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Consultants, residents plan development in Baldwin

BHS hosts latest DRI meeting

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At the latest meeting of the Baldwin Downtown Revitalization Initiative, on Dec. 18, the Local Planning Committee, comprising community leaders and business owners, reviewed ideas for potential projects, like library renovations and facade improvements for Malkin’s Appliances, and worked to formulate specific plans for them. 

Held in the Baldwin High School cafeteria, the meeting featured consultants who discussed potential development projects with residents, including moving the Baldwin Historical Society closer to Grand Avenue. The building, at 1980 Grand Ave., now sits farther back on the property, all but hidden behind a parking lot. 

But Baldwinite Linda Degen shared her concerns about moving the building during the public comment portion of the meeting. “There’s a time capsule there,” she said. “Are we talking about moving that building? That’s a problem. I have a big problem with that.

“I think that’ll be detrimental to the building, and I think the funds would be wasted in moving it up,” Degen added, referring to a $10 million grant given to Baldwin by the state to revitalize its downtown area. “It concerns me that that old building would be lifted.”

“The idea would be to take it from a place where it’s not seen and put it in a place where it can be seen,” responded Karen Montalbano, vice president of the historical society, adding that the building was constructed in 1976. “Give it a little chance.” 

Marwa Fawaz, a senior project manager with VHB Engineering, a consulting team, also announced that the state had extended the deadline for the submission of the DRI from March 31 to April 24, giving committee members extra time to plan for revitalization of the area. The adjustment came because of the change of administration at the Town of Hempstead, which is overseeing Baldwin’s redevelopment efforts, including the proposed mixed-use overlay district that aims to incentivize developers to build in the area. 

The Dec. 18 meeting was the last one for Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, who will be succeeded by Supervisor-elect Don Clavin. The change of administration also means an extension of the deadline to submit project ideas. The call for projects will now be due Jan. 17, rather than Dec. 20. 

Fawaz and Abi Rudow, of VHB, said the deadline extensions will allow for an opportunity for the new administration to get up to speed on the projects and, local residents said they hope, approve the overlay district. 

Degen also asked if LPC members were tasked with reaching out to property owners and developers to ensure that the call for projects is out and that people know the DRI is happening.

“The short answer is yes. We’re all working hard to make sure that that’s happening,” Fawaz said. “There may have been some reluctance because there’s some uncertainty right now about the mixed-use overlay district, and I think once that is passed in January, there will be certainty.” 

Some residents shared concerns about a lack of applications from developers seeking to build in the area because a handful of potential projects are contingent on the town approving the overlay district. Darien Ward, the Baldwin Civic Association president, said some developers are “not interested until there’s clarity.” 

“Fingers crossed that it gets passed in January,” Fawaz said, adding that she and Erik Alexander, director of Vision Long Island and an adviser to the town on the overlay district, have been interviewing a variety of developers. 

“They’re all interested,” Alexander said. “They’re all looking around. They’re talking to property owners.” 

Fawaz also invited the public to reach out to developers and business owners to spread the word about the DRI. 

While Degen supported facade improvements for Malkin’s Appliances, she opposed using the funds to renovate the interior of the library.  “How can any of that money even be used on the interior of the library when my taxes pay for that?” she asked. “And the expansion of the library — a bond should pay for that.” 

Elizabeth Olesh, the library director, said the funds have been used for library interior renovations in other communities and that she checked with VHB to make sure it would be an eligible project. 

“There are a number of goals, and anyone who submits a project needs to show how their project will meet one or more of the goals in the call for projects and how the proposed project will help further the revitalization of the community,” Olesh said. “I would respectfully request that you wait to see what the proposal is and, as I said before, keep an open mind, and it’s one project among many that will be submitted and the committee will come to a consensus on what it believes are the priorities.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, of Baldwin, offered advice at the beginning of the meeting, recommending that committee members focus on housing to “keep our young people here,” as well as create a vibrant, walkable downtown where business owners would want to come.

“If there’s one challenge I want to give to you, it’s how can we make the most of this investment from the state,” she said. “This is a true investment. Let’s make sure that we’re doing something meaningful, bold, and really makes us, as Baldwinites, live up to our potential. Let our community live up to its potential.”

“We want the wow factor that’s going to transform Baldwin to the next generation, to an awesome Farmingdale or even better than that, but that’s where we look for guidance,” Erik Mahler, president of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce, told the consultants. 

Dr. Shari Camhi, the Baldwin School District superintendent, suggested building a “food hall” similar to the one in Grand Central Terminal to attract residents and visitors alike, and other committee members recommended figuring out a way to add parking to the community. 

Discussions are ongoing, and the next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 14. For more information about the DRI, visit www.hempsteadny.gov/baldwin-DRI.