The parking lots near Front and Washington streets in Hempstead...

The parking lots near Front and Washington streets in Hempstead Village, as seen on Jan. 22. The lots may be redeveloped. Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

A plan in the Village of Hempstead to hire two former village officials as consultants on a controversial downtown redevelopment project sparked rancor among Hempstead's elected officials last week, with some criticizing the plan as ill-timed and unnecessary.

But Mayor Don Ryan defended the $15,000 contract with former Mayor James Garner and former Community Development Agency Commissioner Glen Spiritis, saying the two are uniquely qualified to help advance long-delayed effort to revitalize Hempstead's commercial core.

The village board voted 3-2 on May 5 to hire Garner and Spiritis for one year to consult Hempstead on its agreement with Renaissance Downtowns, UrbanAmerica and RXR Realty, which have proposed building mixed-use apartment buildings, hotels and a public square on 14 municipal parking lots downtown.

The consultants would review contracts as well as planning, zoning and construction documents, coordinate with village departments and make recommendations to the board on the development proposal, which has made little progress since the village signed the master developer agreement in 2012. 

Trustees Waylyn Hobbs Jr. and Jeffery Daniels voted against the consulting contract. Hobbs questioned the wisdom of new spending at a time when the coronavirus pandemic could reduce village revenue. And he said the consulting deal was a confusing follow-up to a February vote by the village board to authorize legal action against the master developer group over the delays — a move that Hobbs and Daniels also opposed

"Why are we doing this now?" Hobbs asked at the meeting last week.

The village has not brought litigation against the developers.

Daniels had stronger words about the contract, describing aspects of it as "outrageous," "embarrassing" and "ridiculous."

"To me this is really an indication of an administration that does not understand what they're doing," Daniels said.

Ryan defended the contract, describing Garner and Spiritis as "two people who are expert in this particular area" who "may have some positive impact" on the stalled development effort.

Garner served as mayor from 1989 to 2005. Ryan noted two shopping centers were built in the village during his tenure.

Spiritis oversaw the Community Development Agency from 1990 to 2004 and then briefly served as Long Beach city manager.

Spiritis sued the village agency in 2004 over disputed pay for work and for unused vacation, personal and sick days. He won a nearly $1 million judgment against the agency.

Also at the May 5 meeting, the Hempstead board voted 4-0 to extend the village's collective bargaining agreement with its police union for one year and grant a 2.75% raise to unionized police officers. The deal does not cover the three police chiefs, who will not receive raises.

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