Funding for Stepping Stones Lighthouse is in North Hempstead’s Capital Plan
At the Jan. 24 Town of North Hempstead board meeting, town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena and the Town Board unanimously approved the town’s 2023-2027 five-year Capital Plan, which includes improvements to infrastructure, park upgrades, and road repaving. Improvements to the Stepping Stone Lighthouse in Great Neck is included in the Capital Plan, among various other projects. The $126,887,733 plan will be funded with a combination of borrowing, grants, and existing cash.
“This five-year capital plan puts a particular emphasis on bringing forward momentum to a number of long-stalled projects throughout the town,” Town Supervisor Jennifer DeSena said. “I believe that the Town should be seeking to not just maintain, but significantly improve our parks and our infrastructure. Thank you to the Town Board for working collaboratively throughout this process, the result of which is a capital plan that will improve Town infrastructure for generations to come.”
The Stepping Stones Lighthouse has been in poor condition and has needed repairs for many years. As an important landmark and part of Great Neck’s history, the restoration of this lighthouse is a concern for many involved parties and residents.
The Stepping Stones Lighthouse was built in 1876 to help ships navigate the Long Island Sound waters and rocky reefs and guard the approach to New York City’s East River. The US Government enacted the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000, which gives away dozens of lighthouses every year to groups willing to preserve them and turn them into public attractions like museums. The lighthouse was offered at no cost to eligible entities, including federal, state, and local agencies, non-profit corporations, and educational organizations. In 2008, the lighthouse was transferred to the Town of North Hempstead.
Since the Town of North Hempstead gained stewardship of the lighthouse 14 years ago, not much has been done to restore or maintain it. In 2014, North Hempstead partnered with the Great Neck Historical Society and the Great Neck Parks District to raise funds and awareness for the lighthouse. Since Steppingstone Park is the closest land to the lighthouse, the Park District offered staff and facilities to take people back and forth to the lighthouse.
“In the 14 years [that the town has had stewardship over the lighthouse], the building has been deteriorating,” said Marc Katz, Vice President of the Great Neck Historical Society. “The outside is fairly firm, but the inside is not; plaster is falling, and it’s not holding up well in the weather.”
Katz shared that about a year ago, North Hempstead took bids to build a dock at the lighthouse so that boats could dock there and unload construction material to repair the lighthouse. This company put pilings in the ground to start a dock and got partially into this project, and the town supervising it said they needed to do a better job and stopped them from completing it.
“The footings and the foundation of a dock is all that’s there,” said Katz.
Bob Muller, President of the United States Lighthouse Society, Long Island Chapter, outlined the next steps to get started with the preservation. “The first steps are very clear and really easy: they need to finish that dock. And that’s, again, all up to the town. And we also need to stabilize that lighthouse to get it watertight.”
The funds in the Capital Plan for the Stepping Stone Lighthouse is for phase one of the project, which includes the installation of a new docking facility consisting of a fixed pier and floating dock at the southeast reach of the lighthouse.
According to the Capital Plan, “Grant funding for this project comes from the following organizations: National Parks Service, National Maritime Heritage Grant, administered through the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, State Historic Preservation Office, Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, State and Municipal Facilities Programs, Dormitory Authority of the State of New York and the State and Municipal Facilities Programs (Great Neck Park District).”
At the Jan. 24 Town of North Hempstead board meeting, Katz expressed his gratitude for the Capital Plan’s inclusion of Phase One for Stepping Stones Lighthouse. “With the acceptance of the lighthouse comes a responsibility of preserving it as a symbol of our past and a beacon for our future. I’d like to thank the town board for including funding in its Capital Plan for the completion of the dock and pier at the lighthouse so that it can be restored and maintained.”
North Hempstead Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey has been listening to the residents of Great Neck and advocating for the lighthouse. “The Lighthouse has historical significance on so many levels. I look forward to working with the Great Neck Historical Society and the rest of the board as well in figuring out how to best fund this task that the town has taken on when it took on the ownership of the lighthouse.”
While residents of Great Neck are excited to see progress being made in restoring the historical lighthouse off the coast of Kings Point, others feel this project shouldn’t be funded by the town.
Since the lighthouse is closest to Stepping Stones Park, that is the most probable point of access to visit and see the lighthouse. Stepping Stones Park is part of the Great Neck Parks District and their parks are only open to Great Neck residents.
“Nobody in my district is allowed to go into Stepping Stones Park, including me and people in Garden City Park, Williston Park, and New Hyde Park. This is not helpful for anybody in my district,” said North Hempstead Councilman Dennis Walsh (District 3).
Councilman Walsh along with a Mineola resident expressed that they feel the lighthouse restoration seems like a private project, not a public one. Since North Hempstead residents don’t have access to Stepping Stone Park, North Hempstead funds shouldn’t be used in the project.
Robert Lincoln, a Great Neck resident on the Board of Directors for the Great Neck Historical Society, attended the board meeting to speak on behalf of the restoration project.
“I understand the objection thinking you’re not allowed to go into Stepping Stones Park. Stepping Stones Park is a park in the Great Neck Park District, which the local taxpayers pay to visit. However, they are also a player in this partnership, and already they have opened the park to the Historical Society to run fundraising boat rides,” said Lincoln. “One of the things that we’re looking to do at the Park District is to make that accessible on a scheduled basis for people to go out and visit the lighthouse down the road a long way.”
“But it will be made available, so there is no privacy. This is not a Great Neck Park District or Great Neck private project. It’s open to everybody,” said Lincoln.
At the Feb. 7 town board meeting, the concern over the project and North Hempstead funding were brought up again.
“So money has been spent to keep it from completely falling apart because we are the stewards of [the lighthouse] right now,” said Councilwoman Lurvey. “And the capital plan now authorizes this phase to be finished.”
While Councilman Walsh and a concerned resident expressed their disapproval of town funds being used on a seemingly private project, Councilwoman Lurvey assured them this money is just being used to finish the incompleted dock. After Phase One, there is no solid plan for the rest of the lighthouse restoration.
“I think there needs to be a visioning process after this part of the project is over. There’s nothing in the capital plan after this phase,” said Councilwoman Lurvey.
At this meeting, a resolution was on the agenda authorizing the assignment of an agreement for engineering services in connection with the Stepping Stones Lighthouse. Taking into consideration the concern of the resident and other councilmembers, Councilwoman Lurvey decided to table the resolution for the town to come back to in a later meeting.