Hundreds of Valley Stream residents packed a village gymnasium — some holding signs — to protest tax breaks granted to Green Acres Mall that many homeowners believe triggered steep property tax hikes.
The Hempstead Town Industrial Development Agency hosted the meeting Thursday night at Robert W. Carbonaro Elementary School to hear residents’ concerns about the mall deal, approved in 2014.
The meeting was mostly calm, though some in the crowd shouted angrily when IDA board members attempted to enforce a three-minute speaking limit.
Taxpayers in Valley Stream several school districts saw increases, on average between $322 and $758, in their school tax bills last fall. Residents and elected officials blamed the mall’s tax breaks for the property tax increases, though IDA officials have attributed part of the increase to faulty budgeting by the districts.
Valley Stream resident Lucille Pizzileo told the board her tax bill increased by $1,000.
“I love my town, and I don’t want to be priced out of it,” she said. “We need help. We don’t need more taxes.”
Bibi Kahn, another resident, complained: “If you take it out of my pocket without my permission, you’re robbing me.”
The tax breaks include a sales tax exemption and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement for a $79 million renovation of the mall and the construction of the next-door Green Acres Commons, a shopping center. Both projects are nearly completed.
Representatives with the mall’s California-based owner, Macerich, responded Thursday to concerns the mall would not fulfill future payments, a portion of which goes to two school districts. The payments are $13.7 million annually for the first five years, increasing to $14.5 million for the final five years. If the tax breaks are extended through 15 years, the payments rise to $17.8 million a year.
Frank Carone, an attorney for Macerich, spoke for several minutes at the end of the meeting with a few interruptions from the crowd. He acknowledged the residents’ opposition but said the mall and Commons development have added jobs to the area.
The IDA board could not make a decision at Thursday’s meeting, but Chairman Arthur Nastre said previously that “the very fact that we’re having it is an indication that we’re not happy with it.”
Overturning the PILOT could be illegal if no errors are found, tax experts have said.
IDA member Steven Raiser said at the meeting that if the board overturns the tax breaks, the agency will be almost guaranteed a lawsuit.
“It’s not quite so simple” to just revoke the agreement with Macerich, he said.