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Hicksville renaissance needs a leader

Broadway in downtown Hicksville on Aug. 2, 2017.

Broadway in downtown Hicksville on Aug. 2, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

When state officials chose Hicksville as the winner of a $10 million downtown revitalization grant in 2017, hope was undercut with concern.

After all, the Town of Oyster Bay wasn’t known for leadership on multifamily, multiuse development near public transit.

Two years later, both the hope and the concern remain.

A re-imagined downtown Hicksville, with apartments, business activity, walkable streets and a true transit hub would be game-changing for the region. Now, central Hicksville is a discordant jumble of commercial and industrial uses that offers little nostalgia for an idealized suburban hamlet. The future can be created without subtracting the past.

But unfortunately, Hicksville’s downtown revitalization so far has been a slow process. Stronger leadership is needed for any successful development.

That’s especially true now, as one of Hicksville’s biggest advocates may be moving on. If Lionel Chitty, who works for the town and presides over the Hicksville Chamber of Commerce, is approved to be Nassau County minority affairs director, that could leave a void.

The town faults others for the slow going. It says the state only recently completed key contracts, and Nassau County hasn’t finished its traffic study. Oyster Bay also says the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “promised” a new parking garage for Hicksville as part of its third track project. Town officials insist that development can’t happen without a garage to replace surface lots. But the MTA says it never promised anything. Third track documents show only an “option” for a garage. Recently, the MTA offered a deal for the town to use MTA land to create a more walkable area at the station, while the MTA could use nearby town land for a garage and retail and residential development, perhaps with a public-private partnership.

Town officials say they’re willing to negotiate. But there’s still a resistance to any building higher than four stories.

Buildings with more apartment units should be considered.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot for the town to do, from finalizing state contracts and the county traffic study, to making a deal with the MTA and issuing requests for proposals for private developers. Oyster Bay can start by studying what went right in Westbury, which won the same $10 million grant a year before Hicksville, and where passionate leadership has been key.

Oyster Bay also can create meaningful development beyond the state grant. A recent state designation to give developers tax credits to clean up brownfield areas in Hicksville could help. Then there’s the enormous opportunity presented by the 26.5-acre site previously occupied by Sears, about a half-mile from the train station. Residents objected to the scope of a 596-unit project proposed by Seritage Growth Properties, so Seritage is revising its plans. It’ll be up to the town to support something significant and beneficial, even if it’s more than what Oyster Bay is used to.

It’s unlikely that much will happen between now and Election Day; incumbents are too afraid to make bold decisions and risk a loss of votes. This hamlet will never be the bustling downtown hub so many want unless Supervisor Joseph Saladino, who’s up for reelection, and town board members demonstrate a willingness to move forward.

Otherwise, Oyster Bay voters this fall may choose leaders who can. — The editorial board


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