Friday, October 19, 2007

Village Trumps Town In Zoning, Redevelopment

If It Can Be Done In Garden City, Why Not Hempstead Town?

We've heard it all before. "It takes a village."

Well, maybe it just takes a township that is both responsive and responsible.

In the heart of the incorporated village of Garden City, a former Texaco station is poised to become a centerpiece of a thriving downtown, with a mix of retail and residential, and even a pedestrian promenade.

No "blight studies." No Condemnation proceedings. No endless hearings before zoning boards, planning boards, or town boards.

Meanwhile, in Elmont, the old Argo movie theater is still the old argo movie theater, and further east, in West Hempstead, the dangerous, crime-ridden Courtesy Hotel -- the hottest spot in Nassau County's 5th Precinct -- still looms over a community, as a former civic association leader put it, "under siege."

If it seems that, in villages, improvements happen and things get done, perhaps it is because they do.

Is it that residents of incorporated areas expect and/or demand more than their neighbors in the unincorporated areas, or could it be that the village trustees, who themselves are residents of the village -- paying its taxes and living in its neighborhoods -- actually care about what happens and what gets done?

True, life in the unincorporated "territories" is often akin to the wild west, where "park on the streets anytime, day or night" (quash street cleaning in favor of packing 'em in to illegal accessory apartments), and "give us your laundromats, storage facilities, and abandoned commercial strips", rides rough shot over any prospect of enforcing codes or revitalizing "downtowns."

Indeed, it is night and day when it comes to incorporated villages and the unicorporated stepchildren of the township. The villages get the best, the most, and have it first, all the while having the lowest town taxes, while the unincorporated, if they're lucky, get whatever may be left over.

Maybe Levittown, where Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray grew up -- and still resides with Mom and Dad -- gets a little more attention than the township's other unincorporated areas. Then again, considering that nobody from the Town -- not even Supervisor Murray -- was paying attention to the un-permitted McMansionization on the Supervisor's own block, maybe not.

The rest of us, west of Levittown, remain mired in a 1950s mentality of provincialism (or is it isolationism?), keeping us as far from the ideals of village life as the idea of democracy is from 21st century Iraq.

Does it help that the village doesn't have to deal with the Town's politically charged and developmentally challenged zoning board/planning board, or a Town Board that only votes one way, staying the course, wherever that course may take us, even if its nowhere? You bet!

The blight. The brownfields. The economic depression of "Main Street." The filth. The ugliness. Did we mention the blight?

Not quite sure if it really does take a village. We can say, with at least a modicum of certainty, that it takes a lot more than the Town of Hempstead is willing -- or able -- to give us.
- - -

The design plan for the corner of Seventh Street and Franklin Avenue, more commonly known as the old Texaco gas station site.

The eyesore at the corner of Seventh Street and Franklin Avenue could turn into a focal point if the property's owner, Domus Green, is granted a zoning amendment to turn the former Texaco gas station site into a mixed-use street level retail residential two-story building designated to support and compliment Garden City's existing downtown area.

According to Kevin Walsh, who is representing Domus Green, the proposal calls for approximately 19,000 square feet of retail and approximately 10,000 square feet of residential - or 12 mostly one-bedroom and studio units. The proposed building would also boast a pedestrian promenade, which Walsh believes will only add character to the area. Domus took title to the site in April 2007 and has since removed the underground fuel storage tanks and cleaned and secured the site.

The property is currently located in a C-2 District, which permits retail or office use but not residential use. That is not to say there is not residential development in the C-2 zone. Directly across the street there are two condominium complexes - 222 Seventh Street and Stewart Franklin Condominiums - that have retail stores on the lower level and four stories of residential units above. "We seek to put a smaller version of those on the west side of Franklin Avenue. I think those buildings work well and I think this would also," Walsh said.

Two weeks ago, Walsh filed a petition with Village Administrator Robert Schoelle seeking the zone change. He included criteria in his request that he believes would protect the village from anyone's efforts to over-intensify the use of their existing properties.

"The zoning is good. This type of use is good for the area," Walsh continued, adding that he believes the mixed-use development is good for two reasons - physically, its aesthetically pleasing and the mix of retail and residential works well.

In its efforts to create a pedestrian link from Seventh Street to Franklin Avenue, Domus Green is setting the building back off Seventh Street by 30 feet from the curb and angling the building. "It's a true pedestrian promenade that would invite people from Seventh Street downtown to Franklin Avenue downtown, something we've never had before," Walsh told trustees.

The plan intends to close off driveways along Seventh Street so instead of stopping at Seventh Street, as many people did, they would actually be invited around the corner to the shops and businesses on Franklin Avenue.

An approximate 30-foot link or promenade to the rear of the building would give residents and shoppers to the area access to the municipal parking lot behind it, something Domus Green thinks are all critical aspects of the design plan.

"Mixing residential and retail is important to a downtown," Walsh said. "The people who live in these buildings supply much of the revenue to those people who operate businesses there."
Some months ago, the Texaco gas station moved further south on Franklin Avenue. Domus Green has already gone before the village's Architectural Design Review Board and is expected to meet with the Garden City Chamber of Commerce this week.

"The property is just sitting. It's in the heart of the downtown. It really needs to go to your planner," Walsh continued. "I'm confident that this is the right plan for this area..."

1 comment:

  1. I live in GC and it's not all roses, but they do a pretty good job all around. I love the village. This development looks great, but I wish it would have been 3 stories. We need more density along Franklin Ave. We'll see. Whatever is better than that dopey gas station.