The East Hampton Village Board has a golden opportunity ahead to clear up confusion regarding the use of Herrick Park. Under present law, any group that wants to use any of its facilities must first seek a permit, in writing, from Village Hall or its designees. The only exception is for the swings, slides, and other children’s amusements and East Hampton School District classes during “regular school hours.” This would be tough enough if the village did not define “group” in the strictest sense imaginable, that is, “any two or more individuals assembled together to use one or more of the facilities of Herrick Park.”
On paper, this would ban doubles tennis, ultimate Frisbee games, pickup rugby, and even one-on-one basketball — had the village not torn up the Roy Mabery Memorial Courts earlier this year without a definite plan in place to restore them. Playing alone seems to be the only activity allowed.
This unreasonable restriction on “groups” as defined in the code has been on the books since at least 1983. But the way the village hopes to amend the code would literally block two or more individuals from using the park’s walkways — and sets an 11 p.m. curfew — no more walking to long-term parking after a late dinner or movie. We would hope that the village board would take this opportunity to eliminate these nonsensical provisions from the law.
The rewrite of the rules to be reviewed at a public meeting on Wednesday at LTV Studios in Wainscott also contains language outlining the official purposes to which Herrick Park could be put to include “space and opportunity for recreational and athletic endeavors, repose and relaxation, cultural enrichment, and the enjoyment of nature.” It goes on to update “the use of Herrick Park commensurate with its evolution as a cultural and recreational hub including the expansion of the Park and its facilities and recreational offerings.” What, and paid for by whom, we’d like to know; the village has strenuously rejected repeated requests to release the names of the money sources behind its supposedly arms-length East Hampton Village Foundation. The foundation helped pay for the first round of work in the park and was largely supported by a single anonymous $1 million donation. We have to wonder, too, what is meant by “cultural hub” and whether this is a backdoor way for the village board to change things the way it sees fit and not in keeping with the original intention for the park.
The history of the park is important. In about 1917, well before the village was incorporated, the East Hampton Neighborhood Association decided to name it the Harriet F. Herrick Playground, after a notable summer resident and philanthropist. For more than 100 years, Herrick Park has indeed been at the center of East Hampton life. In addition to youth and adult sports, there were Ladies Village Improvement Society Fairs, American Legion dances, Fourth of July celebrations, semiprofessional baseball games, and military drills at times of war.
A 1971 plan by the village board to condemn part of the playground for use as a parking lot drew a furious response — an editorial in The Star at the time dubbed it the “Great Herrick Playground Snatch.” The village took over ownership of the playground-park in 1976, though upkeep languished until a private committee organized to raise money and put pressure on officials for improvements.
As the village board revisits Herrick Park’s regulations, it would serve it well to keep this century-plus history in mind — and eliminate the risk of heavy-handed enforcement that would, on paper, impede many of the public uses for which it was created in the first place.