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Hempstead board awards contract for downtown Baldwin renewal

The Hempstead Town Board voted Tuesday, May 9, 2017, to award a contract for the redevelopment of downtown Baldwin, but Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who represents the area, abstained from the vote, saying the board needs to adopt ethics reform regulations before awarding any more contracts.  (Credit: Newsday / Stefanie Dazio)

The Hempstead Town Board voted Tuesday to award a contract for the redevelopment of downtown Baldwin, but Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who represents the area, abstained from the vote.

King Sweeney has abstained from voting on contract issues during the past several town board meetings, saying the board needs to adopt ethics reform regulations before awarding any more contracts.

She said such reform is needed in light of recent events, including the March arrest of Councilman Edward Ambrosino on income tax evasion and wire fraud charges. The charges were not related to his work as a town board member.

Tuesday’s 6-0-1 vote means that town officials can move forward to revitalize Baldwin’s business district with master developers Woodmere-based Basser-Kaufman and Garden City-based Engel Burman Group, which were selected for the project last year.

Revitalizing the hamlet that’s home to 24,033 people has been in the works for 15 years, with officials citing previously depressed real estate and business economies as reasons the effort didn’t progress.

The current plan calls for mixed-use buildings on the west side of Grand Avenue, north of Merrick Road, and on the north side of Merrick Road, west of Grand Avenue.

The developers must pay $4 million in immediate startup costs, officials said. Land acquisition sales cannot exceed $15 million. Hempstead Town must complete property appraisals in the next 90 days.

The developers will get property through private sales, but eminent domain is also a possibility, town officials said in a news release. The developers are to seek tax breaks through the town’s Industrial Development Agency.

Steven Greenfield, vice president of the Baldwin Civic Association, asked the town board to do “whatever it takes” to redevelop the downtown.

“We’re very excited about the prospect,” he said.

Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby, who represents part of Baldwin, and Ambrosino encouraged King Sweeney to not abstain.

“I certainly hope that you, as the person who shares Baldwin with me, will be voting for this,” Goosby said. “The residents really need it, it’s something that they want.”

King Sweeney called the Baldwin project “long overdue.” But she also said she has been kept in the dark on the contract.

“My call for ethics reform is based on principle. I just don’t see how I can make an exception when dealing with a matter of ethics. This is a slippery slope that I am not willing to go down,” King Sweeney said. “So, with a heavy heart and with no benefit to me politically, I must abstain on the Baldwin vote.”

Goosby said after the meeting that she was disappointed King Sweeney didn’t vote.

“I’m sorry” that King Sweeney abstained, Goosby said. “I don’t think that’s right for the residents.”

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