Town of Hempstead and state officials joined residents and consultants via Zoom on Oct. 14 to finalize the list of projects to be submitted to the state for approval as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, for which Baldwin received a $10 million grant last year.
At the latest meeting of the Local Planning Committee, which comprises Baldwin community and business leaders, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin and the VHB Engineering consulting team, public feedback from a virtual survey and a live question-and-answer session were reviewed, determining the support for each project.
Consultants found that a final list of 12 projects includes a total of about $15 million in requested DRI funds, which would help support $166 million in total project costs, said Lou Bekofsky, of VHB.
David Ashton, of the Department of State, said, “It’s something like $166 million of project value for under $15 million of requested public support. That’s really fantastic leverage, and it’s one of the best that I’ve seen in doing DRIs across the state. I think everyone should be really proud that there’s that level of investment interest in downtown Baldwin that this process has solicited.”
He also reminded interested parties that despite what the LPC recommends to the state, there is only $9.7 million worth of projects that the state will award. The other $300,000 went to consultants.
The planning committee wants to be sure, Ashton said, that there are enough projects that the LPC has approved so it could pivot from one to another if a project were to fall through for any reason.
“Do you know which projects have already received their approval?” asked Antoinette Burrows, a business owner in town.
“There are a few projects that wouldn’t need to go through the local approval process,” said Abi Rudow, of VHB. “For example, the Baldwin Medical Center, at 800 Merrick Road, is a project that would be ready to be implemented immediately.”
Plans to implement sustainability measures on the site, Rudow said, have already received approvals and would happen as part of building renovations.
Burrows also asked how Baldwin would be able to support some of the projects knowing how congested traffic can be in the area.
“How do we structurally support these seven huge projects in a town that, if you go up Grand Avenue currently, if you go down Sunrise Highway currently, we’re in a massive amount of traffic,” she said. “How do we support seven huge projects in a structure in which we’re in currently without it impacting us severely?”
“As far as traffic, we’re not here approving all of these projects today as they’re currently proposed,” Bekofsky said. “They still have to go through their entitlement process, and that is separate and apart from the DRI. The DRI is really showing support for the projects based on the LPC’s evaluation and the community’s input.”
He reminded Burrows that the overlay zoning district in Baldwin, implemented in tandem with the DRI process, had undergone an environmental review that included a traffic analysis. The Baldwin zoning overlay district 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 final DRI strategic investment plan is due to the state by the end of the month. Then the state will begin its selection process to decide which projects will be awarded funding, followed by the announcement of the awarded projects by the state.
Ashton said it is unclear when the state will announce the awarded projects because, while there would normally be a regimented schedule, the coronavirus pandemic has hampered the process.