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Franklin Square residents strategize to revitalize downtown

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Franklin Square residents and business owners filled the public library’s meeting room and spilled outside the door on Jan. 14 to offer their ideas on revitalizing the area’s downtown.

The meeting was sponsored by the Ad Hoc Downtown Revitalization Committee, which Nancy and Bill Youngfert formed earlier this month to promote development in the community. It comprises Joseph Camolli, Carl Gerrato, Katherine Tarascio, Frank Culmone, Philip Malloy and Paul van Wie. But anyone can get involved with the committee, Nancy Youngfert said, and help strategize ways to revitalize Franklin Square’s downtown.

In fact, Gerrato noted, the point of the committee’s inaugural meeting was to get every community member’s thoughts on what they would like to see changed in the area. “Every effort we’re going to do from this moment on will be community-driven,” he told the attendees. “We will be having additional meetings, and we’ll be requesting help from everyone, because a few people cannot do this. The whole community . . . has to make this happen.”

One way to improve Franklin Square’s downtown, Tarascio suggested, would be to help the historical society preserve its history. She ex-plained that preservation would enable Franklin Square to keep its historic landscape, create jobs and attract investment. Additionally, Tarascio said, preserving historic buildings is more environmentally friendly than erecting new ones, and if Franklin Square were to be granted a historic district — a designation for a section of the community with older buildings considered valuable for historical or architectural reasons — certain guidelines could be established to ensure that any storefront alterations were not insensitive and, going forward, its historic integrity was maintained.

“Preservation is often an effective early step in downtown revitalization,” Tarascio said, adding that the efforts could also excite people about the history of where they live, encourage local pride and bring community members together.

Other attendees spoke about what they would like to see changed in the community. Nancy Youngfert, for example, said she would like to see more trees line the street, and suggested dividing two-way roads with a patch of greenery to slow traffic and shade both sides of a street. She also noted that she would like to see additional parking, and previously told the Herald that a lack of parking sometimes discourages her from shopping at T&F Pork Store. John Randazzo, owner of Sandy’s Party Supply, then listed many former businesses in Franklin Square that he said closed due to a lack of parking.

To help keep businesses alive, Youngfert proposed installing a tiered-parking structure, with designated spots for commuters and residents, and others suggested creating a shuttle for commuters who park elsewhere, creating decals for Franklin Square residents and reducing the hours that people could park on the streets.

Some residents also used the opportunity to express their frustration with litter on the streets. One man said he regularly sees garbage on Hempstead Turnpike, and asked whether an Adopt a Highway program could be implemented for the area, whereby someone would sponsor a portion of Hempstead Turnpike and be responsible for keeping it clean.

In response, Randazzo said he once organized a cleanup of the turnpike, but within three days the litter was back. He even petitioned the town to increase the number of garbage bins lining the street, he said, but “the more garbage pails you put out there, the more the garbage pails are filled up.”

A business owner also noted that she regularly cleans the sidewalk in front of her business on New Hyde Park Road, but people continue to litter. She suggested adding more signs discouraging littering, and another man said the community should partner with the town’s Sanitation Department to increase the number of routes on Hempstead Turnpike.

None of the downtown’s issues is easily solvable, Nancy Youngfert offered as a disclaimer at the beginning of the meeting, when she said that not all of the proposed ideas would be feasible, which Randazzo reiterated later on.

“I wish I had an answer for you [with] what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said, “but the parking, the businesses closing, it’s just a mess.”

To help, representatives from various government offices said they would be willing to partner with the community, and William Cook, who grew up in Patchogue, suggested that the committee form an organization that residents could join. He spoke of his involvement in the Patchogue Village Revitalization Committee, which helped the Suffolk County village become a booming downtown, and said that a large organization would help pressure elected officials into helping with the redevelopment.

Additionally, Cook suggested that the committee focus on revitalizing Hempstead Turnpike, Franklin Avenue and New Hyde Park Road, and Scott Cushing, a representative of the town’s Department of Planning and Economic Development, told residents they should create a vision plan listing the changes that they would like to see. The plan could be broken into the issues that the community faces, he said, with timelines for changes they could work with town officials to implement.

“The town is very much interested in being a help,” he said. “We’re here to be of assistance.”

The revitalization committee will hold its next meeting on Feb. 3, at 7 p.m., at the Franklin Square Public Library.