Hempstead mayor questions location of planned building

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Hempstead Village community leaders are expressing concerns about the pace of the village's $2.5 billion downtown redevelopment project, while the mayor says he has reservations about the location of the first building proposed.

Master developer Renaissance Downtown UrbanAmerica's first proposal, submitted in November, called for a 349-unit rental apartment building on a village-owned parking lot on Washington Street from Front Street to Cooper Square North -- directly across from Hempstead Town Hall.

The five-story building would have two connected wings wrapping around internal courtyards, roof gardens and green rooftop terraces with solar panels. The building would be next to an existing parking garage, with about 872 spaces, that is considered underutilized by the developer.

"I don't know why they picked that corner because we have a lot of issues because that's where the Town of Hempstead parks," Mayor Wayne J. Hall Sr. said in an interview earlier this week. "It is crowded and it's not one of those parking lots that is hardly used."

Last month, the village board of trustees approved a contract for up to $7,500 with an engineering firm to review the parking component for the first site plan. The contract will be funded through fees paid by developers and contractors opting to build in a special downtown, or "overlay," zone for the revitalization project.

"Right now there is a lot of available space in the parking structure," said Sean McLean, vice president of development and planning for Renaissance Downtowns, adding he hopes to break ground in the fall. "We plan to work with the village and those who use the parking lot. Until the village begins the review process, we can't do anything."

Reginald Benjamin, executive director of the nonprofit ABBA Leadership Center in Hempstead, complained at the village board meeting Tuesday night about a lack of information and the slow progress of the downtown project. Benjamin has been working to prepare local residents, mostly with criminal records, for some of the 25 percent of 10,000 construction jobs that are expected to be offered to village residents first.

"I'm very concerned that the only people getting anything are Renaissance Downtowns," Benjamin told the board.

Village attorney Debra Urbano-Disalvo said in response that the village is reviewing requests for proposals from firms interested in running a local contracting center, and a jobs and business referral center. The project cannot go forward until the centers are in place, the site plan is approved and building permits are issued.

The developer will contribute $140,000 a year for three years to fund each center and a portion of the $18.5 million expected to be collected over an eight-year period from zoning fees also would go toward funding the centers, officials have said.

"We are committed to local residents getting careers, jobs and construction contracts out of this phase and all phases," McLean said in an interview.

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