Clergy members from St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Merrick said they hope to continue the construction of a community center following negotiations with neighbors.
Initial plans for the center included a 36,000-square-foot, two-story building on the corner of Annette and Hewlett avenues, but after discussions with residents who offered critical feedback, the original plan has been downsized.
In a new proposal, the two-story building has been reduced to one floor spanning 24,000 square feet, according to the church’s minister, the Rev. Nikiforos Fakinos. There is a smaller athletic facility on the first floor, and 10 classrooms for students attending Greek school. Fakinos stressed that “the classrooms are the most important aspect of the facility.”
A smaller re-freshment area would replace the large kitchen that was planned for the second floor, with a proposed storage room eliminated altogether. The plan maintains office space for priests, additional parking and a waiting area and meeting room.
The expansion of student sports — which originally included youth basketball and volleyball leagues — has been reduced to a single basketball team, Fakinos said.
“We took a lot out, hoping this time we’ll have support” from the community, he added.
Although the church awaits the Town of Hempstead Board of Appeals’ decision on the new application, demolition of two homes on the center’s future site began this month — the necessary Building Department permits were acquired beforehand, Fakinos said.
The initial project was OK’d after a 12-hour-long Board of Appeals hearing in June 2017, during which several residents aired grievances. Local attorney John Healy represented five neighbors in a lawsuit against the board, and the State Supreme Court overturned the decision on Aug. 28, 2018.
Supreme Court Judge Leonard Steinman found that the board used “fatally flawed” reasoning when it determined that the expansion would not significantly impact the environment. He concluded that the board did not follow the State Environmental Quality Review Act closely enough, and its determination that the expansion would not significantly impact the character of the neighborhood had to be thrown out.
Healy also said residents were not given a fair chance to argue against the expansion, which Steinman found was not true. “Although petitioners may argue that the hearing was not perfect,” he said, “it certainly was fair — their position was heard loud and clear over the course of a 12-hour hearing.”
Fakinos said that the application for the new proposal has been submitted to the Town Board, and he awaits a hearing date to be announced. Just as in 2017, residents will have the opportunity to raise concerns, suggest changes or support the church.
“If the approval is given, something beautiful will come up” in the now partially empty lot, Fakinos said. The cultural center will mirror the church — a redbrick, Byzantine-style building, he added. “Something pleasing to the eye while serving a good cause for youth.”