Hope and skepticism

Town of Hempstead details Baldwin revitalization proposal


Baldwinite Steve Bertoline said that a plan to revitalize parts of Baldwin that the Town of Hempstead released on Jan. 10 looked promising, but added that he was not convinced it would succeed.

“I’m not sure,” he said with a shrug. “It seems like a good plan, and I like how everything is laid out . . . but we’ll have to see.”

Bertoline, like others who attended a workshop at Baldwin Middle School, said he has seen many at-tempts to foster economic development in the community fail over the years.

Longtime resident Jeff Barkan recalled former Town Supervisor Anthony Santino promising that there would be new businesses at the corner of Grand Avenue and Merrick Road, which is still blighted today. “Is this going to be any different?” Barkan asked. “I hope so.”

Even those who had faith in the plan to implement a mixed-use overlay zoning district along Grand Avenue and other thoroughfares, such as Sunrise Highway, were not entirely pleased coming out of the meeting.

Residents like Phillip, who has lived in the community for 15 years and declined to give his last name, said the town should act now, instead of in several months, to implement the proposal. “Whatever they need to do to get this done, I will sign off on it,” Phillip said. “I just want to get this done. I’m tired of waiting.”

The Town Board expects to approve the overlay district by September, following more public meetings and discussions on the proposal. Town officials said they hoped that mixed-use developments in Baldwin — with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the upper ones — would be expedited by the parameters set by the overlay district, allowing builders to begin the approval process without first appearing before the town’s Board of Appeals to seek variances. In the past, required approvals have caused projects to fall through.

Height parameters for potential developments were released for the first time at the Jan. 10 meeting. On Grand Avenue, from Florence Street to about Miller Place, and again from Edna Court to Prospect Street, new developments could be built to 45 feet high under the zoning plan.

On Grand, from Miller to Edna, and on Sunrise, from Edna to the Freeport border, developments could rise to heights of 75 feet. And on Grand, from Prospect Street to just south of Merrick Road (and for a few blocks east and west on Merrick), new buildings could rise to 60 feet. The town also proposed building tiered parking on the existing lots near the Long Island Rail Road station and a plaza near the platform.

Eric Alexander, director of the planning group Vision Long Island, explained to residents that mixed-use developments were key to the success of the plan. Merchants, he said, want to open in communities where there are enough people to support their businesses. “Those are the factors you take into account as a small business owner,” Alexander said during a recent interview with the Herald.

Alexander and town officials have said they hope to mimic the revitalization of previously blighted downtowns in the villages of Farmingdale and Patchogue, both of which are booming now.

Russell Johnson, a 13-year Baldwin resident, said he believed the proposal would work for Baldwin. “It has legs to it now, and so that’s a good thing,” he said of the plan. But, like others, he wondered if it would be another decade before there was progress.

“Is it going to be any three, four or five years before any of this gets built?” he asked. “I don’t know if I’m going to see this in my lifetime.”

County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwin Democrat, encouraged her fellow residents to be optimistic about the plan. “I know we’re going to get this done, and it’s going to be fantastic,” she said.