MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Another major step toward the completion of the Swan Cove park/parking lot project took place last week when the former Chamber of Commerce building was torn down.
Additionally, workers continued to remove stone and debris from the beachfront area and smooth out the parcel that will eventually become the park.
But what many might not know is that volunteers have performed much of the labor taking place over the last few weeks at the lot, located on South Lake Boulevard next to Tompkins Mahopac Bank. Town officials say that saved taxpayers more than $100,000.
“Almost 99 percent of the people down there volunteering were almost born and raised in this town,” said Councilman Mike Barile, who has been coordinating the early stages of the project. “All the guys on that site are [Mahopacians] who have lived here since they were 2 or 3 years old. The energy and effort is amazing. For two days, my [business] partner (Tommy Boniello) is sitting out there in his wheelchair yelling at the machine operator that he’s not doing it right. Mike Bunyea (Exel Electric) is setting up the pumps, which work correctly now, so we don’t have water there. George Vignogna, I couldn’t count the hours he’s spent on a machine, sucking dust and filling those Dumpsters. Guy Dudyshyn, same thing; right there with them.”
Barile said the work so far, thanks to the volunteers, has cost about 10 cents on the dollar.
“These people saved the taxpayers—no question—over $100,000 this week. That’s a number given to me by the engineering department,” Barile said. “If we had bid that out municipally, the numbers would have been crazy. These are all volunteers. We are reimbursing them if they have to rent a machine and for fuel and things like that, but the savings were just astronomical. I sincerely want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.”
The town purchased the strip of land known as Swan Cove from developer Fran Cotaj for $1 million in March 2018. Earlier this summer, the town completed a deal with Tompkins Mahopac Bank to purchase an acre’s worth of land in the bank’s adjacent parking lot for $395,000. This will make way for a 90-space municipal parking lot. New sidewalks and curb cuts for new access and egress into the municipal lot and the bank’s parking area will be constructed by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and the traffic light at the Route 6/6N split will be reconfigured to allow motorists in and out of the lot.
The entire project was somewhat controversial in its early stages because Cotaj had purchased the property from Barile before he was elected to the Town Board. Barile, in turn, encouraged Cotaj to sell it to the town, since it was the last parcel of land available on Lake Mahopac.
“Everybody forgets, but I was just a madman at that podium (before being elected) yelling at these guys (the Town Board) to buy the property,” Barile said. “They made the decision. I’m helping now to bring it to fruition, but this is a group effort. Everyone is doing something different.”
Supervisor Ken Schmitt said that since work on the project got underway, residents have been reacting in a positive way. At the Town Board’s Sept. 4 meeting, he read a letter that several residents had composed and sent to Schmitt and the board. The letter read, in part:
“Bold initiatives like these are never easy—there are always counter-concerns about costs and unintended consequences. Let’s us again add our voice of support for the park expansion project. Our thanks go out to you and the Town Board and those who support the project for their vision and tenacity to persevere and see this through to its reality. We are confident that future generations will appreciate this truly amazing addition to the heart of our town. The result will be a major step in making an already amazing town into a truly great and awesome place.”
Schmitt said he wouldn’t reveal the names of the letter-writers because “I didn’t get clearance from them.”
“And there’ve been many other folks who I’ve met out in the community who have also voiced their support for the projects,” the supervisor said. “And other Town Board members have gotten feedback and we have gotten a lot of calls at the office. So, it’s really shaping up.”
Schmitt was also effusive in his praise for Barile and the way he’s coordinated the project thus far.
“Councilman Mike Barile has spent multiple days down at the Swan Cove site,” Schmitt said. “If you have driven through town and look where the chamber building once stood, it’s now totally demolished and there is just a concrete pad there. And the Swan Cove site has been cleaned up quite a bit . . . trees have been trimmed and cut down and the site is really shaping up.
“I want to publicly thank Councilman Barile for all his efforts in coordinating that cleanup project,” he continued. “Volunteers have committed a lot of their personal time and their equipment at really no cost to the town. It’s looking great so far and will continue to evolve. It will be a beautiful site once it’s completed.”
Councilman Jonathan Schneider said he was amazed at how quickly work has progressed.
“In two days, it’s pretty amazing to see what’s happened downtown,” he said. “To be able to see the boats on the other side by the point, to have that clear view, it is amazing. Whether we paid too much, too little or just right, the end result is going to be just like you said for generations to come. Even the comments over the last 48 hours alone have been overwhelmingly positive and it’s great to see. With all the volunteers out there, it’s spectacular. Local guys, good guys, who have their heart in the right place. I can’t wait to see it done and be down there playing with the kids.”
Barile said that while the park parcel is currently just flat land, mostly mud and asphalt, he predicts the final project will elicit rave reviews
“You have to picture the wooden bridge connecting the two parks; you have to picture all of the weeds removed; you have to picture an aerator fountain between the two parks,” he said. “[There will be] real bathrooms. When it’s done, it’s going to be really nice. Everyone who has come down there made the same statement: ‘I didn’t realize it was so big; I didn’t realize it would open it up so much.’”
Barile said the project will need more volunteers—primarily masons—as it moves on to the next phase. They’ll help incorporate a huge pile of rocks into the design.
“All that beautiful rock is going to be used on the park and throughout the town because it matches the existing rock used downtown,” he said.
Schneider said the town should consider using the students in the Northern Westchester/Putnam BOCES mason program to help.
“We could use the same service that the county utilizes through BOCES,” he said. “Their class of masons works at the county facilities all the time. We could have that conversation and get a ton of volunteers out here pretty quickly.”
Councilwoman Suzi McDonough also gave kudos to the volunteers.
“I want to thank all the volunteers,” she said. “It’s beautiful now, and I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be when it’s done.”