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Franklin Square residents meet the candidates

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Franklin Square residents had the chance to meet local candidates at the Franklin Square Public Library’s third annual Candidates Night on Oct. 10.

“It’s a great chance to see the people who are going to represent you,” said Library President Bill Youngfert, who moderated the forum. All local candidates were present except Hempstead Town Councilman Thomas Muscarella and the Republicans running for town-wide offices.

One of the major issues that residents raised was the notion that the town and county have neglected Franklin Square, with one person writing on an index card that the hamlet is “a dump,” with litter on the streets, broken sidewalks and “too many renters blocking the street with their cars.”

In response, Town Supervisor Laura Gillen — a Democrat who is running against current Town Receiver of Taxes Donald X. Clavin and animal-rights activist Diane Madden to retain her seat — said her administration put out a community survey to better understand the needs of each hamlet, and noted that the issue of illegal renters falls under the jurisdiction of the town’s Building Department, which, she said, she has tried to audit.

The department has made several errors in processing documents, has been notoriously sluggish and had sent out home-elevation notices for South Shore residents years after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area, she said.

Gillen also noted that the town’s code enforcers may have difficulty exposing landlords who are illegally renting out apartments because of scheduling issues. “Many times they come out and nobody’s home,” she said, “so they can’t witness the illegal occupancy.”

To resolve that, she said, her proposed budget includes funding for seven new code enforcers, and suggested residents work with the Building Department to better schedule a code enforcement.

Madden, Gillen’s opponent, called the perceived neglect “favoritism” between different hamlets, saying, “Our towns shouldn’t look visibly any different when you drive through them.”

She suggested that making Town Board meetings more accessible to those who have to work during the day, and said she does not believe in taxing homeowners more because they rent. “I believe in equality,” Madden said. “I believe in fair treatment.”

Clavin, Gillen’s other opponent, was not present at the Candidate’s Night, but told the Herald that he would “make a long-term investment in our infrastructure to ensure that motorists are safe.”

Nassau County Legislator Vincent Muscarella, a Republican from West Hempstead, said he did not believe Franklin Square was neglected, and emphasized that the county does not have jurisdiction over zoning issues. He did say, however, that every resident should do his or her part to improve the neighborhood. “I think that citizens and government work together — we have a responsibility for each other,” Muscarella said. “And I look forward to working with the community to solve the problems that we are all concerned with.”

His opponent, Barbara Hafner, a Democrat from West Hempstead, argued that while the county does not have jurisdiction over zoning, it should work with the Town of Hempstead and the state to address these issues. “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” she said.

Residents also asked the candidates what they would do to revitalize the area, which has several empty storefronts. Bruce Blakeman, a Republican from Valley Stream who is seeking another term on the Town Board, said his goal is to make Franklin Square like North Lawrence and Inwood, where he helped develop transit-oriented districts.

“What that means is we’re trying to get people out of their cars to use mass transportation to create communities that aren’t a mishmosh,” Blakeman explained, “that are communities that have retail on the first floor, they have a two to three levels of residential. And basically, we are trying to get people to stay in our communities.”

The problem with that, he noted, is that Franklin Square and Elmont do not have their own Long Island Rail Road stations. Blakeman said he worked with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ensure that any plans for Belmont Park included a train station for the area, and said that until that happens, the community can develop a downtown near the Nassau Inter-County Express routes in the area.

Before any revitalization could happen, however, he said, engineers must study the land, which his opponent Shari James-Pierre disagreed with. She said that any development should instead begin with the community. “I want to make sure that all the communities are at the table at the time that we start to talk about downtown revitalization,” she said.

Additionally, James-Pierre, a Democrat from Valley Stream, said that she would examine the town’s zoning — which she said has not been updated since the 1950s, create more housing for young adults, invest in small businesses and work with other branches of government. “There’s great opportunities for us to partner across different levels of government to make sure that we have exactly what we need,” James-Pierre said of the availability of downtown revitalization grants. “And it’s not necessarily a burden that we bear on our own.”

The election for town and county officials will be held on Nov. 5 from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Early voting starts on Oct. 26 at the Elmont Fire District Building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Any registered voter in Nassau County may vote at any early-voting site, but must use a regular polling place on Election Day.