Over intense objections from property and business owners, the Hempstead Town Board Tuesday adopted an urban renewal plan for Elmont that would uproot 23 businesses and force their landowners to sell to a developer who would build a supermarket.
Supervisor Kate Murray and the six council members voted unanimously to move forward with the redevelopment of the former Argo Movie Theater and adjacent properties in Elmont's business corridor, a stone's throw from Belmont Park racetrack.
Town officials said they will use the power of eminent domain to seize the properties if the four owners and the developer, yet to be named, are unable to reach deals on their own.
At Tuesday's public hearing, all four property owners urged officials to consider an alternate site, raising a host of objections from economic hardship to fairness.
Three of the owners expressed outrage that in a free country, the government could force them to sell their land to a private developer. That only happens, they said, in a Socialist or Communist country.
"It sounds like I am living in China," said Lawrence Liu, one of the property owners.
Edward Ambrosino, the councilman who represents Elmont, said residents and civic leaders met over the years to discuss ways to revitalize the community and concluded there's a need for a full-service supermarket.
The properties at Hempstead Turnpike and Elmont Road, when combined with an adjacent town-owned parking lot, could accommodate a 40,000-square-foot supermarket, Ambrosino said.
"We have an obligation to try to address the needs of our constituents," he said after the meeting. Years ago, Hempstead used eminent domain to acquire properties west of the Argo as part a plan to build affordable homes, Ambrosino said. Today, the site, totaling about 25,000 square feet, remains empty.
Under urban renewal, Hempstead is permitted to use eminent domain to seize properties that the town deems blighted or underutilized, said Eliot Bloom, special counsel hired by the town's Planning Department for the Elmont project.
Two developers, Darcon Construction of Elmont and Mattone Group of Queens, have submitted proposals to build a supermarket, Bloom said.
The planning department expects to recommend one of the developers to the town board in a month or two, Bloom said. The developer would then meet with the landowners to negotiate the sale.
Tess Mittman, who owns the former Argo Movie Theater, and Jay Oberlender, another property owner, are suing the town to stop the sale.
If underutilized property is a yardstick town officials use to seize private land, Oberlender said, then all property owners should be alarmed.