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Farmingdale hearing debates merits of downtown apartment complex

Opponents say the plan does not fit with the village's more traditional building designs, while supporters see it as a way to entice young people to stay in the community.

Supporters and opponents of a proposed 54-unit apartment building and cultural arts center in downtown Farmingdale attended a public hearing Monday at Weldon E. Howitt Middle School.   (Credit: Newsday / David Olson)

Speakers at a public hearing Monday night praised a developer’s addition of a cultural center to a proposed 54-unit apartment building in downtown Farmingdale, but others remained opposed to the project they described as too dense and modern-looking for the area.

Opposition garnered louder applause than support among the crowd of more than 200 during a sometimes contentious 3½-hour meeting at Weldon E. Howitt Middle School.

It was the first village board public hearing on the proposal since Hauppauge-based developer Staller Associates Inc. cut the amount of ground-level retail space in the planned 3½-story Main Street building to about 3,000 square feet from nearly 8,000 square feet. The developer also added a 227-seat theater and a gallery for art exhibitions.

Lorraine Stanton, president of the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society and a Farmingdale library trustee, said the concrete and steel building with a brick facade clashes with the nearby red-brick village hall and firehouse.

“I have no objection to an apartment building that looks like the village of Farmingdale,” she said.

Resident Marty Wiesehahn, 63, said the building would fit in with parts of Brooklyn.

“I don’t want to live in Williamsburg," he said. "Is this a decent-looking building? Yes, but not for Farmingdale.”

Steve Heiderstadt, 53, said buildings like the one Staller is proposing are needed to keep young people — such as his four children, ages 10 to 20 — in the village.

“Our village is alive. It’s thriving,” he said, referring to how downtown has become increasingly vibrant in recent years with a booming restaurant and bar scene, and retail stores. “We need to continue on this path.”

Cary Staller, president of Staller Associates, is asking the village board to approve a denser, taller building than typically allowed under code. He said he plans to ask the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency for tax breaks in the form of payments in lieu of taxes.

“We’re not asking for anything more than what the village has granted in the past to other projects,” Staller said.

Former Mayor George Starkie said the greatest housing density in the village is next to the Long Island Rail Road station and was not envisioned for sites nearly a half-mile away, where the Staller site is located. He urged the board to put the issue up for a public referendum and said if that didn’t happen he may run for mayor in 2020.

Staller said he would lease the theater to the BroadHollow Theatre Company, which has sites in East Islip and Elmont, at a heavily discounted rate.

Nick DeVito, owner of a frozen yogurt store and jazz bar downtown, said the theater and apartments would help draw customers to his and other businesses.

“There’s never going to be an opportunity like this to get a theater,” he said.

The village’s cultural arts committee wants a cultural center — but not in the form Staller is proposing. Instead, Staller should lease the theater to a public arts council for $1 a year, which would allow for more community control and more community events at the theater, said Michelle Travis, a member of the committee’s cultural arts center subcommittee.

Village trustees continued the public hearing to the next regularly scheduled village board meeting, at 8 p.m. Oct. 1. The meeting is to take place at Village Hall, but Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said in an interview it may be moved to a larger venue.

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