The Uniondale community center, built as part of a community...

The Uniondale community center, built as part of a community benefits agreement, is completed, yet not open to the public. Credit: David Greaves

When Engel Burman proposed hundreds of rental apartments for part of the A. Holly Patterson nursing home campus six years ago, the developer, like so many others, offered a set of community benefits.

New ballfields. A parking lot. A community center. All for Uniondale.

The community got the ballfields and parking lot.

The community center is a different story. Engel Burman finished the building last February and turned over the keys and paperwork to Nassau University Medical Center and its parent, Nassau Health Care Corp., which owns and operates the nursing home and leased the land to the developer.

And then … nothing happened.

A year has gone by.

The 4,000-square-foot community center, on Jerusalem Avenue near the middle school, remains locked and unused.

It's a cautionary tale of what can happen when community benefits, often the linchpin in getting development done on Long Island, are held hostage or otherwise stymied, and how a community can lose out even after promises are made and contracts signed.

It also stands as a lesson for developers, particularly as one of the most significant economic development proposals in Nassau County's history — a casino resort for the Nassau Hub, also in Uniondale — makes its way through a lengthy approval process that will require community buy-in.

Engel Burman — now known as B2K Development — seems to have fulfilled its obligations. It's unclear why NUMC hasn't opened the center, but multiple individuals familiar with the situation said NUMC wanted to put out a Request for Proposals for who would run it. An RFP never emerged. 

The new center was to be the culmination of a two-decade effort by a group called Uniondale Neighborhood Center to bring a community center to the area. The organization has been using smaller spaces for its activities but, UNC leader David Greaves said, it's still waiting for a "fully-functioning, proper community center." Over the last year, Greaves said, he has reached out to NUMC, to the county, to anyone who will listen about opening the new one — to no avail.

County officials said only that they're working with NUMC and the surrounding community to find a resolution.

This isn't the first time community benefits have gotten caught in the ugly web of bureaucracy, politics, and development. Take, for instance, the saga of Elmont Road Park. The developers of UBS Arena at Belmont Park renovated the local park as part of their community benefits agreement, completing the work last spring. The Town of Hempstead kept the park closed for months, arguing over safety concerns and other items, like getting the town seal painted at the center of the new basketball court.

It took publicity and public pressure to get the park open.

It shouldn't be this hard. But on Long Island, nothing — not even delivering a park or community center to a local neighborhood — is easy. But when residents are asked to welcome new housing or other development, they should be able to expect that they'll get what's promised in return.

At a time when Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing for far more extensive housing development, when Las Vegas Sands is pitching a massive project for the Hub, when it's already hard enough to build anything across Long Island, a community benefits agreement should be a given.

But those community benefits will only matter if the community actually benefits. 

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.

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