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Civic leaders talk Baldwin’s future

Vision Long Island hosts virtual panel

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Baldwin civic leaders recently discussed the community’s development plans at a virtual panel hosted by Vision Long Island, an organization that advocates for community growth and development.

Baldwin Civic Association President Darien Ward and immediate Past President Karen Montalbano discussed plans to revitalize the downtown and improve branding and walkability on a segment of “Long Island Main Street News” on Jan. 19.

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, hosted Ward and Montalbano. He had helped draft the plans for Baldwin’s overlay zone, a district with a temporary zoning code meant to encourage development with the least possible disruption.

The Hempstead Town Board voted to adopt the overlay district last year to bring life back to the struggling downtown, which neighbors have said has had empty storefronts and vacant buildings for some two decades.

“One of the biggest driving things that we had as part of the ‘Baldwin needs revitalization’ effort was this corner of Grand Avenue and Merrick Road that they’ve been trying to develop — it’s like 20 years,” Montalbano said. “Finally, I think we may have reached the point of actually getting somewhere, because we finally got a Baldwin overlay zone, and we’re looking forward to that, along with other projects that are in the works.”

Happening in tandem with the overlay district is the state’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, for which Baldwin received a $10 million grant two years ago. Town of Hempstead and state officials have joined community leaders and consultants throughout the past year to brainstorm, plan and finalize a list of 12 potential development projects that were sent to the state for approval in October.

“We’re looking at a transit-oriented development model. That’s the idea,” Ward said. “We were looking into how could we create more density in our downtown area [so] we can hopefully have more investment coming into the community.”

Ward and other civic leaders had a vision, they said. They researched the concept of mixed-use development, which integrates residential and commercial space. They pictured the future of Baldwin: People walking up and down Grand Avenue, using it as a thoroughfare for commercial revitalization.

“We really wanted the business owners on Grand Avenue to look at redeveloping their properties,” Ward said. “That was the genesis of it. We wanted them to take the initial lead to reinvest in their communities and be able to attract those individuals who would come into Baldwin and make Baldwin a destination opportunity.”

Montalbano noted that because Baldwin is situated between Freeport and Rockville Centre — places that “have very strong identities” — Baldwin’s identity gets a little lost.

“We want to develop our identity,” she said. “Have people come into our community, understand that there are good things about us and there are good places to come to, and that’s what we want to develop.”

That Sunrise Highway — a wide, bustling roadway — runs straight through Baldwin affects the walkability of the community, Montalbano said. But Nassau County’s Complete Streets project aims to remedy this and make the area pedestrian-friendly.

“Foot traffic is important,” Ward said, referring to bringing people into the local shops.

Community leaders and Baldwin residents are looking to the future now that the DRI process has been completed, but progress has been hindered because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the more recent meetings of the DRI’s Local Planning Committee, which comprises local residents and business leaders, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin and the VHB Engineering consulting team, were held virtually.

Now the ball is in the state’s court.

“The Department of State is in the process of reviewing the submitted plan which includes the process for selecting awarded projects,” a spokeswoman for the Department of State said on Friday. “The department will announce the DRI awards once the process is completed.”