Battling a 2-strike count

Sports business owner seeks rental compromise with DOT

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We’re deep into April and people are heading outdoors, but at Five Towns Mini-Golf and Batting Range, along Rockaway Turnpike in Lawrence, the business’s 40th season might not happen.

Owners Marty Rosen and his son Matt are petitioning the New York State Department of Transportation about their rent increase. For several years, the state charged the Rosens $4,750 per month. Last year, the rent jumped 161 percent, to $12,435, based on the DOT’s reappraisal of the property value.

The Rosens created an online petition to help them in their battle with the DOT. As of press time on Tuesday, there were 2,530 online supporters, with many writing how much the batting range means to them.

“It’s a shame,” said Marty, adding that all his paperwork was sent to the DOT’s executive board for review. “It’s our 40th season, and we are trying to make plans for different promotions. We are still walking on eggshells.” He said he could raise prices only so much to try to cover the rent increase.

In addition to the people online who have written statements of support and shared their memories of the batting range, Rosen has a proponent in State Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Beach), who represents the Queens district closest to the business. Amato replaced Phil Goldfeder, who stepped down late last year.

Amato wrote a letter requesting that the DOT consider Rosen’s rent proposal of $6,412.50 per month and an annual increase of 2 percent as a compromise for a small business that “has been a mainstay of the community for years.”

“I think it’s very unfair; it makes it very hard to remain open,” Amato said, of the drastic increase. “There is a value to a business in our community. With such an increase, you’re making the choice to put someone out of business.”

Hewlett resident James Vilardi, a professional property appraiser, said that the DOT is basing the property value, and therefore the rent increase, on the fair market value of the land — rather than treating it as a site that operates on a 30-day licensing agreement.

He searched comparable licensing agreements and came up with data that Rosen used to create his compromise proposal. “I hope they take into consideration the business’s longevity,” Vilardi said. “The DOT should have been increasing his rent in small proportions. It’s unfair.”

Another issue that could complicate Rosen’s situation is the looming Nassau Expressway project. Planning for the $130 million renovation of the roadway, also known as State Route 878, is under way. Construction is scheduled to start in two years. It includes a new multi-use pedestrian path, a state-of-the-art drainage system, traffic signals synced to ensure smoother vehicle movement, improved and added turning lanes, and a possible retaining wall. The project will renovate a less-than-one-mile stretch of road — a portion that officials called a central business corridor — from the intersection of Rockaway Turnpike and Peninsula Boulevard, in Lawrence, to Burnside Avenue, in Inwood.

Rosen said that he was informed that the state might sell some of the properties, including his, as the project gets going. Amato and County Legislator Howard Kopel (D-Lawrence) both said they had not heard about that plan. “It’s the first I have heard about that,” said Kopel, who teamed with Goldfeder on a campaign three years ago to repair the expressway. “It’s horrific over there with traffic backed for hours at a time.”

When the DOT’s executive board will decide on Rosen’s rent proposal is unknown. State DOT officials at the regional and state levels did not return calls requesting comment by press time.

View the petition at http://bit.ly/2oPF575.

Have an opinion on the batting range situation or the Nassau Expressway? Send your letter to the editor to jbessen@liherald.com.