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Long IslandNassau

Hempstead councilman questions land value figures

A vacant lot on Nassau Road and East

A vacant lot on Nassau Road and East Greenwich Avenue in Roosevelt is owned by Hempstead Town. Credit: Linda Rosier

Republican Hempstead Councilman Bruce Blakeman is questioning the accuracy of figures released by the administration of Democratic Superivsor Laura Gillen on the value of town property, calling them "illusory."

Gillen staffers said earlier this month the town owns about $4 billion worth of land, including nearly 400 properties worth around $850 million that are underutilized.

"That number's got to be flawed," Blakeman said of the $850 million figure. "It's not only flawed it's bizarre."

The disputed figures emerged in a debate over a proposal by the Gillen administration to hire a Mineola real estate firm to create a plan for selling off, leasing or developing underutilized town land. The town board's Republican majority in September delayed a vote on the proposal, questioning the wisdom of hiring a single company to oversee the disposition of so much real estate.

Gillen criticized the delay, saying the plan would generate revenue through land sales and the return of idle properties to tax rolls. She also said private companies use many of the town-owned parcels in question, although Hempstead is responsible for maintaining them.

The town previously hired the same firm, Smith & DeGroat, to inventory the town's landholdings. The resulting database, which Gillen staffers provided to Newsday for review, lists the total value of town property, according to Nassau County property assessments, at $4.87 billion.

The database lists 364 properties worth $832 million that Gillen administration officials said were those previously described as underutilized. They include commercial and residential vacant land, but also town parks and housing projects.

Adam Haber, Gillen's deputy chief of staff, said the town does not intend to sell parks and other facilities that are in use, but rather wants to look for opportunities to increase their usefulness to taxpayers and revenue to the town.

For example, he said, many parks have "unused acreage" that could be turned into ballfields or solar farms, either by the town or through public-private partnerships. And the town could renovate or add additional units to public housing projects.

"As far as I'm concerned, every single piece of property we have is open to improvement," he said.

The 364 properties in question include 12 that are worth $10 million or more, including Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale, whose value is listed at $125 million. They also include six properties that are larger than 1 million square feet, including a lot occupied by the Norman J. Levy Park Preserve and Merrick Road Park Golf Course in Merrick, which is nearly 7 million square feet.

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