For decades, 10 green spaces in Hastings were parks in name only, including Hillside Woods, Zinsser Park, and Uniontown Park. That changed on Tuesday, Feb. 16, when the Hastings Village Board dedicated those locations as “official” Hastings parklands.
That dedication was important to the permanent protection of those open spaces. According to New York State law, dedicated parkland cannot be used for any other purpose unless it undergoes a process called “alienation,” which requires a vote by the New York Legislature and approval by the governor.
Some Hastings’ parks already have formal parkland status, either by deed or by resolution, among them MacEachron Waterfront Park, Kinnally Cove, Pulver’s Woods, Draper Park, Riverview Park, Ravensdale Woods, Nepera Park, Fraser Park, the Hubbard Extension Trail, a handful of unnamed parklands along Farragut Parkway, and a parcel on Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A) given to the village by Ginsburg Development during the approval process of the Saw Mill Lofts apartment complex.
The resolution puts the following parks under the same protective umbrella: Uniontown Park, Hillside Park, and Hillside Woods; the vest-pocket park on Warburton Avenue across from Antoinette’s; Lefurgy Park; Zinsser Park; Wagner Plaza; VFW Plaza; and Villard Pocket Park.
Village Attorney Linda Whitehead, who researched the documents related to these properties, said, “Some, but not all, of these clearly would have been deemed ‘dedicated by use.’ Uniontown, Zinsser — these have clearly been used as parks for many years. There may have been a prior resolution dedicating them that I didn’t find.” The village board decided to dedicate those parks to add a layer of protection for them.
According to Hastings Mayor Niki Armacost, the Village is considering four more parcels for future dedication. One is Quarry Park. “We’re not dedicating that now because there’s still remediation that’s happening there,” she explained. The three others are Dan Rile Park, Fulton Park, and the Rowley’s Bridge Trail.
Parks are theoretically shielded by the “public trust doctrine,” a legal concept that a government has a responsibility to preserve waterways and parklands for the good of the public. This bit of common law is frequently used to defend land that is in danger of development. In New York State, the letter of the law states that publicly owned land is considered to be parkland if a deed includes a stipulation that it must be used as a park. Or it can be officially designated as parkland by a local law or resolution.
When a park is considered to be a park by implication, its position becomes legally vulnerable, unless it can be proved that its owner always intended it to be a park. For example, New York University wanted to widen its footprint in Greenwich Village about five years ago by purchasing parcels that local organizers wanted to preserve as parks. The court decided that the parcels could not be considered “parks by implication” because their owner, the New York Department of Transportation, had granted only temporary use to the Parks Department.
Hastings’ action echoes parkland dedications over the past two years of the Irvington Woods and a parcel near Halsey Pond in Irvington. Similarly, Greenburgh dedicated a 16-acre tract off Taxter Road in East Irvington as parkland in 2007.