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Hempstead IDA changes rules on public notice after mall uproar

The Hempstead IDA board changed its rules on

The Hempstead IDA board changed its rules on publicizing public hearings and meetings. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Hempstead Town Industrial Development Agency has changed its notice requirements to be more transparent with the community in the wake of a controversy over tax breaks for the Green Acres Mall, officials said.

Under the new rules, the IDA now mails notices of public hearings and board meetings to elected officials who represent the area of a proposed project, including state lawmakers, the county legislator, the town clerk, supervisor and applicable councilmember, and village leaders. The notices also get sent to special taxing districts and school districts, IDA documents show.

Developers now also must post on the property a 4-foot-by- 8-foot sign advertising hearings and meetings regarding the project, as well as get an independent appraisal for the finished project, the documents state. The changes were approved at the IDA’s April meeting.

IDAs statewide grant tax incentives to developers in exchange for promoting economic development and adding jobs to local communities.

The changes follow an outpouring of anger at the IDA earlier this year, when Valley Stream residents saw their tax bills increase and blamed the IDA’s deal with Macerich, the California-based owner of the Green Acres Mall and the adjacent shopping center, the Green Acres Commons, though the agency maintains that school budgeting practices are at fault.

Many residents and elected officials said they had no idea the tax breaks for the projects were being considered by the IDA in 2014 and 2015 and so did not appear at the public hearings to speak out against the tax breaks. A Nassau County Supreme Court judge granted a restraining order last month to halt the IDA’s attempt to undo Macerich’s tax breaks.

IDA Chairman Arthur Nastre said in an interview last month the agency’s board — five of whom were appointed last year — had considered strengthening the notice requirements before it held a hearing in January to listen to residents’ concerns about the mall.

“We said, ‘you’ve got to notify a lot more people.’ You’ve got to notify basically everybody,” Nastre said. “We saw that nobody was coming to public hearings and we felt that nobody knew about them.”

The IDA considered an amendment that would have notified every resident in affected school districts by mail of meetings and public hearings, but Nastre said it turned out to be “too onerous.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), a vocal critic of the Green Acres deal, said any move to become more transparent is “welcomed.”

“Disclosure of projects in front of the IDA must be broad and wide and extend to all corners of the community,” Kaminsky said in a statement.

Peter Curry, a Uniondale lawyer who often represents developers seeking tax breaks from the IDA, said it appears the agency wants to show that it isn’t doing backroom deals at the expense of taxpayers.

“The IDA is interested in giving as much disclosure as it possibly can,” he said.

But Bruce Ferguson, former executive director of the Suffolk County IDA, said developers may feel that the Hempstead Town IDA has too many requirements and could go to other agencies instead.

“I want to minimize all the unnecessary roadblocks that’s going to make you throw up your hands and say, ‘ . . . I’m going to go to community B,’” Ferguson said.

Hempstead IDA’s new notice requirements

  • More elected officials and taxing jurisdictions must be notified by mail of any applicable project’s public hearings and meetings — including state and county lawmakers as well as school districts.
  • Developers have to post a 4-foot-by-8-foot sign advertising the date, time and location of any public hearings and meetings related to the property.
  • The developers need to submit to the IDA an independent appraisal of the finished project’s worth.

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