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Murray announces opposition to video lottery palace in Westbury

The long closed Fortunoff store at the Source

The long closed Fortunoff store at the Source Mall in Westbury on Dec. 30, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray on Tuesday announced her opposition to a plan to build a new gaming parlor with up to 1,000 video slot machines at the vacant Fortunoff property in Westbury, while North Hempstead officials called for a halt to planning for the project.

Murray, a Republican, said Tuesday that she opposes the location of the proposed gaming parlor, citing traffic and parking concerns, but that the town has no approval power or jurisdiction over the site. Video lottery terminals and OTB parlors are exempt from local zoning under state law.

"Hempstead Town does not have an official role or a 'seat at the table' with the gaming commission on this matter," Murray wrote in a letter to constituents this week. "Despite these facts, I will remain aggressive in voicing my concerns and advocating for local neighbors."

North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and town Councilwoman Viviana Russell, both Democrats, Tuesday said in a letter to Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. president Joseph Cairo that plans for the mini-casino should be suspended, pending a "comprehensive review" that includes public input. They cited a potential increase in crime and traffic in areas surrounding the property.

"In the interests of fairness, openness and transparency, we are calling upon OTB to commit immediately to the suspension of this project and bring the entire process out into the light of day," the letter states.

The lawmakers said site selection has been shrouded in secrecy, with "virtually no outreach to the community." They want OTB to meet with them and to host a public meeting on the project. A community-led meeting is scheduled for Jan. 21 at Carle Place High School.

Nassau OTB said it welcomed a "a forthright, transparent and ongoing conversation with all residents, civic leaders and elected officials who have concerns" about the project.

OTB said the project would create 200 jobs and increase sales tax revenue for the county. "We are confident that once all the facts are known, the project will enjoy significant community support," OTB said.

The former Fortunoff building, located in The Source mall, is in Hempstead but is directly across Old Country Road from the North Hempstead portion of Westbury.

Katie Grilli-Robles, a spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, said the administration "has no jurisdiction in either the selection of the site or appointments to the OTB Board."

Grilli-Robles said Mangano plans to meet with Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro and other officials to "discuss how best to represent surrounding communities." Cavallaro opposes the project.

"I am unequivocally opposed to the casino which is a direct assault on our suburban quality of life and I will be fully engaged in fighting the battle against this ill-conceived project," said Nassau County Legis. Siela Bynoe (D-Westbury), who has sent a mailing to residents about the project.

Mangano prefers putting VLTs at the Race Palace in Plainview, Grilli-Robles said. The Gaming Commission vetoed putting the gambling parlor at the Race Palace last year because the site was too small and had insufficient parking.

OTB officials announced last month that they had begun negotiations with Fortunoff bondholders and lenders, who took ownership of the mall in 2012.

The VLTs will occupy about 15 percent of the 200,000-square-foot building. The rest of the four-story building will include restaurants, a food court and administrative offices.

OTB said it selected the site because of "its centralized location with ample parking and easy access to major thoroughfares."

Officials did not disclose the purchase price for the site. In December, OTB officials authorized up to $100 million in tax-exempt bonds to buy and develop a VLT site, but Cairo has said the project, which is expected to open later this year, could cost significantly less.

A Facebook group against the Westbury gaming parlor now has 2,800 "likes," while an estimated 500 residents opposed to the project attended a Jan. 3 meeting at Meadowbrook Pointe, a gated community located nearby in Westbury.

With Scott Eidler

and Carl MacGowan

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