Cutchogue man reports ADA concerns at local park to U.S. Department of Justice

A Cutchogue resident has reported the removal of handicapped parking from Dave Allison Park to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

Last September, the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Park District closed gates that had traditionally allowed vehicular access to the park, to the outrage of some residents in the community. In early June, at least 80 people signed a petition to restore parking, citing lack of access for people with mobility issues. Several protested outside park gates on June 5.

The parking lot and driveway were covered with grass and fencing around the playground was taken down to expand green space in the park, cut costs on maintenance and enhance safety for park-goers, according to commissioners. 

Richard Jordan, a retired lawyer who lives in Cutchogue, submitted a complaint to the DOJ earlier this week about the elimination of handicapped parking inside the park.

“This situation should not be allowed to continue,” he said in an email to The Suffolk Times. “The wheels of justice will grind slowly but surely.”

Mr. Jordan emphasized that “filing this complaint does not bar any person from initiating a lawsuit versus [the] park district on [the] same claim.” He has previously said that individuals can enforce guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act with lawsuits. 

Mr. Jordan also approached the Town Board at a regular meeting on June 7, after sending a letter the week before to request that the town tell the commissioners to restore prior parking access. 

“Disabled people cannot get into the park there. There had been a handicapped parking spot at least for the last 25 years,” he said. “I’ve lived across the street from the park since ‘85. There has always been parking in that park.”

The removal of handicapped parking poses an ADA violation that could create grounds for a lawsuit, he said, and asked the town to consider legal avenues to rectify the situation.

Supervisor Scott Russell responded that the park district was created by and falls under New York State jurisdiction, and Mr. Jordan would be better off speaking with an attorney on ADA compliance. 

Park commissioners said at a May 31 meeting that they plan to wait for a site review before making any further changes to the park and authorized up to $5,000 to cover the costs of an ADA report. In response to a request for comment, commissioners sent an op-ed for publication in this week’s Suffolk Times.

They note that, in response to resident concerns, they “have vetted the matter with several representatives of the Town, retained professional services to obtain parking options within the Park, reviewed regulations regarding ADA accessibility as it relates to the park district, observed parking at several similar local venues and have vowed to give consideration to the possible creation of limited parking within the park in the future.” 

The commissioners further state that legal counsel has advised there’s been no violation of law or ADA guidelines.

“Should a new parking area be created, we understand our obligation under ADA and would comply with ADA accessible parking space(s) including specific spatial dimensions, surfaces and associated pathways. Any plan allowing vehicles within the park may require the relocation of the children’s play area, the removal of trees and/or green space or additional safety barricades or fencing,” they wrote.

A few others have openly praised the park district’s decision, including former commissioner Dave Howe at the May 31 meeting. A letter published in the June 16 edition of The Suffolk Times argued Cutchogue residents should thank John Gardner, the current chairman of the park district board, for his work.

While accessibility concerns are “certainly valid and are being taken seriously by the park commission,” writer Bill Buckley said he did not appreciate “the vitriol directed at Cutchogue park commissioner John Gardner.” Mr. Gardner has served as commissioner — an unpaid, elected position — for more than 10 years, Mr. Buckley wrote, and consistently keeps park district expenses under budget. 

An attorney representing the park district disputed on a call to The Suffolk Times that there was ever a handicapped spot at Dave Allison Park and said none were removed from park district property.