Hempstead Town Board now plans to halt zoning changes meant to increase mixed-use multifamily housing projects. NewsdayTV’s Steve Langford reports.  Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas; YouTube/ Town of Hempstead

Five years ago, Hempstead officials began a bipartisan effort to transform a jumble of commercial and residential areas near the commuter rail stations in Inwood and North Lawrence into a walkable, vibrant community. That effort stalled and the town now plans to repeal sections of its zoning code to prevent such mixed-use multifamily housing in the area from being built. 

The Hempstead Town Board scheduled a July 2 hearing to rescind the town’s transit-oriented development overlay district for Inwood and North Lawrence as well as a neighborhood business district that allows apartments to be built over ground-floor businesses and a town house and row house overlay district.

The measure states that an "expedited review process" under the code "does not provide for a meaningful level of public scrutiny" and doesn't "properly examine" the cumulative effect of multiple projects being built in the area. 

The proposal states the zoning “could have significant negative impacts on, among other things, community character and quality of life” and that it represents a “threat to public health, safety and welfare.”

Hempstead's zoning plan

2019: Hempstead Town Board approves transit-oriented development zoning change in Inwood and North Lawrence.

2022: Hempstead Town Board imposes moratoriums on such projects.

2024: Hempstead Town Board is considering repealing zoning change.

The town board in 2022 placed pauses on projects being built under the zoning codes. The moratoriums were extended in 2023 and 2024, with the latest extension expiring June 18.

One project planned under the transit-oriented development zoning overly is at 25 Wanser Ave. in Inwood.

In 2021, the Hempstead Industrial Development Agency approved tax breaks for the $154 million, 313-unit apartment building on behalf of 25 Wanser LLC, a subsidiary of Commack-based Heatherwood Luxury Rentals, records show. Attempts to reach company officials and its attorney were unsuccessful Friday. The town board approved a plot plan for the project last year, records show.

Town spokesman Casey Sammon on Friday said this project would be grandfathered in under the proposed repeal. Town spokesman Brian Devine didn’t identify any other projects that could be grandfathered.

Under the repeal, the town would allow projects that have already received certain approvals to move forward.

Town Supervisor Donald X. Clavin Jr. declined to be interviewed.

Sammon in a statement said, “The Town Board looks forward to working with area residents to decide the best path forward.”

The zoning changes for the overlay districts for transit-oriented development, neighborhood business, and town houses and row houses in Inwood and North Lawrence approved in 2019 were spearheaded by then-Supervisor Laura Gillen and then-Councilman Bruce Blakeman, who is now Nassau County executive.

The purpose of the zoning, according to an 877-page environmental report commissioned by the town and released in 2019, was “to create vibrant walkable hamlet centers, each with a distinctive sense of place, around the Inwood and Lawrence LIRR train stations with mixed-use development and housing choices.”

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a downtown planning organization, said Hempstead’s effort to repeal its zoning code is a pushback to efforts in Albany to get more housing built. In 2023, Gov. Kathy Hochul sought to force communities to allow increased housing density within a half mile radius of Long Island Rail Road stations. That effort failed in the face of opposition from suburban elected officials.

“We're seeing the backlash,” Alexander said. “This is part of it.”

At a March 12 hearing to extend the moratorium, speakers against development were largely drawn from the villages of Lawrence and Woodmere and expressed concerns about potential increases in traffic and strains on infrastructure by adding new residents. Most speakers in favor of development identified themselves as members of the construction industry and stressed the need for more housing on Long Island and the jobs that new construction would bring. 

That hearing was a contrast to the May 7, 2019, hearing when the zoning codes were adopted. At that hearing, speaker after speaker spoke of revitalizing a blighted area and bringing much-needed housing to the area. 

Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, co-wrote a letter to the town in March asking it to lift the moratorium to allow development to move forward.

In a statement about the expected repeal of the zoning overlays, Strober said, “While it’s disappointing that these overlay districts will be eliminated, we have been reassured that the Town will work with any developer looking to build housing in these zones.”

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