The Hempstead Town Board unanimously voted on April 16 to declare itself the lead agency in the environmental review of the downtown Baldwin revitalization effort. With the vote, the town is now in charge of ensuring that the rezoning effort goes through the State Environmental Quality Review Act process — a multi-step examination required of new development or rezoning to determine any potential impacts on the environment.
“We know the path we’re going down, and we’re going to continue down that path, and not go down any side path,” said Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Baldwin native who now lives in Rockville Centre. “That’s not to discount our partners in the county, but it’s very important that we have one guiding voice that will be carrying this through.”
A draft of the environmental findings will be presented on May 6, at 7 p.m., at Hempstead Town Hall, at 1 Washington St. Before that, town officials will provide updates on the proposed revitalization of Grand Avenue and other Baldwin corridors at a town hall meeting on May 2, at 7 p.m., at Baldwin High School, at 841 Ethel T. Kloberg Drive.
The Town Board’s plan would rezone parts of Grand, and roads such as Sunrise Highway and Merrick, to allow for new buildings, with retail on the ground floor and apartments on the upper ones, to be constructed without the need for variances from the town’s Board of Appeals. In the past, required approvals have caused developments to fall through and hindered attempts to revive the downtown area. Similar efforts, officials said, have been successful in the Village of Farmingdale and downtown Patchogue, which both now have bustling main streets.
Height parameters for potential development would vary throughout the community. On Grand, from Florence Street to about Miller Place, and again from Edna Court to Prospect Street, new buildings could be up to 45 feet tall. On Grand, from Miller to Edna, and on Sunrise, from Edna to the Freeport border, they could rise to heights of 75 feet. And on Grand, from Prospect Street to just south of Merrick Road (and for a few blocks east and west on Merrick), new buildings would be capped at 60 feet. Gillen, a Democrat, said the Town Board expected to authorize the rezoning by late fall.
Town officials said the plan would bring new businesses to downtown Baldwin, which has suffered economically for decades. Initiatives to attract new businesses to the area have failed in recent years. “The Baldwin Overlay Zone was strategically designed to address the previous redevelopment challenges,” Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, a Wantagh Republican, said in a statement, “and will help lead to transformative development that will redefine the Grand Avenue corridor, and help enable Baldwin to thrive.”
Previously, the Town Board attempted to have a master developer acquire buildings along Grand and develop mixed-use buildings in the downtown area, but several companies dropped out of that plan, the latest being the Engel Burman Group and Basser-Kaufman Inc. last July. The developers, which would have paid for the properties with the help of tax breaks, told the town that a “profoundly shifting economic landscape” was the reason they backed out.
Gillen told the Herald that the plan had several “illegal” provisions in the contract, including tax breaks that the town’s Industrial Development Agency could not issue. Additionally, she said, it called for Nassau County to give property to the town — but county officials had not signed the contract. “So it was a contract destined to fail,” she said. Gillen also said that several agencies had not undertaken work required under the contract by the time she took office in January 2018. “Nobody had done anything,” she said.
Town officials encouraged residents to attend the May 2 and 6 meetings — and Town Board meetings on May 7 and 21 — to learn more about the new plan. “The Town Board and I are dedicated to building a more prosperous future for downtown Baldwin,” Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, a Hempstead Democrat, said in a statement.