Thursday, December 15, 2005

Elmont Elevating

A Case Study In "Smart Growth" And Suburban Revitalization: Town Meeting Offers Elmont Residents New Ideas/Approach/Vision

More than 80 enthusiastic “stakeholders” wanted to know, “What’s the next step?” in the community visioning process for a better Elmont at the Town Meeting sponsored by Elmont Quality of Life (EQL) Committee November 29th. They were ready to make Elmont better.

Residents, civic and business leaders, and representatives of elected officials listened to and viewed a presentation by Sarah Lansdale, Executive Director of Sustainable Long Island, and Sol Marie Alfonso Jones, SLI's Director of Programs, on the partnership that can be created to work effectively to empower Elmont residents to work for and implement plans for “dream community.”

“Think about Elmont 10-20 years down the road,” challenged Alfonso Jones. “What would your dream community look like? How can we plan for smart growth?”

Last February, Ali Mirza, a local businessman and recent candidate for Nassau County Legislature, had invited Sustainable Long Island (SLI) to a meeting in Elmont, and interest in what they have accomplished in other communities mushroomed and they were invited to other meetings to talk about partnering to help grow economic diversity, environ-mental health and social equity in Elmont.

SLI facilitates by networking and reaching out to communities, encouraging municipal involvement, and utilizing its resources to help vision, develop and implement plans to create better communities. EQL became the contact in Elmont.

A power-point presentation highlighted SLI’s work in Huntington Station, “The Gerard Street Partnership,” showing total community involvement in all stages of visioning, planning and implementation. The stakeholders were engaged at every level, from identifying needs, developing a plan, then going on a walk through of the town to see things from other perspectives.

The process, explained Alfonso Jones, can take 6-12 months to develop a plan to address Elmont’s needs, to work toward making the right decisions for smart growth.

EQL member Sandra Smith summed up the discussions that have been taking place with SLI, saying that the consensus was that Hempstead Turnpike should be the starting point. The results of the survey printed in the Elmont Herald, concurred that cleaning up, beautifying and encouraging business that would enhance the appearance of Hempstead Turnpike were a priority. The audience agreed.

More community members must become involved in the visioning process so that everyone (all residents and businesses are stakeholders) is heard. Once the visioning is complete, the information is synthesized, and professionals will create images for the communitys review. Once the plan is developed, it is unveiled to the community for further input, presented to the Town Board for adoption, and then implemented.

Lorraine Ferrigno asked how effective can a plan be in the unincorporated hamlets of the Town? How can the Town enact zoning laws, for example, that would only impact Elmont?

When a community develops and embraces a plan and brings it to the Town for support, explained Alfonso Jones, and SLI has been able to secure funding for the proposals, the Town Board adopts and supports the plan. It makes a commitment to the people of Elmont.
As a follow-up, Scott Cushing from Assemblyman Alfano’s office asked, “How do you work with individual property owners to ensure that they will cooperate with the effort?”

Mirza noted that if business owners are part of the process they will understand what type of business the community wants. “Businesses want to make a profit, so businesses we want and need will come.”

SLI has already begun reaching out to our elected officials. Representatives of Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s office, Assemblyman Tom Alfano’s office, and Town Councilman Ed Ambrosino’s office, were in the audience.

Elmont resident Steve McManus suggested that since Belmont Race Track is the first thing people see when they enter Elmont, they should also be involved in this renewal process.

The meeting was over at 9:00 PM, but attendees could be heard discussing ideas and sharing thoughts to make Elmont a better place to live, work and play long after the meeting ended.

SLI will continue to reach out to the community for its input. Residents and business owners need to make a special effort to attend the next meeting to become involved. Civics are also encouraged to contact SLI and invite them to speak to their memberships at future meetings.

Reprinted, with permission, from the Elmont Herald. Roy J. Mezzapelle, publisher.
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Residents interested in learning more about the mission and initiatives of Sustainable Long Island can call 516-873-0230 or send an e-mail to The Elmont Quality of Life Committee can be contacted through the Elmont Herald at
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Elmont Elevating, as the project has been gratuitously dubbed by The Community Alliance (there being no place to go but up), represents a crucial next step in revitalizing the landscape of America's oldest suburb.

On the westernmost fringe of Nassau County, Elmont, perhaps more than any other community, has felt the pain and witnessed the devastation of urban sprawl. Its once proud and bustling 'Main Streets' have given way to suburban decline, the bright and shiny yielding to the blight and grimy.

It doesn't take a Master Builder (with history as a guide, we may well be better off without one) to understand that you cannot cure the ills of a community by throwing brick pavers or Victorian lamp posts at 'Main Street.' What is needed is a holistic approach, blending affordable housing, retail stores and recreational spaces, creating the liveable, "walkable" communities that today's visionaries call "smart growth." We call it "common sense."

In New Cassel, located in the Town of North Hempstead, a rebirth of a community long in decline is now underway. 20 years in the making, a willing partnership of community, government, and the private sector has amassed not only some $80 million dollars in "seed" money, but the wherewithal to rethink, redesign and replant the suburban setting. [SEE, A 'New' Day Has Begun.]

Residents of Elmont are psyched. Civic leaders are energized, at the ready to move forward. Private developers, no doubt, will be chomping at the bit to bid on new construction projects. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, prominent in securing funding from Washington for New Cassel's work in progress, has already expressed support for the Elmont project, as have State and County officials. Elmont provides the Town of Hempstead, too often the laggard on the redevelopment front, the canvas upon which it, too, can wield the revitalization brush. In reality, holding all the marbles, so to speak, in terms of zoning and development, the Town must be the first to stir the can of paint, and not the last to touch the palette.

In years past, Hempstead Town officials have been big on mouthing the words of revitalization -- and we've seen the artists' renderings of the 'new' Elmont to prove it -- but way short on putting either real money or purposeful action where that mouth is. Town officials must do more than to tacitly comit to Elmont's rebirth, seeing to it that plans finally move from the drafting board to Hempstead Turnpike and Elmont Road.

For those who do not reside in or about the home of the Belmont Stakes, Elmont offers a glimpse -- not unlike the visions visited upon old Mr. Scrooge -- of what our suburban hometowns are likely to look like and ultimately become should we fail to build -- and rebuild -- sustainable communities. We must heed that vision, and move well beyond it, if our suburban lifestyle is to endure and thrive.

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