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Grand Avenue revitalization review under way

Hempstead Town Board seeks to protect environment


At a town hall meeting May 2, Town of Hempstead officials and their advisers said they were developing plans to mitigate any environmental impacts that might arise from the proposed rezoning of downtown Baldwin.

“The idea is that, before any construction happens, to set guidelines to avoid any potential traffic impacts, or land use impacts or economic impacts,” said Morwa Fawaz, a senior project manager with VHB Engineering, which is helping draw plans for the overlay zoning district that, officials said, would revitalize Grand Avenue.

On April 16, the Hempstead Town Board declared itself the lead agency in the environmental review of the downtown revitalization effort, and as part of the State Environmental Quality Review process — a multi-step examination required of a new development or rezoning — issued a “positive declaration,” meaning board members acknowledged the project would have some impact on the environment.

The possible impacts of the proposed rezoning have not been fully determined. Town officials have identified some environmental concerns in an assessment, which can be found at bit.ly/2PL6zWC. A more comprehensive study is under way, and will consider residents’ concerns. A scoping session was scheduled for Monday, after the Herald went to press, at Town Hall, where Baldwinites were invited to identify possible problems with the rezoning.

At the May 2 meeting, officials said issues such as increased traffic are already being examined. “We know going in that traffic is one of the biggest environmental issues that has to be studied and analyzed,” said Richard Regina, counsel to the Town Board. “Not just in the proposed zone, but around it as well. We are going to seek ways to mitigate any potential traffic impacts.”

Erik Alexander, director of Vision Long Island and an adviser to the town on the project, said the recently approved Complete Streets project — which includes the reduction of lanes on parts of Grand Avenue — was considered when studying how traffic would be affected. “We took that traffic-calming project very seriously in doing the zoning,” Alexander said. “Every single model they looked at showed it would have a minimal impact.”

The Town Board’s plan would rezone parts of Grand, and roads such as Sunrise Highway and Merrick, to allow for new buildings, with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the upper ones, to be constructed without the need for variances from the town’s Board of Appeals.

In the past, required approvals have caused developments to fall through and hindered attempts to revive the downtown. Similar efforts, officials said, have succeeded in the Village of Farmingdale and downtown Patchogue, which both now have bustling main streets. The Town Board is expected to authorize the rezoning by late fall.

Prior plans to revitalize Baldwin revolved around master developers acquiring buildings near the intersection of Merrick and Grand and developing mixed-use buildings, but several companies dropped out of that plan. Developers would have paid for the properties with the help of tax breaks.

Town Supervisor Laura Gillen told the Herald last month that the old plan had several “illegal” provisions in the contract, such as requiring Nassau County to give land to the town — but county officials had not signed the contract. Republican Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney said she was confident that the board’s new plan would work.

“We are 100 percent committed to making this happen,” King Sweeney said. She also said that she and Gillen — who have feuded over board politics in recent months — agree on the plan and are not letting their political differences affect the revitalization.

Alexander, who worked on the revitalization of Farmingdale and Patchogue, credited the Town Board with expanding its vision for Baldwin. “I think the town has been very creative in coming up with this overlay district,” he said, “which won’t just focus on one corner that you focused on for 15 years.”