The Belmont Park Community Coalition (BPCC) called on Empire State Development Corporation president Howard Zemsky to come out of the shadows in a sharply worded letter dated Feb. 13. In it, coalition members alleged that the 15-member citizens advisory group meant to represent the communities of Bellrose Terrace, Elmont, Floral Park and South Floral Park in their discussions with representatives of Empire State was formed solely on the recommendation of local elected officials, but without community input, but that some members of the committee lived outside the communities that would be most affected by the development. Perhaps most damaging of all, the coalition wrote that the committee had met at least once in private, without inviting either the public or members of the media to attend. That meeting did take place on Wednesday, Feb. 7, in Valley Stream, (“quietly,” according to a Newsday article dated Feb. 8), which is outside the area that will be most affected by the project.
Section 16 of New York’s Urban Corporation Development Act stipulates that “the corporation and community advisory committees … shall give primary consideration to local needs and desires and shall foster local initiative and participation in connection with the planning and development of its projects. Wherever possible, activities of the corporation shall be coordinated with local urban renewal and other community projects, and the corporation shall assist localities in carrying out such projects.” The measure also requires that the corporation work closely both with advisory committees and with members of the community.
The coalition suggested that a meeting held in private in Valley Stream, to discuss a project that will be situated primarily in Elmont and Floral Park, was inconsistent with the act.
The BPCC contended in its letter that “both the creation and convening of the advisory committee evidence a lack of transparency and interest in true community engagement.” The committee went on to recommend that “the meetings should exclude sales pitches from conditional designees [i.e., partners in the development project]. These meetings are not intended to get buy-in from local community leaders. These meetings are designed to address agenda items within the scope of the Belmont Park Redevelopment.”
ESD did not respond to requests for comment. The full text of the coalition’s Feb. 13 letter may be read at https://www.facebook.com/groupsBelmontParkCommunityCoalition/.