Jerry Kremer

Let’s focus more on Long Island’s downtowns


Long Island is a geographic wonder. Technically, it stretches from Montauk Point into Brooklyn, but Nassau and Suffolk counties are the key parts of the island. In those two counties there are over 100 villages and 11 towns. While all of these jurisdictions are supported by property taxes, they have many needs that their residents cannot afford to pay for. One of the biggest headaches for these aging communities is downtown blight, which hurts existing businesses and chases away new ones.
New York state has been extremely generous with the assistance it provides to all levels of government, and thanks to some progressive thinking, the state created the Downtown Revitalization Initiative. This year the state will provide roughly $400 million to help local governments deal with empty storefronts and abandoned properties. Under this program, communities compete for $10 million grants to help transform downtown neighborhoods into vibrant centers of activity.
There has been fierce competition for these funds, because many of our villages and towns have targeted areas where that money could create a whole new economic magnet. To date, municipalities including Amityville, Central Islip, Hicksville, Riverhead and Westbury have won state grants. The local leadership in those areas, with community input, will use the funds to create attractive businesses, apartments, office space and parking near Long Island Rail Road stations.
Baldwin and the Inwood-North Lawrence station area have won these grants, and have enlisted local input to make sure that the money is used properly. In both instances, the Town of Hempstead has approved zoning changes to pave the way for these communities to qualify for the grants. The Inwood-North Lawrence designated area received that zoning approval in May 2019. The Baldwin site has garnered the support of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and other business leaders, and a local developer has unveiled plans for residential apartments adjacent to the railroad station.
Having spent over 50 years on Long Island, including my service in the State Legislature, I’m very familiar with both communities and their desperate need to eliminate blighted areas. I’ve heard all of the traditional arguments against new projects. Opponents will claim that new apartments will flood the schools with new children even when only one-bedroom apartments are planned. Others will claim that a proposed seven-story residential building in a county with 1.3 million residents will turn the local area into “the Rockaways.”

Whether it’s to appease the objectors or just plain politics, the Town of Hempstead has scheduled a public hearing on April 26 to decide whether to impose a one-year moratorium on the Baldwin and Inwood-North Lawrence projects, which would effectively kill them. Quashing these types of efforts sends two messages to the outside world. It tells young Long Island singles that there is no room for them to remain in Nassau County, and it tells New York state that the Town of Hempstead isn’t interested in these precious grants.
If you can afford two extra gallons of gas, it’s worth traveling to Patchogue, where good leadership has resulted in the creation of a model community. Patchogue is being joined by Amityville, Central Islip, Riverhead, Ronkonkoma, Westbury and Wyandanch, which have qualified for or are using these grants. The Town of Oyster Bay is cooperating with New York state to advance its project in Hicksville, and would gladly take any extra money that the Town of Hempstead turns down.
For the record, I have no connection to either the Baldwin or Inwood-North Lawrence project, and have not spoken to any consultants, lawyers or developers who are involved with them. I have spoken to four business leaders in the two communities who have expressed their frustration and anger over the town’s failure to keep its promises when there is a visible need in their own backyards. There must be some way the town and the interested parties can find a way to make these proposed downtown revitalization projects happen.
Passing a moratorium is a death sentence for any community renaissance at a time when it is so badly needed. I hope that reasoning, and not politics, wins the day.

Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column?