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Cleaning up Elmont

Residents decry poor street conditions at forum

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Nearly a hundred Elmont residents gathered at the Elmont Memorial Library on April 11 to meet with their local and state officials during an Elmont civic meeting, at which they connected with elected leaders and civil servants. Chief among the complaints was the poor state of Elmont’s streets.

“Elmont has become dirty,” Mimi Pierre-Johnson, founder of the Elmont Cultural Center, said. “The town used to take care of our streets and parking lots 20 years ago, but that’s not the case anymore.”

Johnson and several dozen residents have complained to the Town of Hempstead about a lack of street cleaners in Elmont. Last summer, members of the Parkhurst and Alden Manor Civic Associations met with Town Highway Department officials to tour unclean and heavily littered parts of Elmont. A few days after the meeting, department employees cleaned Hathaway Avenue, which is near the Gotham Avenue School.

“Coming together and going around town was a good step for us,” Parkhurst Civic Association President Cheryl Lee said. “We learned just how busy the department is, and where their jurisdiction lies in the community, and we let them know about streets that needed to be cleaned and repaired.”

Town Highway Department officials said repeatedly that Elmont would receive “two to three street cleanings a month,” starting at the end of April. That did not appear to appease residents, who said they have grown tired of trash building up on their streets. Aubrey Phillips, the Parkhurst Civic Association’s vice president, stepped aside as the meeting’s moderator briefly to speak as a resident. “I think we’d all like to see the streets swept a little more frequently than twice a month,” Phillips said. “ When we’ve brought up this issue in the past, we’ve been told to undergo community cleaning ourselves. But we pay our taxes, so why should we have to do it.”

People added that the many letters stapled and taped to street signs, light posts and trees around the community also contributed to the littered look of the streets. After Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder heard residents complain, he offered sympathy and said he would work with the 5th Precinct to step up enforcement and crack down on individuals who illegally post fliers in the area.

County Legislator Carrié Solages, who was unable to attend the meeting, had his own ideas to keep the streets clean. Solages has introduced a bill in the Legislature that would establish the first Adopt-a-Road program in the county. Solages said the bill would encourage civic groups to take charge of local streets and work with the County Department of Public Works to maintain roads in Elmont.

“This bill is about economic development,” Solages said. “In a community where it doesn’t look great, we’re less likely to live there, shop there or invest in that community.”

Solages also secured nearly a $1 million in funding to pay for the DPW’s Elmont-wide traffic study to improve road safety along Dutch Broadway, Elmont Road and other local streets that have seen a large number of crashes and fatalities throughout the years.

Along with a traffic study, the county also has a small revitalization program through which residents can report dead or blighted trees to DPW for removal and possible replacement, said Harold Lutz, the county’s director of traffic engineering. Town of Hempstead officials added that the Highway Department no longer cuts trees or picks up trash in front of stores, noting that it’s the store owner's responsibility. Owners could face fines for not cleaning their storefronts.

James Bartscherer, the 5th Precinct’s commanding officer, said his officers experience a similar problem with commercial vehicles parking illegally in residential areas. People have of long complained of large trucks and commercial vehicles parking in front of their homes, causing parking problems. Bartscherer said he has even seen residents put out traffic cones to reserve their spaces.

“Enforcement and summonses are up regarding this issue, and we’ll be increasing our patrols,” Bartscherer said. “But sometimes they just refuse to move their vehicles no matter how many tickets they get.”

Residents said they worried that illegally parked trucks could hinder street cleaning. Phillips urged people to speak with their neighbors about the town’s street-cleaning schedule.

“If we’re going to get our streets clean, we have to make sure our cars are not obstacles,” Phillips said.