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Town landmark committee tables Woolworth’s hearing

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The Town of Hempstead’s Landmark Preservation Committee voted on Sept. 17 to table a public hearing on a proposal to designate the former F.W. Woolworth’s store on Hempstead Turnpike as a historic landmark.

The decision came after Wayne Edwards, an attorney representing property owner Nauman Hussain, challenged the legality of the hearing, which, he said, Hussain had only found out about one week prior.

“Proper notice was not given,” Edwards told the committee. “We didn’t have the proper time to prepare for it.”

He added that it should instead send out certified mail alerting every resident about the hearing before it is held, as is required by law, and the committee agreed.

Committee Member William Mueller then pulled Edwards and Margaret Kelly — the president of the Garden City South Community League who filed the landmark application last year — aside and explained the committee’s reasoning. He said that if the committee did hold the hearing without sending residents the proper notice, “we would actually corrupt the process before it gets to the Town Board,” which makes the final decision on a building’s landmark designation.

“I don’t want to corrupt the process either way,” Mueller said, noting that nothing can happen to the building while the process is ongoing.

Last year, Hussain submitted permits for the construction of a three-story self-storage building at the site, which prompted Kelly to submit her application to preserve the historic structure.

It was built in 1951, and although it is now the site of Synergy Fitness, it still retains the Woolworth name. Kelly previously told the Herald that other former Woolworth Department Stores throughout the country have been granted historic landmark status, which ensures that a developer maintains the exterior of the building.

Additionally, Kelly created an online petition to garner support for her application. In it, she mentions the important role the department store once played in town.

“Lifelong residents can reminisce about sitting at the luncheon counter for a bite to eat, an ice cream soda, root beer float or a malted,” the petition reads. “Teenagers of the day know of catching a matinee at the Franklin Square Movie Theater and then an ice cream at Woolworth’s with friends.”

More than 300 people had signed the petition before the scheduled hearing last week, and when she learned that it would be postponed, Kelly just said, “We will be back.”