Baldwin downtown revitalization planning kicks off at BHS

Posted

Representatives of New York state and VHB Engineering, a consulting team, fielded questions from members of the public at the first meeting of the Baldwin Downtown Revitalization Initiative Local Planning Committee on Nov. 7. At the session, held in the Baldwin High School cafeteria, planning committee members and residents asked about extending the boundary of the revitalization area and discussed the goals of the initiative for the next six months.
The Local Planning Committee comprises residents and community leaders, including Baldwin Chamber of Commerce President Erik Mahler and a sanitation commissioner, Doug Wiedmann, and works closely with VHB and state officials to draw up revitalization plans for a portion of Grand Avenue that runs through the Long Island Rail Road station. The committee is co-chaired by Dave Kapell, of the Regional Economic Development Council, and Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, who helped secure a $10 million grant from the state to revitalize downtown Baldwin. The boundary of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative runs along Grand Avenue from Merrick Road to Stowe Avenue, said Abi Rudow of VHB, adding that the public would be invited to share input on the boundary at the next planning meeting at the high school, on Nov. 20. David Viana, who works with the Baldwin Civic Association, said he was happy with the boundary designation, but suggested potentially extending it to Milburn Avenue, along Merrick Road, to incorporate more commercial areas as well as the George Sumner Kellogg House, a national historic landmark that has been a fixture in the community for over a century. Kimberly Malone, a Baldwin resident and civic association member, said she was pleased that committee members discussed potentially extending the boundaries of the revitalization area. “I want to encourage you guys to resist the inclination to try to go back to the original boundaries,” Malone said, “because, as we all know, there is somewhat of a disconnect in some ways between the north and the south here within Baldwin, and to reduce that so that less of the north is included is only going to make for tension within the town. I think we need to be cognizant of that inasmuch as we’re cognizant of the needs of the businesses.” Baldwin resident Meta Mereday urged planners to consider involving diverse businesses in the process. “Let’s talk about inclusion,” Mereday said. “Let’s look at how these projects are going to be defined so that it addresses a wide range of potential developers.” Steve Greenfield, the Baldwin Civic Association vice president, echoed that sentiment. “I agree with Meta that there needs to be a statement in the goals that says to provide maximum opportunity for local contractors and businesses to participate in the development of our town,” Greenfield said, adding that future meetings should take place later in the day to accommodate parents who need to care for their children and other people who are unable to make a 6 p.m. meeting. Marwa Fawaz, a senior project manager with VHB, said she would account for that with future meetings, although the next meeting’s start time is already set. Greenfield also agreed with the idea to extend the boundary to include the Kellogg House. “That sets a good boundary, and we’re really missing a community center in this community, and that gives us an opportunity for that,” he said. A few residents encouraged planners to extend the boundary northeast to include Baldwin High School. Karen Montalbano, of the Baldwin Historical Society, said the zone should include as much as possible. “When you start limiting the zone, you will be limiting where you can see opportunities,” she said. “Just because the zone is large doesn’t mean you have to do everything up to that point, but if you get the zone up further north, it gives you opportunities to look at things further north.” Montalbano also agreed that the Kellogg House should be included in the zone. “It can become a community arts center,” she said. “It can have a lot of different uses, and it should be explored. That house offers a lot of arts possibilities and should be included within it.” Kathy Spatz, a South Hempstead resident, said she was concerned about lengthening the boundary area. “If we keep extending,” Spatz said, “I think we’re going to lose sight of how this all started, which is in that area — Grand [Avenue] and Merrick [Road].” “We’re looking to have some synergy around the different projects, so the more you spread them out, the less synergy you get,” explained Dave Ashton of the Office of Planning and Development in the Department of State. Residents also encouraged organizers and planners to spread the word about the next meeting via signs, social media and email blasts to encourage more people to become involved in the planning process. “We do appreciate everybody’s comments and questions, and we will take all those questions and comments into consideration while we prepare for our Nov. 20 meeting,” Fawaz said, adding that LPC members and state representatives will break up into stations and go over the details of potential projects to be reviewed.