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NY appeals court hears activists' pitch that Hempstead Village deal was done in secret

Opponents of the Hempstead Village downtown development on

Opponents of the Hempstead Village downtown development on a bus at the LIRR, bound for a court hearing in Brooklyn to hear the final appeal on the future of the case on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014 in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Hempstead Village contingent ventured into Brooklyn Monday to hear arguments asking the New York State Court of Appeals to block a $2.5 billion redevelopment downtown.

The four appellate justices heard from a Hempstead Village activist who told them board members concealed key details of the downtown makeover project before they approved it.

"Our case is one in which our village government signed a contract to sell approximately $53 million of our village-owned land to a developer in violation of the law," activist Seymour Edwards told the judges.

Edwards filed the appeal on behalf of a group of residents, 20 of whom were bused from Hempstead to the hearing.

"How can this be built for the benefit of the public," Edwards asked, "when it personally benefits the developer?"

The village is in the process of a $2.5 billion plan with developer Renaissance Downtown to redevelop downtown with residences, a hotel, shops, parking and an entertainment project over the next 10 years. The plan is to seek funding via federal and state grants as well as private investments.

Edwards told the judges that the village and the developer conspired to keep details such as the cost and properties slated for purchase a secret from the public.

Renaissance CEO Donald Monti said every step of the process has been open to the public through meetings and notices as the development moves forward.

"I feel we did everything we could do keep the public informed," Monti said after the hearing. "The transparency will continue. It got us the results we wanted, the community input and thousands of people showing support for this project."

Edwards' suit against the village, Mayor Wayne Hall and Renaissance, was struck down in 2013 by the Nassau County Supreme Court. Generally, the Court of Appeals takes 30 to 60 days to render a decision after hearing arguments.

Edwards also said in court that Renaissance didn't release a list of properties being purchased or the prices -- including the Village Hall, the library, two fire houses, a playground and 18 parking lots -- until after the first public hearing.

Dan Deegan, an attorney for Renaissance, said the sale price could not be decided until after properties were appraised to give the maximum benefit to taxpayers on their property value. "This area needs revitalization," Deegan said. "The argument that the project was concealed isn't true. It's the most publicized redevelopment in Long Island."

Appellate judges said future meetings should be held in larger spaces than the Village Hall. Renaissance is still drafting a site plan, but the village is waiting before moving forward, due to the appeal, Hall said.

"It's unfortunate we have people who don't like change," Hall said after the hearing. "Everything's in limbo based on what the court's going to say. As soon as they rule we're ready to rock and roll."

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