Belmont Development

Community reacts to Belmont proposal

Engel Burman presents its plan for the south lot

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Potential Belmont Park developer the Engel Burman Group presented its vision for the south lot of the racetrack to the community at a June 15 meeting at the Elmont Public Library. The company’s plan, in partnership with Woodmere-based real estate company Basser Kaufman, would include an anchor retailer, three restaurants, a bank and a supermarket spread across the 28 acres of state-owned land. The development would also feature a 7,000-square-foot community center and a multipurpose sports field with a seating capacity of 2,500.

“I think [this plan] would revitalize Elmont, and I think it would give Elmont a sense of place,” said Steven Krieger, a partner in the development group and the presenter of the plan. “It will give people the ability to shop in their own community, and I think it could really be like a town center.”

In the fall of 2012, the Empire State Development Corporation sent out a request for proposals for developing the park’s north and south parcels. Four developers responded in February 2013, and six months later, state officials said that a decision would be made within weeks. Two and a half years later, the development corporation removed the north lot from consideration, contacted the developers and asked for updated bids, but it has yet to reach a decision.

“We are re-engaging respondents in order to obtain the best possible deal for the state,” Empire State spokesman Jason Conwell said in a statement.

Krieger said he was hopeful that the state would reach a decision soon — especially since the area has gone undeveloped for nearly four years. “Something has to happen on this project,” he said. “People have been waiting to develop this parcel for a long time.”

According to Krieger, Engel Burman has received letters of interest from Costco, Michaels, ShopRite, Modells and other retailers, as well as fast-food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A.

“We see this as a vibrant hub that can be enjoyed by local youth, seniors, families . . . everyone in the community,” Krieger said. “It’s a sense of place, it’s a downtown for the community where people can gather, shop, dine on this side of Hempstead Turnpike.”

Of the four possible plans for Belmont’s south lot, the pro soccer team the New York Cosmos has offered the most ambitious. The team would build a 25,000-seat stadium, a 175-room hotel and restaurant and retail space. It also has plans for a recreation area.

Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover said he believed the development would create 3,000 to 4,000 meaningful jobs, but opponents of the plan have called that estimate an exaggeration, and said that those jobs would not be sustainable long-term employment. According to Krieger, the Engel Burman plan would create 1,663 permanent jobs.

The Blumenfeld Group, a Syosset-based developer, presented its plan to the Elmont community on May 18. It also plans to build a large retail space for a Costco Business Center and three restaurants, another retail space and a community center. Manhattan-based Related Development wants to build 327,000 square feet of retail, 21,000 square feet of restaurants, a junior soccer field and a playground. The company has yet to present its plan to the community.

The Engel Burman plan is in line with the Elmont Vision Plan, a proposal that residents created for the development of Hempstead Turnpike in 2006, Krieger said at the opening of his presentation. At the time, residents said they wanted to see a business district that would serve as the hub for the community. 

Krieger stressed the value of community input and told residents that the developer would align its plan with whatever they felt was needed.

“Whatever we propose this evening is not cast in stone — I’m going to make that statement several times throughout my speech this evening,” he said. “It’s very important for everyone to understand, we’re here to hear what you have to say and what your needs and wants are.”

The forum was one of many outreach initiatives that Engel Burman will host, Krieger said. It is working with Vision Long Island, a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting smart growth in the region, to ensure community input.

Some of the ideas offered by those in attendance included an inpatient urgent care center and onsite ambulatory facility. Others had questions about the community center. Krieger envisioned that the two-story structure would house office space and facilitate continuing education classes, an idea proposed by Hempstead resident Susan Kaye.

Some residents, however, said that additional meeting space would be redundant, because the Elmont library has many community rooms. Instead, an indoor sports complex, comparable to the Yes We Can Center in Westbury, would be more in line with what the community wants, said Jamaica Square Civic Association President Claudine Hall.

“We don’t have a place where the kids can go inside and play basketball,” Hall said. “We don’t need more office space. We have plenty of that here.”

The Engel Burman plan also includes a sustainable garden, a children’s playground and greenery around the parcel to block traffic noise and maintain a residential feel for the houses along Wellington and Hunley Road.

The racetrack sits on the edge of Elmont, and borders Queens west of the Cross Island Parkway. Engel Burman would relinquish control of the development to either the state, Nassau County or the Town of Hempstead, Krieger said. It would be up to those three entities to maintain the green space and the community center. Engel Burman would also provide $1 million over five years for maintenance costs.

While Krieger and many in attendance stressed the Engel Burman plan’s comportment with the Elmont Vision Plan, others questioned whether it would be the right fit for the area. 

“Both of them at least have gone back and looked at the Vision Plan,” said Sandra Smith, president of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development, referring to Engel Burman and Blumenfeld. “What they want at this particular site is not in the Vision Plan, however, but at this point it’s every man for himself. The state just has to make a decision.”

Smith is a supporter of the Cosmos’ plan, and took part in a rally urging the state to make a decision on the south lot on May 3. She was also a supporter of the gambling facility proposed for the north parcel of Belmont Park — a plan that ultimately fizzled in the face of community backlash.

“Revenue-wise, I think it would beneficial for the community to get as much bang for your buck as you possibly can,” Smith said. “[The soccer stadium] gives us everything in our Vision Plan, the hotel, retail stores, restaurants … the whole thing.”