Update: Nauman Hussain and his representative, Christian Browne — of the Sahn, Ward, Coschignano law firm — have stated that the Franklin Square Bow-Tie Cinemas theater building will not be demolished for development. The theater still has four-years left on its lease.
Franklin Square residents gathered before the Town of Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals on Oct. 17 to hear details of a plan to build a three-story storage facility near the corner of Hempstead Turnpike and Franklin Avenue, and a majority of them were upset to hear about the size of the storage facility, in what is known as Franklin Square’s business hub.
The development plan was proposed by Nauman Hussain, the owner of Synergy Fitness, who plans to move the gym across the street on William Avenue in order to convert the current gym building, AT&T store, Philip & Sons Jewelry Store and Bow Tie Cinemas into a 658-unit storage facility. There are also plans to knock down two houses behind the new Synergy building for parking spaces. He is seeking variances from the board for off-street parking in a residential area and for an additional third story. Hussain did not return the Herald’s calls for comment.
Architect Frank Relf, who spoke as an expert before the BZA, explained that although the facility would be three stories, it would be 30 feet tall, the maximum height allowed, according to town zoning code. He added that the building would have sprinkler and fire alarm systems, which would be reviewed by the Nassau County Fire Marshal's office, and that customers would be given individual security codes and access cards to help safeguard the storage facility. There would also be two full-time employees to manage the building and complete daily walkthroughs.
Wayne Edwards, a zoning and land use attorney who represented Hussain at the hearing, agreed that the storage facility would be built to keep people’s possessions safe. He said that while the facility would cater to individuals, it would also be an ideal place so local businesses to store their inventory, seasonal decorations and excess stock.
“Storage facilities like these are different now,” Edwards said. “They are not just for storing household goods. They actually serve a much broader purpose and are supportive of businesses and the local economy.”
BZA member Daniel Fisher expressed skepticism about allowing such a large storage facility to occupy a space in Franklin Square’s central hub. Citing a letter from the Nassau County Planning Commission, Fisher said that the proposed building would be “out of character with the neighborhood.” When he asked what other buildings in the area stood out as much as the three-story storage facility would, Barry Nelson, an estate planning attorney, speaking on behalf of the developer, cited the St. Catherine of Sienna Church’s three-floor school building and the nearby businesses on New Hyde Park Road — which have apartment spaces above them — as examples.
“I believe it won’t impact the residential character of the neighborhood or the property values of the surrounding homes,” Nelson said.
While Hussain collected about 140 signatures from local residents in favor of the storage facility, the Franklin Square Civic Association gathered more than 300 signatures opposing it. Civic Association President John Randazzo said that the large storage facility would destroy the beauty of Franklin Square’s central commercial area and increase parking problems on Hempstead Turnpike.
As he testified before the board, Jay Martinez, a longtime Franklin Square resident who lives near the development area, described an already congested Hempstead Turnpike that might have its left lane closed during construction of the storage space. Although the proposed development would include a number of new parking spaces, Martinez said that they would only benefit the storage facility’s clients, not the local community.
“That’s a horror story that you’re planting right there in the middle of Franklin Square,” Martinez said.
Franklin Square residents have for a long time asked the Town of Hempstead for more parking spaces and a revitalization project for the area, and the town has included funding in the current year’s budget to explore options, which is why Councilman Bruce Blakeman also expressed his own opposition to the storage facility in a letter addressed to BZA Chairman David Weiss. In the letter, Blakeman said that a study was under way to develop a revitalization plan for the area, and that adding a structure as drastically different as a three-story storage facility would undermine the study, which the town has already paid for.
“A public storage facility will not increase walkability or provide residents with the shopping and dining experience that they would like in, what they deem to be the hub of the community,” Blakeman wrote. “The granting of this application will result in a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars.”
After the hearing, Weiss said that the board members would take everything that has been presented to them into account and come to its decision in the coming weeks after they complete a walkthrough of the site. As residents remained anxious as to what the decision might be, members of the FSCA and the Community League of Garden City South have applied to make the movie theater adjacent to the development site, which Hussain also owns, a Town of Hempstead historic landmark to prevent it from being demolished in the future.
Randazzo said that the groups are now collecting more petitions and personal stories to make their cases for landmark status. He added that the FSCA has collected more than 500 signatures opposing the storage facility. But even if the town were to grant the theater landmark status, it would not spare the building from development, as the status only prevents exterior changes.
Randazzo said that Franklin Square cannot afford to have such a large facility in its main commercial road, which has been hurting in the past decade. “We don’t want it here,” he said. “You’re bringing town real estate and turning Franklin Square into a ghost town.”