After more than a year of construction on the UBS Arena, state officials are proposing changes in the scope of the Belmont Park redevelopment project.
Under proposals for the redevelopment project announced late last month by Empire State Development, the state agency that promotes development, the project’s “retail village” would be reduced in size, 25,000 square feet of it would be moved from a site north of Hempstead Turnpike to one south of the turnpike, and parking beneath the retail village would be replaced by a freestanding, six-story, above-ground parking structure.
The size of the retail village would be reduced by 85,000 square feet, according to a November memo about the changes on the Empire State Development website, with 10,000 square feet of retail, dining and entertainment facilities on the north lot, and 340,000 square feet on the south lot. The village would be accessible at Belmont Park’s Gates 5 and 14, and would have a drop-off location and staging area for rideshare vehicles.
There would be a service yard for trucks and emergency vehicles on the north, west and east sides of the retail village, one segment of which would connect to a new restricted-access entrance for emergency vehicles at the intersection of 109th Avenue and Wellington Road (see map, Page 3). At the south end of the retail village, a short, two-way, east-west roadway would connect Belmont Park Road with the north- and southbound ramps of the Cross Island Parkway at Exit 26A.
To better serve the shoppers at the retail village, as well as concertgoers and Islanders fans attending games at the UBS Arena, state officials are also proposing the creation of the above-ground parking structure, with 1,500 parking spaces. Parking would be free for shoppers, and others who would need to pay would do so at designated pay stations. The parking structure would be accessible from the northbound Cross Island at Exit 26A, but those traveling southbound would have to use Exit 26B and head east on Hempstead Turnpike to Gate 14.
Construction on the facility may increase noise levels near Wellington Road and Hathaway Avenue in Elmont for more than 19 months. The site would be visible on Huntley Road and all other residential streets in Elmont along Hempstead Turnpike, but views would be obstructed by a proposed 10-foot-tall wall with 12-foot-tall trees and landscaping on the side facing the neighborhood.
Finally, state officials are proposing adding a hydrogen fuel cell station for the shuttle buses that would transport guests around the park and to and from the Elmont Long Island Rail Road Station, and are considering moving the eastbound platform of the station 125 feet west and extending a barrier blocking motorists’ views of Floral Park residents’ backyards by 55 feet, due to the location of existing utilities.
The proposed modifications would have no “new or significant environmental impact,” Doug McPherson, Empire State Development’s director of real estate and planning, said at a public hearing on the proposed changes on Dec. 21.
The parking structure would also be safer for Elmont residents, Andrew Sapienza, of Elmont, said at the hearing, and would allow Islanders fans to once again tailgate before games. It would also be more environmentally friendly than “digging a hole in the ground” for parking, added Evan Minogue, of Floral Park, and the proposed wall would allow for more privacy, according to Dan Krupa, of New Hyde Park.
Several other residents, however, expressed their concerns with the proposed changes. Judy Sanford Guise said she watched the Green Acres Mall being built in 1960, and was now “watching it die” as more people shop online. “If people aren’t going to Green Acres to shop, why would they go to Belmont?” she asked. “I’m really confused as to why people think we need another shopping area” at a time when “small businesses need help.”
Others also said that they felt their concerns were not being taken into consideration. Virginia Amato noted that Elmont residents have told ESD officials “a million times” that they opposed the construction of a parking structure at the site, and now, she said, “We really feel like we’re being kicked to the curb.”
Lori Halop, of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, agreed, saying that while the proposed parking structure may look nice, “we know people are still going to park on the streets.” “There needs to be more conversation,” Halop added.
Rachelle Lewis, a co-founder of Elmont Strong, agreed. She said the state has promised to make many improvements to the community, including the renovation of Elmont Road Park, but residents have not heard any progress reports on these projects. Lewis suggested that ESD officials create a monthly newsletter informing the public of its progress.
State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said that no changes should be made without consulting with Elmont residents first, and State Sen. Todd Kaminsky said that “Elmont residents should be at the forefront” of the project.
Empire State Development is accepting public comments on the proposed changes until Jan. 20. They can be submitted to BelmontOutreach@ESD.NY.gov.