‘A blight in Baldwin like no other’

Town sets overlay hearing, addresses flooding concerns


At a July 22 meeting, Town of Hempstead officials said that a draft environmental analysis and zoning ordinance for the proposed Baldwin overlay district was expected to be completed soon, and would be open to public comment.

VHB Engineering, a consulting team that is helping to draw up plans for the overlay zoning district, is finishing a draft statement of the state-mandated environmental analysis needed to move forward with the project, said Rich Regina, counsel to the Hempstead Town Board and former counsel to the Zoning Board. The overlay district downtown is expected to encourage developers to build and revitalize the area.

“We’ll be putting that onto the website for everyone to see,” Regina told a couple of dozen residents who attended the meeting at Baldwin High School, despite a harsh thunderstorm.

An overlay district tailors zoning requirements to a particular area in order to best encourage development with the least possible disruption.

Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, who hosted the meeting, said there would be an impact on the environment whenever the town takes on a project “of this scale,” and that it’s necessary to assess what steps need to be taken.

At its meeting on Aug. 6, after press time, the Town Board was expected to call a public hearing on the environmental analysis and draft ordinance for Tuesday, Sept. 3, Regina said.

“There will be an item on the Town Board’s calendar in which we issue what the law calls a ‘notice of completion’ on the environmental work that’s been done to date, and a resolution calling the public hearing for Tuesday, Sept. 3, on the draft ordinance that we have been working on for months,” Regina said. “It’s a combined hearing on the environment and on the draft ordinance.”

Beginning on Aug. 6, Regina continued, residents would be able to submit comments electronically.

“Just like with the zoning board, we encourage you to please come to the Town Board hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 3, to give us your comments, your thoughts, maybe your criticisms as well of it, to make it part of the record,” Regina said. “After Sept. 3, we then enter the final stage of the [State Environmental Quality Review Act] work.”

VHB Engineering and Vision Long Island, the town’s consultants for the overlay project, would then prepare the final environmental impact statement, officials explained, which would contain all of the submitted comments and observations.

“At that point, the Town Board will be able to adopt the ordinance, and it will be in effect,” Regina said.

“The reason we’re moving forward with both of those two items in September is simply to move forward as quickly as possible, to make this as expedient as possible,” King Sweeney told residents. “We can’t expedite too much, or else we wouldn’t follow state law, so we’re following the letter of the law, but also moving as fast as possible on it.”

A couple of residents asked how soon development could begin.

“Once the ordinance goes into effect, developers and landlords will be filing permit applications under the new ordinance,” Regina said, adding that he had heard from developers and landlords in the community who said they planned to build a large-scale, multi-story development and a combined-use development featuring commercial use on the lower level and residential on the upper level. But he had not yet seen plans.

“The business community has been watching this, and we think they’re ready to go,” Regina said.

“But as this overlay zone has been developed in coordination with VHB, Vision Long Island, [Regina] and the supervisor’s office — a whole team of people,” King Sweeney said, “they have had countless meetings, conversations and inquiries from small, local developers to huge national developers to understand what is sort of that secret sauce to pull this thing off and to make this a success so that we’re not talking about this in three years. Conversations have been ongoing with developers . . . We have to put the overlay zone in place, and then we’re off to the races.”

After residents inquired about the corner of Merrick Road and Grand Avenue, which they said was underwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, consultants said they were addressing flooding issues in the new zoning ordinance.

“We’ve actually looked at all the flooding issues extensively — we are fully aware of those flooding issues that are specifically along Grand and Merrick, and we’ve incorporated that into our analysis,” said Marwa Fawaz, a senior project manager with VHB Engineering. “Stay tuned for the results. There are obviously going to be recommendations made to make sure that those kinds of concerns are alleviated.”

Fawaz said the guidelines also incorporate “a substantial amount of green infrastructure improvements to help some of the flooding issues.”

“I’ve been coming to these meetings off and on for years now. What makes us think that this is going to happen in the near future?” asked Walter Lustberg, a 51-year Baldwin resident. “We have a blight in Baldwin like no other.”

“This is about a 20-year bad story,” King Sweeney said. “We’re moving forward with this overlay zone . . . There’s a lot of unique towns throughout Long Island who succeeded in this overlay zone type of approach, whether it’s Patchogue, Wyandanch, Mineola, you name it. This is sort of the new, hot approach — the way to make things work.”