Responding to resident concerns about the potential urbanization of downtown Hempstead Village, village trustees and the master developer of the $2 billion downtown redevelopment project made an "unequivocal" promise that apartment buildings would be capped at eight stories and commercial buildings at 10 stories.
The announcement Tuesday by Donald Monti, chief executive of master developer Renaissance Downtowns, was greeted by applause from an overflow crowd at a public hearing on the proposed overlay zoning for the project.
Monti spoke after being pressed on the issue by village trustee Perry Pettus. Some residents said they worried the downtown might end up looking like New York City. But Mayor Wayne Hall said concerns about urbanization are overblown.
"This village has already been urbanized," he said. "We're already a suburban-urban community . . . Hempstead has to grow and go forward."
Village resident Curtis Riley agreed, saying, "We can keep arguing about the heights of buildings, but we need to look at how low we went."
Nearly all of the 43 speakers at the hearing said they support the project, but some demanded that before approving the zoning the village board adopt a community benefits agreement guaranteeing housing, jobs and contracts for local residents and businesses.
"I'm very concerned when people just talk and I don't see anything on paper," resident Mary Crosson said.
Hall and Monti pointed out the proposed zoning requires a community benefits agreement, and said a swift zoning approval is essential to get state grants to upgrade the village's water and sewer system.
"We have to stress, without an approval of the new zoning, the application will be very poorly considered by the state," said Renaissance Downtowns vice president Sean McLean.
Because the Nassau County Planning Commission already has approved the overlay zoning, the board may vote to adopt it as soon as Tuesday's board meeting, Hall said.
Trustee Don Ryan cast a note of caution.
"I have a recurring nightmare," Ryan said. "I fear that some future generation will say of this board: 'Did they fall asleep at the switch and give the village away?' "