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Hempstead weighs zoning change to allow mall expansion

Town officials say Roosevelt Field and Green Acress

Town officials say Roosevelt Field and Green Acress malls -- the only shopping centers in town defined as regional -- are regulated under separate and wide-ranging zoning requirements. (July 10, 2009) Credit: Yana Paskova

Hempstead Town zoning legislation that would allow Roosevelt Field mall to expand would significantly impact traffic, air quality and noise, and endanger pedestrians, critics say.

Town officials and mall owners, who plan to discuss a proposed regional shopping mall zoning law at a public hearing Tuesday, deny those claims.

The proposal would change the town code to reflect a floor-area ratio -- the ratio of a building's floor space to the size of the land on which it sits -- for Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City to 70 percent and Green Acres Mall in Valley Stream to 75 percent.

Town officials say the two malls -- the only shopping centers in town defined as regional -- are regulated under separate and wide-ranging zoning requirements. The town wants to establish buffer and transitional requirements, simplify calculation of off-street parking needs, and establish a method to document changes of use.

Under the proposed law, the malls would not be permitted to exceed 3.6 million square feet of floor area, the maximum building height would be 75 feet and up to four stories. It would require 4 1/2 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross leasable area.

"The new ordinance provides a clear uniform standard . . . to make sure there is no overdevelopment of the property and that it will not change the character of the area," said Charles Kovit, chief deputy town attorney.

The town set a floor-area ratio of 40 percent in 1989 to slow growth in industrial areas. The town's appeals board granted a special-exemption permit to Roosevelt Field in 1995 for the Nordstrom department store addition, which raised the mall's floor-area ratio to up to 69.6 percent.

Simon Property Group, Inc., which acquired the mall in the late 1990s, is proposing adding a two-story, 100,000-square-foot building to house a Neiman Marcus.

"Under the current law in Hempstead, Roosevelt Field cannot expand by one square foot," said land use and zoning attorney Tamir Young, who represents two law firms adjacent to the mall that oppose the expansion, adding the legislation would permit it to expand by at least 400,000 square feet.

He suggested the expansion would have negative environmental and other impacts.

Young said Simon cannot try to apply the special exception granted in 1995 for another project that increased the mall's floor-area ratio. The legislation "is nothing but an end-around to allow expansion at Roosevelt Field" and bypass the appeals board, which denied a permit in 1999 to add a Saks Fifth Avenue department store, Young said.

Town attorney Joseph Ra disagreed. He said Roosevelt Field could add a Neiman Marcus "as of right" without approval from the appeals board, since it has space to build based on the 1995 appeals board approval.

"The whole idea that we're doing this because Neiman Marcus is coming to the mall is not true," Ra said. "This is nothing more than housekeeping."

Simon's attorney William Bonesso, of Uniondale, said adding a Neiman Marcus would not have negative effects. "From Simon's perspective, this is not really giving us anything that we don't have," Bonesso said. "The mall has a right to build what it wants to build."

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