville Marina Park started with one man
SAYVILLE—At the end of Foster Avenue, Sayville Marina Park remains a popular destination in the summer, and is enjoyed by local and not-so-local Islip Town residents just about all year long. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the campaign to save the threatened property that would become the park, and that fight was led by our 2017 Inspiration Award winner, Frank McAlonan.
The Queens native relocated to Sayville with his wife, Brenda Coman, in 1976. He said they followed a relative east and fell in love with the bayside area where neighbors tended to backyard gardens and most everyone seemed to own a boat. “It was a nice mix of people,” McAlonan remarked. Though he and his wife commuted to their jobs in Manhattan, they remained in touch with their neighborhood. McAlonan was impressed with the commitment shown by the members of local organizations that volunteered to make positive changes to the their community, such as the Sayville Village Improvement Society. He read the history of SVIS, which fought to preserve land for Old Sayville Beach back in the 1920s.
“It rubbed off,” he said. And eventually, he also stepped up to champion a change. That opportunity arose when the fate of the last piece of waterfront property was in jeopardy.
“A developer and the town had the package ready to go,” he said.
The plan for the property was a row of Victorian-style condominiums fronting on Foster Avenue. “It would have been a wall of [houses],” he said.
That’s when McAlonan organized like-minded people, held meetings in the community and began circulating a petition in his neighborhood for a park instead of condos. Not everyone was initially on board, though.
“The town said, ‘Who are you?’…And [people who lived in close proximity to the property] said, ‘Why are you bringing outsiders to our area?’ But a few blocks away everyone was onboard [with the idea].
“We felt that that land should belong to the people of the Town of Islip and this was it; there was nothing left on the shorefront.”
He persevered and now credits his wife for being a partner in the cause. “She’s tenacious,” he remarked.
After garnering more than 250 signatures on a petition, the residents, now part of the River and Bay Neighborhood Association of Sayville, asked then-Supervisor Frank Jones to send a questionnaire to every household in the general vicinity to get their feedback on the idea of a public space. “There was an overwhelming 40 percent return in favor of the park,” said McAlonan.
Although the plans for the property eventually did change to make it a park, McAlonan explained that it didn’t exactly go smoothly. First, the developer, who kept a portion of the property, threatened to put up a fence that would prevent access to the bay. The town wound up paying more money for that parcel. Then, McAlonan said, “The town put in a monstrous blue stone parking lot. We went back to the town and said, ‘We want a park, not a parking lot. Give us a park.’” The town complied, and in 1990, the Sayville Beach Park was opened. “Now we’re trying to get the zoning for parks changed,” McAlonan said. In Islip Town, all parkland is zoned commercial. “That [designation] gives the town latitude to sell off the property,” he added.
And so his fight to save the waterfront in Sayville continues. As a member of the Waterfront Advisory Committee for Islip Town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), McAlonan has spoken out against commercialized proposals of other areas in his neighborhood that are on the water. “We want to preserve the area so that it’s not totally commercial,” he said.
McAlonan said he appreciates receiving the Inspiration Award, but noted there are so many others that contributed to his achievements and so many other organizations that also do good work. And that is something he has faith will continue in the years to come.
“Every generation has to own [their community]. We will pass it on to you, but you have to own it. And there will always be people that will do that,” he said.
McAlonan speaks with confidence as he looks out at the people enjoying the beach. He noted that some of the first kids who ran on the sand there now bring their own kids to the park, too.
“I don’t have any children,” he remarked. “So in a way, the park is my legacy.”
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