With the Empire State Development Corporation's Request For Proposals program open to redevelop Belmont Park to bidders since late July, local community leaders are emphasizing that developers should consider Elmont's 2008 Community Vision Plan when crafting their plans.
The state is seeking proposals to redevelop several large sections of Belmont Park. They are due by 2 p.m. on Sept. 28.
The vision plan focuses on business development along Hempstead Turnpike, the community's main thoroughfare, as well as the Belmont Park property. Belmont is located in a section of Elmont that has long been considered a "gateway to Nassau County," according to the document.
The 200-page plan has six chapters, as well as an appendix detailing plans to aid Elmont's business community. Public participation is key to improving the area, the document states.
Referring to Belmont Park, Tammie Williams, an Elmont Public Library trustee and community activist, said, "Everyone knows we are sitting on the most valuable piece of property in Nassau County. We shouldn't limit ideas to stadiums or arenas, but rather be encouraging as many creative proposals as possible. All developers that submit bids should engage with the community in an open forum before a winner is selected."
According to the vision plan, any form of economic development should:
Improve the local economy by attracting businesses that will meet the needs of the community while generating jobs and tax revenue.
Improve safety and access by balancing the transportation needs of pedestrians, drivers and those who use public transportation.
Improve, expand and create public services and facilities, including recreational opportunities that serve the entire community.
Improve the appearance of the Elmont community to create a suburban identity as a "gateway to Nassau County."
Improve overall public safety by taking measures to reduce driving infractions and criminal activity.
Create or revise zoning regulations to guide future development so it is consistent with local residents' objectives for their community.
The vision plan's three main areas of focus include the front of Belmont Park, along Hempstead Turnpike; the Meacham Avenue and Hempstead Turnpike intersection; and the Hempstead Turnpike and Elmont Road intersection, otherwise known as the Community Crossroads of Elmont.
Pat Nicolosi, the East End Civic Association president, said that Elmont's business district was busier when he came to the community as a child in 1967. "Funny- back in those days, the Belmont racing season was like New Year's Eve," he said. "People from Elmont would stay away on those very busy days."
"If you look at that area now," he continued, "you have storefront churches that generate zero income. Every time a church goes up, that property comes off the tax rolls, which also means less money for the schools ... We do have a major housing crisis. Even the houses that are going up are way too costly for younger people, and taxes are way too high."
The vision plan considers the possibility of moving one of the county's fire-training centers to the Elmont/Belmont area, as well as improving public transportation facilities. There have been a number of proposals to construct a year-round Long Island Rail Road station at Belmont.
Revitalization is occurring slowly in the Community Crossroads area, local business owners say. Laura Gentile and her husband, Steve, opened a boxing gym there earlier this summer, after a months-long search for what they believed was an ideal location to set up shop. "We chose this spot because we loved the community," Laura said. "We wanted to come to a neighborhood where we felt welcomed and could help other people. The location is also ideal because it's near the bus stops, access to the city, and the people are the best part."
Nicolosi said he believes that, once chosen, Belmont's potential developers should seriously consider the Community Vision Plan when creating blueprints for development in order to ensure economic growth in the community. "I'm not sure exactly what [the Belmont Park] business would or should be," he said. "The story continues with underutilized property used for new car parking, drugs and crime. No crowds, more crime ... People hope something good happens at Belmont to help their businesses. Very sad. There's just so much history."