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Town adds density caps to Baldwin overlay zone

Breslin project could fall through

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A large Breslin Realty mixed-use development slated to replace the auto storage lot at Sunrise Highway and Grand Avenue could fall through after Town of Hempstead council members adopted a resolution to institute density limits in the overlay district.

The Hempstead Town Council voted unanimously on Feb. 25 to implement a limit of 60 units per acre where the auto storage lot sits near the Long Island Rail Road train station, according to town officials. People with knowledge of area real estate have said the move could hinder large developments, including the Breslin project, as revitalization of the business corridor progresses. 

For months, residents, consultants, and state and Town of Hempstead officials have discussed potential developments for the Baldwin zoning overlay district, which has a temporary zoning code to encourage developers to build there and revitalize the downtown, which has struggled with vacant buildings for nearly 20 years. An overlay district tailors zoning requirements to a particular area to best encourage development with the least possible disruption by reducing obstacles for potential developers. 

The efforts coincide with the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, for which Baldwin received a $10 million grant from the state to revitalize the downtown area, which runs along Grand Avenue. The Local Planning Committee, a group of area leaders mapping out redevelopment of the downtown, has an April 24 deadline to submit plans to the state. 

Town Council members adopted the original Baldwin zoning overlay district, which included no density limits for the area near the train station, on Jan. 21. 

David Orwasher, chief development officer for Breslin Realty, a major commercial development firm, spoke at recent public meetings in Baldwin to describe Breslin’s proposed project, which he said has been in the works for more than a year. The project, which would sit on a 1.43-acre lot, would feature at least 200 housing units and retail and parking space. 

“We were proposing to build up to six or seven stories because we can’t store cars underneath on that particular property for historic reasons,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce meeting on March 11. The first level would include a lobby and retail space, the second level would be parking, and there would be residential apartments above that, targeting “empty nesters, millennials and young professionals.” 

“We think that our project will revitalize — it’ll be both the beacon and the anchor to a main street,” Orwasher said. He said his team has conducted a test case and determined that, as the code stands now with density limits, “it just doesn’t work.”

“We are in contract on this piece, and we’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he continued, adding that the company has drawn up plans, tested the soil and completed traffic studies. “We’re stymied right now.” 

At the chamber meeting, he encouraged residents in support of the project to speak to their elected officials and town council members. 

“I think it’s up to the town board to facilitate, and for the community to facilitate, a code that aligns with the vision,” Orwasher told the Herald. The contract between Breslin and the current lot owner has a final deadline of March 23. 

Orwasher said that if the project goes through, Breslin would add to the tax base and shoulder a portion of the tax burden in the area. 

“The reason we’re here tonight is we think we can help by contributing taxes — increase the tax base from that property by the magnitude of eight to 10 to 12 times, and it would grow significantly out into the future,” Orwasher said at a March 3 information session hosted by the school district superintendent about Innovation 2020, a multi-year capital improvement plan to be funded by a $158 million bond to be voted on by the public. Many residents have shared concerns about property-tax increases. 

“Would you be expecting, or would it be part of your project, a tax abatement or tax incentives for building there?” asked Renaire Frierson, of Baldwin.

“There’s potentially a [payment in lieu of taxes agreement] that’s available that we’re discussing,” Orwasher responded. 

The Breslin project is to replace an auto storage lot owned by JS Sunrise Realty that residents have said is an eyesore that depresses property values for neighboring homes and businesses and hinders the hamlet’s efforts to revitalize the area. Baldwin Civic Association members said last year that the lot is unsightly and poorly maintained and blocks the site from being used more productively. 

At a Feb. 25 public hearing, Baldwin resident Meta Mereday asked about the purpose of the amendment to the zoning code, which relates to residential density for multi-family and mixed-use buildings. 

Mereday also asked about potential impacts, “because we have a need for affordable housing . . . ”

Rich Regina, counsel to the town board, told the Herald that the density limits were recommended by the consultants hired by the town, VHB Engineering and Vision Long Island. A VHB representative told the Herald that they did not recommend adding density limits to the overlay code.

“Not all transit-oriented development projects are the same density and scale,” said Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a downtown planning organization. “Different developers can build a different price point. The community modeled this zoning after the successful downtowns of Westbury, Bay Shore and Farmingdale, and not a large-scale TOD like Mineola.”

Town Supervisor Donald Clavin, who has attended Local Planning Committee meetings, did not respond to requests for comment.

At a Jan. 21 meeting when the overlay district was adopted, Town Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who represents parts of Baldwin, said she was concerned about the removal of density limits by prior town officials. Goosby did not return requests for comment.

Regina said at the Feb. 25 meeting, when the new density limits were implemented, that the Baldwin Civic Association requested that the limits be added to the code, but the group’s president, Darien Ward, denied that. 

Ward said he asked town officials about the density language changes in the overlay district drafts and sought clarity and a rationale behind the decision. Adoption of density restrictions was a surprise to the civic group, he said. 

The Baldwin Chamber of Commerce is on board with the proposed Breslin development. Chamber President Erik Mahler said the group “encourages any and all development along this corridor.”

A Local Planning Committee meeting was scheduled for Thursday at Baldwin High School.