As efforts to redevelop Baldwin’s downtown progress, residents and Baldwin Civic Association members are calling on the Town of Hempstead’s Zoning Board of Appeals to revoke a variance allowing the owner of the car storage lot at Sunrise Highway and Grand Avenue to continue storing vehicles there.
Twelve people shared their concerns with zoning board trustees at a hearing at Town Hall on Dec. 4, saying that the lot is an eyesore that depresses the property values of neighboring homes and businesses and hinders the hamlet’s efforts to revitalize the area. The lot, which used to be home to Conway Motors and sits across from the Long Island Rail Road station, has been used as an auto storage lot for the past 10 years, owned by JS Sunrise Realty.
“We’ve received nothing but complaints about this property — the way it’s maintained, and so forth,” zoning board Chairman David Weiss told Dominick Minerva, an attorney representing the property owner. “. . . We’ve got stacks this thick of complaints and things about what your client hasn’t done.”
Civic association members said the lot is unsightly and poorly maintained, and it blocks the site from being used more productively. The lot falls within the boundary area for the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, which Baldwin received a $10 million state grant to redevelop.
“The Baldwin community and all who pass through it on Sunrise Highway are stuck looking at an ugly fencing with slats,” said former Baldwin Civic Association President Karen Montalbano, adding that the lot’s most egregious feature is the lack of pavement. “This is a serious environmental concern. There are cars — used cars — being parked on bare land, which I would like to note, I’m not allowed to park my car on grass in my backyard, but they’re parking dozens, hundreds of cars over there. Who knows what might be leaking from those cars into the soil and down into the water table, which is fairly high in our South Shore community? It’ll be years before we even know what damage has been done.”
Two years ago, JS Sunrise Realty was granted a variance with conditions to continue using the site for storing vehicles, despite objections by residents and civic group members. Minerva claimed then that the owner planned to build an auto dealership. The conditions included paving the lot and installing lighting and drainage and hiring a service to maintain the property.
Despite the town issuing fines to the property owner, only two of the conditions were minimally met.
“Now, the [Baldwin Civic Association] has taken the unprecedented step of asking for these variances to be withdrawn because of the owner’s total disregard for not only the community, but also what the town has told the owner to do,” Montalbano said. “Fines have been issued, but the corrections have not been made.”
Minerva said plans were submitted multiple times to the Nassau County Department of Public Works seeking approval to make the improvements, but they were not accepted. There have been other developments, too.
“We obtained approval for a new Lexus motor vehicle dealership service center — which originally this was going to be the site for — in Freeport,” Minerva said. “And that was just starting construction. So with that, they found a buyer for this lot and they are in contract to sell this parcel. But that contract has contingencies.”
Minerva, who did not provide details about the sale, said the owner requested more time to see the contract through or make the improvements, and offered an alternative solution: a continuance with a control date, three or four months out.
“Mr. Minerva, that’s why we’re here today,” Weiss said. “Your client was obligated to do a number of things regarding the property. . . . Now, all of a sudden, he’s got basically a gun to his head — what assurances do we have that this is going to be complied with other than the fact that we can revoke this in a few months, as opposed to doing it today?”
Minerva said he didn’t know what assurances he could give.
“How many tens of thousands of people drive by there on a given week, or whatever, and it looks like hell,” Weiss said, adding that the lot sits in a central place in Baldwin. “It’s got to be cleaned up.”
Civic association Vice President Steve Greenfield, who has lived a half-block from the storage lot for 10 years, said he can attest to the fact that the sidewalks have not been shoveled when it snowed, nor have dangerous, uneven conditions in the walkway been repaired.
“I’ve spoken to many of the neighbors in the area, all of whom are frustrated with a lack of compliance to the conditions that this zoning board required,” Greenfield said.
“I’m a walker. I walk all over town,” said Baldwin resident Patricia Brown. “I have tripped over the concrete that is raised at the corner there. It’s just not fair. The community deserves better than this.”
Brown added that the trucks that come down the block and park on Harrison Avenue are a threat to the safety of children getting off school buses that stop there. Greenfield also said that large auto transport trucks park on Harrison Avenue “almost every day,” delivering and picking up cars from the lot and causing dangerous congestion.
“For the sake of our community, I urge you to terminate the variance and force the owner to move the dozens of vehicles from this lot to a more appropriate storage area,” Ashley Davis, of the civic group, said. “It should not be located in the middle of our downtown, especially at a time when the Town of Hempstead is engaged in redevelopment of this area.”
Baldwin resident Meta Mereday said she was upset that the owner, or owners, themselves did not attend the hearing.
“They made promises last time, and I’m sure, as you hear, they’re making promises again,” Montalbano said. “Fines levied by the town don’t seem to faze them. How long do we have to put up with their disrespect of the community and the rules? In this case, their actions are speaking louder than their words. It’s time for this board to take action and bring relief to the Baldwin community. Rescind those variances.”
Trustees said residents would be notified once a decision is rendered.