Hempstead Village's $2.5 billion downtown redevelopment project is getting back on track after a year of disputes over the LIRR parking lot, a vacant community development leadership position and tensions about where the project would start.
The Main Street makeover includes residences, a hotel, shops, open space, parking and entertainment venues. Federal and state grants and private investments will fund the project, which is to be built over 10 years, developers and village officials said.
Progress slowed as the village negotiated an agreement with the developer for community benefits, including jobs for residents and upgraded sewers. The board last year approved an agreement with the master developer, Renaissance Downtowns UrbanAmerica, despite opposition from residents and business owners worried that the development would push them out of downtown.
Renaissance Downtowns chief executive Donald Monti said delays were to be expected.
"The first time you do anything, it is going to take longer," Monti said. "Everything after this would be an easier process."
But residents questioned the slow pace.
"The village is spending all of its energy with this developer, and the interests of the traditional small businesses, who have kept the village alive, are not being addressed," said Patrick Payne, a building owner who runs a bookstore on Main Street.
The revitalization plan would create 10,000 construction and 3,500 permanent jobs, with 25 percent going to village residents, developers and officials have said. The project also would strengthen the tax base in a community where properties composing nearly a third of the village's assessed value do not pay taxes, officials said.
LIRR lease a hurdle
Another delay came in February when village officials and developers said they discovered Hempstead has a 198-year lease with the Long Island Rail Road for a 200-space parking lot next to the Rosa Parks Hempstead Transit Center off Main Street. The lot was targeted for part of the mixed-use development.
The lease agreement, started Feb. 1, 1994, continues to Feb. 28, 2093, and includes a 99-year extension unless the contract is terminated.
The LIRR lot is critical to the transit-oriented project that targets about two dozen blocks around the train station. The contract was not recorded with the village clerk's office and failed to be found during a title search, village attorney Debra Urbano-Disalvo said.
LIRR representatives have met with village officials and the developers to find a solution, including building multilevel parking in a nearby lot.
"We are supportive of efforts to create transit-oriented development near the LIRR station," agency spokesman Salvatore Arena said in a statement. "However, any new development must also recognize the importance of expanding existing LIRR commuter parking rather than diminishing nearby parking resources."
Longtime village resident Doris Sharp criticized officials' failure to know about the long-term lease.
"It took the developers three years to find out that we don't have that parcel of land and the mayor has been there for 12 years," Sharp said. "They're not doing their jobs."
Experienced manager hired
Revitalization is expected to speed up with the hiring of Danielle T. Oglesby last month as commissioner of the Hempstead Village Community Development Agency. Oglesby, a former assistant director at Babylon Town's Office of Downtown Revitalization, replaces Claude Gooding, who resigned almost a year ago.
"Everything is going to take a different dynamic now that they really have a point person," Monti said. "That's one of the reasons that things have taken longer than normal."
Another dust-up about the project has grown over the location of the first construction.
Plans submitted in November called for a 336-unit, five-story rental apartment complex on the site of a heavily used, village-owned parking lot at Washington and Front streets, across from Hempstead Town Hall, about three blocks from the train station and a block from Main Street.
Starting the project away from its core "doesn't appear to be in the spirit of . . . a vibrant downtown that was advertised," village trustee Don Ryan said, adding the focus should be Main Street.
Community activist Katherine Garry of Rockville Centre, who leads the Committee to Save Hempstead, questioned starting the project with housing.
"The people had been led to believe that this development was going to bring in lots of new businesses," she said.
Two other construction sites are in the early planning stages and include a YMCA community center and a mixed-use restaurant, retail and residential building north of West Columbia Street and Main Street, near the train station, developers said.
Timeline: Hempstead Village's downtown redevelopment
February 2012 Plainview-based Renaissance Downtowns and Manhattan-based UrbanAmerica are selected as master developer. UrbanAmerica was part of the original failed redevelopment plan in 2007.
July 2012 Village board adopts downtown overlay zone that allows mixed-used development.
January 2013 Village board approves a community benefits agreement with the master developer by a 3-2 vote.
November 2013 First site plan is submitted for a 336-unit, five-story rental apartment complex on a municipal parking lot across from Hempstead Town Hall.
February 2014 Danielle T. Oglesby is hired as the new commissioner of the Hempstead Village Community Development Agency.