Peninsula Public Library plans hit roadblock

PPL and Lawrence village land contract in limbo

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Plans for a new Peninsula Public Library, which was going to be built on a slice of land next to Zion Park, appear to have hit a roadblock, as the contract signed last year between the Village of Lawrence and PPL is set to expire on Dec. 18, and might not be extended for another year, as stipulated in the agreement.

“We are very disappointed that we have yet to be officially informed by the village, but that’s what we heard,” said PPL Trustee Sarah Yastrab, speaking on behalf of the library board with its president, Samuel Francis, out of the country. “We don’t wish to proceed, and we can’t proceed without their affirmative support.”

The library’s attorney, William Cullen, sent a letter to Village Attorney Peter Bee on Nov. 14, saying that library officials were waiting for the support of the Lawrence trustees. The library has requested that the village make a decision on renewing the contract no later than Dec. 14.

In September 2017, the village agreed to sell a roughly three-quarter-acre parcel next to Zion Park to the library for $3.33 million. The site is adjacent to Lawrence’s Long Island Rail Road station commuter parking lot. The proposed new library is projected to cost $24 million. The sale of the property is contingent on library district residents approving a public referendum to borrow the needed money. No date for a vote has been set.

At the Lawrence village meeting on Nov. 13, it was incorrectly reported that the contract between the village and the library would expire on Dec. 1. Asked by a handful of residents if he knew whether the library was planning to ask the village to extend the deal for another 12 months, Mayor Alex Edelman said, “As of now, no.”

There also seems to have been a miscommunication between Deputy Mayor Michael Fragin and Francis. Fragin said at the meeting that Francis had said that the library “was making it their intention to withdraw” from the agreement to purchase the land and would not request a contract extension.

Library Director Carolynn Matulewicz and Yastrab both said that was inaccurate. “The library board has not made a decision” about the contract, Matulewicz said.

“We’re in contract, and whether we go ahead or not, we are exploring all our options,” Yastrab added. “We entered into the contract in good faith, and remain in good faith.”

Since the plans for a new building were unveiled in July, there have been complaints about its parking arrangements from a small group of Lawrence residents. Though the number of parking spaces in the commuter lot could increase from 162 to 164, and the number of spaces for the library would increase from the 23 at the existing building, at 280 Central Ave. in Lawrence, to 38 at the new library, residents have voiced concerns about building a new library at the Zion Park site, including that patrons would encroach on commuter parking spaces.

Others have expressed their support. Library officials point to a survey PPL conducted earlier this year. Among the 900 people who took part, the response was “overwhelming, 95 percent” in favor of the referendum, Matulewicz said. “If the public said no, I could accept that,” she added, saying that she feels as if the library is being put “through the ringer” on the parking issue. Library officials also said that a vacant Rock Hall Road parcel, which some of the opponents of the Zion Park site have suggested would be a better site for a new library, isn’t a viable option because of the potential cost. Village officials believe they could sell the 3.83 acres Lawrence owns for $7 million. A half-acre belongs to Nassau County.

The library serves 35,000 residents of the Lawrence School District, which includes Atlantic Beach, Cedarhurst, Inwood, Lawrence, Meadowmere Park and parts of North Woodmere and Woodmere. There are 17,900 cardholders, according to PPL officials. It is considered the smallest, per user, of any library in the Nassau County Library System — .38 square feet per patron, according to a report issued by the system in 2008. The existing building is 57 years old and measures 13,500 square feet. The new library would be nearly three times as large, 37,500 square feet.

In July, the Lawrence Board of Education voted to serve as the lead agency on the project, as required by state law. On Sept. 26, a meeting, called a “scoping session,” was held to focus on what board President Murray Forman called the “hyper-technical” State Environmental Quality Review Act process, which requires state and local government agencies to give equal weight to the potential environmental as well as social and economic impart of such projects during the decision-making process.

While not expressly voicing its opposition, the school board appeared to be hesitant about the project. At a meeting three weeks later, Forman said, “During the scoping session, the district raised several concerns regarding the environmental impact of the proposed new library building and other concerns, which, among other things, included encroachment on two areas designated as parkland, displaced Long Island Rail Road commuter parking and increased traffic.”

“When the plan was first shown to us, we thought it was an incomplete plan,” Forman told the Herald last week. “We said [ to the library], ‘Let us help you get it done.’ [It’s been] radio silence since then. When and if a plan was represented, we would do everything possible to make the process run correctly. The school board has no opinion. We have a job.”

The next village board meeting is scheduled for Dec. 13. The library board meets again on Dec. 20. The school board has no December meeting scheduled.

Have an opinion about the proposed new library plans? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.