Momentum. Progress. Yes.
For years, those weren’t words usually paired with the Village of Hempstead’s economic development efforts. Instead, it’d be more typical to hear ‘stonewalled," "stopped," or "no."
Under former Mayor Don Ryan, potential new housing projects and other development usually wouldn’t get a chance to go before the town or county industrial development agency. Ryan refused to entertain the idea of new development, especially when it required tax incentives, so such proposals wouldn’t even get on the agenda.
So, some village land would lie barren and older buildings would remain dilapidated.
Now, the winds have shifted. Projects are finally getting hearings and, hopefully, approvals when deserved. There’s even talk of some of these developments breaking ground.
Take a pair of projects planned for Main and Bedell streets, right across the street from one another. Carman Place would include 228 affordable housing units, earmarked for those with incomes as low as $27,270, and 22,600 square feet of commercial development along the ground floor. Estella Housing would bring 96 units of affordable housing, including 30 that will come with supportive services. Half of those Estella supportive units would be reserved for veterans, who would pay 30% of their income in rent — no matter how low it is.
The two developments have been ready to go. The developers — Carman’s team of Conifer Realty and the Community Development Corp. of Long Island, and Estella’s pairing of Georgica Green Ventures and Concern for Independent Living — promised millions of dollars toward the village’s water and sewer infrastructure needs, along with other community benefits. And they’re contributing to the community in other ways, too. Just last month, for instance, Conifer and Concern partnered on a new "bridge the gap" initiative to bring laptops to Hempstead students in need.
The developers, who need tax incentives to make the finances work, spent years trying to talk with Ryan, to get on a village board or industrial development agency agenda, to move the conversation forward. They got nowhere.
After Mayor Waylyn Hobbs Jr. was elected last May, he put forward a different theory on payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs — saying there were good deals and bad deals, and he’d support the good ones.
Late last month, Hempstead Town’s Industrial Development Agency, which includes members from the Village of Hempstead who vote specifically on projects within the village, took the first step, putting both projects on the agenda and giving them the initial approval that paves the way for a public hearing, scheduled for next week. A final vote on the PILOTs will follow, but often, that first step is the toughest.
"It’s a long haul but that’s my job," said Ralph Fasano, Concern’s executive director. "My job is about not giving up. It’s the right thing to do and eventually, you find a way to do it, even when sometimes, it takes elections to change things."
Fasano, who in years past didn’t really want to talk about shovels and construction timetables because they were hard to envision, now says he is hoping for a groundbreaking in September.
As for Hobbs, he’s applauding the new projects, and has his eyes on more, noting that the village needs market-rate housing and more office and retail. The interest, he says, is there, from developers "who have been coming, trying to be a part of this opportunity they know is happening."
It’s happening. In the Village of Hempstead. Finally.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall’s opinions are her own.