Tsvi Greenfield’s question on what the Village of Lawrence is considering to do with the decommissioned sewage treatment plant land ignited a firestorm of debate between Mayor Alex Edelman and Trustee Uri Kaufman at the March 8 board meeting.
Greenfield and other residents of the Rock Hall Road neighborhood submitted a petition in December with more than 40 signatures. It noted their concern on the property’s possible uses, an objection to build anything that generates an increase in traffic or noise, and asked the village to keep them informed. The site is 4.35 acres. The county will retain a half acre. The village total is 3.83 acres, officials said.
When asked by the village board what he would like to see at the site Greenfield said, “More neighbors, not to commercialize the area, a park is OK.”
He and Michael Hoch attended the meeting because they heard that a hotel and an assisted living facility being considered for the property. Edelman countered that currently nothing is being considered for the land but housing, possibly seven houses. “A hotel brings all kinds of problems,” he said, noting traffic as one of those issues. Building seven single-family homes was an idea that was previously floated by officials.
Kaufman recommended that Lawrence put out a request for proposal “for an analysis of what could go there.” His suggestion is a four- or five-star hotel, which he said could generate nearly $1 million annually for the village that could “drop taxes by 50 percent.” Leasing the land to the hotelier, connecting it to the village owned and operated Lawrence Yacht & Country Club, and receiving money from the hotel room tax, would add up to roughly $1 million, he said.
“I’m open-minded, but to say that the hotel will become a welfare hotel is rubbish,” said Kaufman, in response to Edelman. Kaufman said he is working with noted New York City real estate developer Joseph Simone on the hotel proposal.
Edelman and Kaufman debated the hotel idea, as the mayor said he is involved in a similar industry — assisted living facilities — that creates identical issues of traffic volume and the constant coming and going of delivery trucks and other backdoor services common to these businesses. There was also a debate on the rumor that 14 people have expressed interest in the seven homes.
Hoch, who said he has been in both businesses in the past decade, appeared to support Edelman’s position noting that many backdoor services are subcontracted out and usually conduct their business in the early morning hours, and there are also shift changes of employees which creates the traffic congestion and could impact the residents’ quality of life.
“It affects me, my family and my neighbors,” Hoch said. “There are many more children in Lawrence and only two parks.”
Deputy Mayor Michael Fragin endorsed the house plan. “I’m agnostic about the issue,” he said. But did add: “The seven-house plan is the right way to go.”
A RFP vote was defeated 3-2. Edelman and Trustees Syma Diamond and Daniel Goldstein voted no. Fragin and Kaufman voted yes.