Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Keep Your Friends Close. . .

. . .And Your Potential Political Rivals Closer

Politics as usual masquerading as community development? We'll have to study it, to be sure. . .

In this dirty old heart of the city
Where the sun refused to shine
People tell me, there ain't no use in tryin'

-- The Animals, We've Got To Get Out Of This Place

Its no state secret that, barring a fall from grace or that long overdue regime change at Hempstead Town Hall, the GOP nominee in the next election for Nassau County Executive will be Kate Murray, presently the Supervisor of the Town of Hempstead.

And it would surprise no one, certainly not Tom Suozzi, if the current County Exec decided to recant his declaration that he will not run for a third term, taking on the challenge to his new Nassau, this by someone who, not unlike Greg Peterson before her, would have no problem returning us all to the old Nassau.

So, why is the Nassau County Exec now "partnering" with his likely political nemesis, and handing money over to Hempstead Town for a redevelopment study in Elmont?

Well, its that vision thing -- or should we say, that "visioning" thing.

After all, if what Elmontonians want never comes to pass [as, in all likelihood, will be the case, Town Hall's history and Nassau County's slow but not always steady pace toward revitalization and redevelopment providing substantial guidance], Ms. Murray won't be able to blame Mr. Suozzi for doing nothing, and Mr. Suozzi can stand up and say, "We gave Kate Murray and the Town of Hempstead thousands of dollars to revitalize Elmont, and look what they've done with it. Nothing!"

Not to be a Debbie Downer here, but haven't we been doing that "visioning" in Elmont for years now?

And what, exactly, has that visioning process wrought? More meetings, forums, discussions, studies, surveys, and, uh, visioning, than Carter has little pills.

There's been so much visioning in Elmont of late that many residents and community advocates have been blinded to the fact that, talk of redevelopment aside, absolutely nothing has changed on the street -- save a Victorian-style street lamp, or two.

Mr. Suozzi, for his part, envisions "some sprucing up," and maybe even a supermarket for Elmont. Ya think?

Ms. Murray, true to form, tells us, "...we'd love to see exactly what all our residents want to see along this downtown business corridor."

Hasn't anyone been listening to what the people of Elmont have been saying all these years.

Has no one at Town Hall, or at the County Executive's office, taken a look at the plans, drawings, and artists' renderings shown to Elmont residents by the likes of past Town Supervisors (going back as far as Joe Mondello -- or was it Al D'Amato?), and County Executive Tom Gulotta?

Whatever became of the $1 million in County funds the Town of Hempstead was to receive and use back in February of 2006 as "seed" money to develop "visions" in such places as Baldwin, Roosevelt, Elmont and Inwood?

What has Nassau County's Empire Zone been up to in terms of "downtown" redevelopment?

And whatever happened to the Community Development programs envisioned during the infancy of the Suozzi administration, that "New Suburbia" the County Executive so boldly laid out for us in January, 2005?

Yes, much of that vision -- including the redevlopment of Nassau's "Hub" -- lies in wait before Hempstead Town's Board of Zoning Appeals, but face it, there's plenty of blame, for the foot-dragging and malignant neglect, to lay at the feet of both County and Town.

Not for nothing but... Sustainable Long Island, the facilitators in this visioning process, have been at this game in Elmont for over two years now. Other than talk -- and there's been plenty of it -- there has been little progress -- with the exception of those pavers and the occasional street lamp -- toward actual redevelopment of Elmont's commercial strips, be it along Hempstead Turnpike, or otherwise.

And who, at the Town's behest, gets the nod, along with Sustainable Long Island, to spearhead the Elmont revitalization process? None other than Saccardi & Schiff -- among the most favored of the perennial consultants retained by the Town of Hempstead to "study" and "advise," whose services, some might recall, were engaged in such fundamentally short-changed and short-lived projects as Operation Downtown (it went bust without much of a boom in Nassau)-- which gave our business districts, what else? Victorian-style street lamps, stylized benches, and brick pavers galore.

So, as Mr. Suozzi and Ms. Murray stand shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm, swaying to the spiritual refrains of Kumbaya, many in Elmont, and elsewhere along Nassau County's forgotten South Shore (deep in the heart of America's largest township), recall the County Exec's magical mystery bus tours at the beginning of his first term, and the Town Supervisor's promises of yesteryear to rebuild and revitalize Elmont (as well as other unincorporated areas of the township), and find ourselves singing that old Animals ballad, "We've got to get out of this place..."

And who could blame any of us, this new found will to work together, to rebuild, to develop a "vision" notwithstanding, for being just a wee bit skeptical that all we'll see from the talk are a few more brick pavers, and a dimly lit Victorian-style street lamp, along the walk -- if we're lucky!
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Suozzi, Murray Envision Economic Development for Turnpike Plan to Include Hempstead Turnpike Within Elmont Borders
By Joe Rizza

In a joint press conference held on the southwest corner of Elmont Road and Hempstead Turnpike, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi and Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray announced that $80,000 in county and town grants will pay for a community visioning project for Hempstead Turnpike, from the Franklin Square border to Belmont Park.

The two firms that have been selected for the project are Sustainable Long Island and Saccardi & Schiff, which will target Hempstead Turnpike and, with community input, devise ways to improve the turnpike.

"Elmont is a solid community with good housing and schools," Suozzi said. "It surrounds Belmont Park and sits right on the city line, but it's clear that this community's commercial strip could use some sprucing up and revitalization."

Murray also sees the potential the Elmont community has. "That potential includes a more vibrant commercial district, a more attractive downtown, the development of more skilled job opportunities as well as the promotion and enhancement of sports and entertainment," she said.

Elmont, which is known as the gateway to Nassau County, does have potential as witnessed by the community, which banded together to turn the dilapidated Alva T. Stanforth Junior High School into a state-of-the-art public library complete with a theater.

Co-chair of the Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Long Island Sandra Smith said she is looking forward to working with the county and the town and hearing the voices of the community for the new formulation of Elmont.

"I'm very happy that this is happening," said Joyce Stowe, president of the Elmont Community Coalition Council.

Suozzi said the purpose of the process would be to take all the different ideas from community members and try to build a community consensus around a common vision that makes sense economically and fits in with the quality of life of the community.

While the redevelopment of Hempstead Turnpike may sound like an attractive idea to the residents of Elmont, whether an area that is already densely developed can undergo major changes remains to be seen.

"The key is to take these existing properties and recycle them and re-use them in a way that they're more economically productive where the owners and developers can make more money. We're not opposed to people making money but do so in a way that makes the community better," said Suozzi.

The county said that taking properties by eminent domain is not part of the plan. "You let the private sector know what the community wants and if the community sector's wishes mesh with an economic vision for them, that's when you have a big success. I guarantee a supermarket would love to locate in Elmont. They just don't know where to go," Suozzi said.

Murray said the whole visioning process is to see what the community wants. She mentioned a supermarket. "Beyond that, bottom line we'd love to see exactly what all our residents want to see along this downtown business corridor," she said.

Three community education workshops have been scheduled for the Elmont Memorial Library from 7 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 5, 10 and 18. The firms' visions will be presented to the Elmont community in mid to late October.

Assemblyman Tom Alfano, who was not at the press conference, supports the process of revitalization. "I'm looking forward to hearing what the residents want to see and what their hopes and dreams are about the turnpike and greater community. We need residents to take an active role and share their thoughts on what we need to do. All the stake holders are at the table and now comes the hard part - we have to make it happen," he said.
- - -
What will become of the "vision" for Elmont?

It will be "presented to the Elmont community in mid to late October." Just before Election Day, of course. . .

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