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Baldwin protest calls on town officials to reject pharmacy plan

Baldwin resident Cathy O'Leary, center, along with other

Baldwin resident Cathy O'Leary, center, along with other community residents, demonstrate at the site of future redevelopment of Grand Avenue and Merrick Road in Baldwin because of lack of vision in the current plan. (Jan.11, 2014) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

About 100 Baldwin residents, business owners and community leaders rallied Saturday against a proposal to construct a CVS Pharmacy in the hamlet's downtown area and to protest what they say is a lack of vision by the Town of Hempstead for a long-awaited revitalization project.

The demonstration, in front of a lot on Grand Avenue near Merrick Road in Baldwin, was to express the community's desire for transit-oriented, mixed-use development that incorporates a walkable downtown and green designs to create a thriving business district.

"We have a vision, and the Town of Hempstead needs to hear our vision loud and clear," David Viana, president of the Baldwin Civic Association, told the sign-carrying crowd. "We've been waiting over 15 years to see development done. We have gone through several proposals. We want it done right. We waited so long -- we are not going to let just anything happen."

Among the protesters were Nassau County Legis. Kevan Abrahams and Legis. Laura Curran, both of whom represent Baldwin.

"The fact remains the best way to get to your elected officials is by rallying together because we have strength in numbers," Abrahams said.

The nearly 5-acre blighted area on Grand Avenue and Merrick Road is part of the town's urban-renewal plan, which empowers the town under state law to condemn properties, work with existing businesses or open up the area for redevelopment by the private sector. The town has worked more than a decade selecting developers who have responded to three separate requests for proposals.

"The proposals provided for flexibility and allowed for mixed-use residential and retail uses," town spokesman Michael Deery said in a statement Saturday, adding that starting the process from scratch would add more years without guarantee of a more promising outcome. "Two separate major developers who were previously selected by the town did not move forward with their plans for various reasons."

The town is negotiating with Breslin Realty Development Corp., based in Garden City, the sole responder to its last request for proposal. Breslin is proposing a stand-alone drive-through CVS in a portion of the urban renewal area. There are four CVS stores in Baldwin, the drugstore's website shows.

Breslin's vice president, Kenneth Breslin, and executive, Robert Delavale, declined to comment Saturday.

"This is a prime opportunity for something that is going to create a hub for Baldwin," said Viana, who would like to see apartments, retail stores and restaurants. "We don't see how CVS is going to strengthen and bring other people from other towns."

Eric Alexander, executive director of the nonprofit planning group Vision Long Island, said a better idea is to build apartments over the proposed CVS, like in Port Jefferson.

"We are simply saying design it with a Main Street feel and then allow for other development to accompany it, so that people in the community could realize their vision," he said.

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