A handful of protesters in Hempstead Saturday called on village officials to roll back a development agreement intended to transform the downtown area into a mixed-use community.
Opponents say the $2.5 billion redevelopment will benefit affluent people who move to the village and displace long-term residents and businesses through gentrification. The developer and Mayor Wayne Hall Sr. say the transit-oriented development will bring in jobs and tax revenue and revitalize downtown.
"They're trying to force out the not-so-wealthy and trying to bring in the wealthy when they bring in luxury apartments," said Juanita Wilson, 69, a retired phone operator and village resident. "The people living here can't afford to live there."
Carrying signs that said "We Want Development that Benefits Us the Residents" and "Stop Ethnic Cleansing in Hempstead," about 18 protesters gathered in front of a trailer set up by the developer Renaissance Downtowns at Main and West Columbia streets.
The mayor said protesters are mistaken. "This is all about improving the quality of life for the people who live in our village," Hall said. "We're not looking to gentrify anybody."
The protest was organized by a group calling itself the "Committee to Save Hempstead," and a few honking cars showed their support.
James Daya, 22, who owns the Village Deli on West Columbia Street with his father, Rimon, said they are worried the building's owner will sell it to the developer and they will lose their location.
"Small business can't compete against big business," Daya said. "We're definitely going to fight to the last day."The developer plans to break ground this summer.
"In partnership with the Village, we have instituted one of the most progressive Community Benefits Agreements in the nation -- there is no displacement nor eminent domain and the Community Benefits Agreement includes significant local hiring provisions," Renaissance spokesman Brandon Palanker said in an email. "We look forward to breaking ground this summer so thousands of men and women of Hempstead can take advantage of jobs, contracting opportunities and a revitalized downtown that is open to everyone."