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State officials OK changes to Belmont plan

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New York State development officials approved a series of modifications to the nearly $1.3 billion Belmont Park redevelopment project on Feb. 18.

The changes — which officials from Empire State Development, the state agency that promotes development in New York, presented to the public in a virtual hearing on Dec. 21 — include relocating 25,000 square feet of the project’s “retail village” from a site north of Hempstead Turnpike to one south of the turnpike, and replacing a proposed parking structure beneath the retail village with a freestanding, six-story, above-ground structure.

The retail village will include 10,000 square feet of retail space, dining and entertainment facilities on the park’s north lot, and 340,000 square feet on the south lot. It will be accessible at Belmont’s Gates 5 and 14, and will include a drop-off location and staging area for rideshare vehicles.

There will also be a service yard for trucks and emergency vehicles on the north, east and west sides of the retail village, connecting to a new restricted-access entrance for emergency vehicles at the intersection of 109th Avenue and Wellington Road. At the south end of the retail village, a short, two-way, east-west road would connect Belmont Park with the north and southbound ramps of the Cross Island Parkway at Exit 26A.

These changes, ESD officials wrote in their decision to affirm the proposed modifications last week, would limit vehicular activity near Elmont neighborhoods.

To better serve shoppers at the retail village, as well as Islanders fans and concert-goers attending games and shows at the UBS Arena, the state has also agreed to build an above-ground parking structure with 1,500 parking spaces. Parking would be free for shoppers, and others would pay at designated pay stations. The parking structure would be accessible from the northbound Cross Island at Exit 26A, but southbound drivers would have to use Exit 26B and head east on Hempstead Turnpike to Gate 14.

Construction work on the facility may increase noise levels near Wellington Road and Hathaway Avenue in Elmont for more than 19 months, and will be visible from Huntley Road and other residential streets in Elmont along Hempstead Turnpike, but views would be reduced by a proposed 10-foot-tall wall with 12-foot-tall trees and landscaping on the side facing the neighborhood.

The wall will extend to the southern perimeter of the site, along the backyards on Wellington Road, in response to public comments made on the proposed changes at the virtual hearing in December. The developers, New York Arena Partners — a consortium comprising the Islanders franchise, the Oak View Group and the Wilpon family — would maintain the trees and landscaping.

The final change included in the 2020 Modification to the Belmont Park project is the addition of hydrogen fuel cell stations for the shuttle buses that would transport guests around the park and to and from the Elmont Long Island Rail Road station. The eastern platform of the station would be moved 125 feet west, and a barrier blocking motorists’ view of Floral Park residents’ backyards would be extended 55 feet, due to the location of existing utilities.

These changes would not result in “any significant adverse environmental impacts,” ESD officials concluded, and officials for the state’s Urban Development Corporation ruled that the changes were “appropriate in order to improve and advance” the project. They will not result in any additional costs, officials noted.

But in order to approve the changes, ESD officials had to conclude that it would not be feasible or practicable to override local zoning laws. Under the Town of Hempstead’s Building Zone Ordinance, the site south of Hempstead Turnpike — where the parking structure will be built — is zoned for residential properties, but the frontage adjacent to the turnpike is zoned as part of a business district to a depth of 100 feet.

Additionally, state officials had to grant Arena Partners new subleases of the land to allow for a parking structure and retail space on the park’s northern lot, which will be converted to a direct ground lease between the two parties once construction is complete. Arena Partners would then make payments in lieu of taxes to the ESD, which would forward them to the local taxing entities.

Construction of the retail village is expected to begin early next year, and construction of the Elmont LIRR station, as well as the 19,000-seat arena for the Islanders, is set to be completed in November 2022.