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Proposed Salvation Army community center for New Cassel draws concerns at North Hempstead public hearing

The Salvation Army is seeking approval from the

The Salvation Army is seeking approval from the North Hempstead Town board for plans to raze an existing structure at 992 Prospect Avenue in New Cassel to create a community center/chapel on the grounds. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

New Cassel residents opposed to the Salvation Army's plan to build a community center and chapel on the site of a similar, smaller facility say it would be too close to a North Hempstead community center.

Residents at a public hearing Tuesday night told town officials they worried the plan would add to local parking woes. While the Salvation Army currently runs a church on Prospect Avenue in New Cassel, the organization wants to raze three structures at that site: a 4,600-square-foot building housing the chapel and recreation rooms, and two dwellings. A three-story, 24,000- square-foot center and chapel would be built.

Though church members supported plans at the hearing, some area residents lamented the potential for increased traffic. And they point out the 60,000-square-foot Yes We Can Community Center is 0.6 miles away.

"We have no more room for another community center for young people," Cloverlyn Williams said. The Yes We Can center is "state of the art" and can accommodate the community that they're talking about, she said.

Church members told town board members they did not think plans would generate much more traffic. Many said they walked to the church or take public transportation. John C. Farrell, an attorney for the Salvation Army, said the plans are "consistent with what the town is trying to do in New Cassel" amid hopes for a "renaissance."

About 18 percent of residents live below the poverty line, and in recent years, the hamlet of 14,000 has seen its first supermarket, community center and more affordable housing units.

Town Councilwoman Viviana Russell said "parking is an issue in New Cassel" and must be addressed. In an interview Wednesday, she said the church may not be the source of parking problems, because local streets are often packed before Sunday services start. She notes the church lot is often not filled to capacity.

Built for $27.1 million and opened in September 2012, Yes We Can has been vital to the community's revitalization. Newsday has reported the center missed revenue projections and had membership issues in its first year, prompting a closer look at operations by the town.

Russell said the sites would not compete. "Yes We Can is a community center whose purpose is to serve the entire community for recreation purposes," she said. "There are just two different uses: One is use of a church, and the other is a community center."

The existing Salvation Army church has a chapel, holding up to 250 people, a recreation room and smaller rooms for officers, prayer, dance and music classes, Farrell said. The new facility would have a chapel that can hold up to 375 people, similar rooms and a basketball court.

Yes We Can has two NBA-sized basketball courts, a fitness center, and recreation and reading rooms, among other facilities. Russell said Yes We Can has bigger courts and different programs.

The board will continue the site plan approval hearing May 12. The North Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals has approved parking and height variances.


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