Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Out Of The Shadow Of The Covanta Incinerator?

Or In The Mold Of The Archstone Debacle?
Town of Hempstead Plans "Innovative Housing" At Mitchel Field

Within eyeball view of the white smoke billowing from the cooling tower of the Covanta energy recovery (read as, trash incinerator) plant, and earshot of the Meadowbrook Parkway off Stewart Avenue, the Town of Hempstead is moving forward with a 200-unit housing development -- both rental and for purchase -- to be comprised of single-family homes, townhouses, and apartments.

Included in the mix, according to the Town's press release, will be so-called "workforce" housing units, to be built by AvalonBay of Long Island, developer and manager of high-end apartment communities.

The Hempstead Town Board has already approved the development, which will include approximately 20 acres donated by the County of Nassau and Nassau Community College.

While the project, which seemed to move through the town's burdensome and time-consuming review process with heretofore unseen lightening speed (unlike the stalled Lighthouse, and smaller scale redevelopment plans scattered throughout the town), numerous questions remain.

Will the planned "workforce" housing truly be "affordable?"

Will there be a sense of place, let alone a viable, walkable, sustainable community, in an area that lacks a neighborhood feel, is virtually unwalkable or even accessible other than by motor vehicle?

Will the addition of 200 housing units -- and, presumably, 200 families -- add to the burden of local schools, and further congest roadways already well beyond their load-capacity?

And will history -- the kind that produced the doomed Archstone/Moldstone at Westbury -- be repeated by way of exceptions carved out of the zoning code, shoddy building practices, and lax inspection/oversight by town officials?

Is there reason for hope in the land overshadowed by a soon-to-be expanded waste-management facility? [And what of the health of residents, given the growing Carbon -- and CO2 -- footprint of the Covanta incinerator?]

Of course. Hope springs eternal, even in America's most blighted township.

Still, one has to wonder. Just how did this project move through the approval process so quickly, with nary a public murmur? What accomodations will be made, other than to the developer, for existing residents and newcomers, to assure that the hodge-podge that is Mitchel Field -- with no place to walk, to play, or, for that matter, to pick up a loaf of bread (other than Target) in close proximity -- is neither repeated nor exacerbated?

And if the Town of Hempstead can accomplish what it has so boldly set out on paper and drawing board, why couldn't this much-needed and celebratorily-touted revitalization have found its way to communities like Elmont, Baldwin, and West Hempstead, where residents calmor and beg for affordable housing, Main Street redevelopment, and something as simple as a supermarket?

As one Elmont civic leader put it, "We've been revitalized on paper so many times, the artists can't come up with any new ideas for their drawings!"

We, at The Community Alliance, favor, and have long called for, the creation of sustainable communities on Long Island, pointing out, in this very blog, the successes (which have been too few), and, the failures (which lay just across the road on the north side of the Covanta incinerator).

We applaud the Town's initiative here, and, with finger's crossed, hope for the best. Where past deeds, however, have echoed hollow against bald-faced words, we brace ourselves for the worst.
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From the Town of Hempstead:

Hempstead Town Clears Way For Innovative Homes Development

Seeking to provide increased housing options and recognizing the economic benefits of new construction projects, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray and Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby announced that the town board has approved a zoning application that will clear the way for an innovative homes development adjacent to Nassau Community College in East Garden City. The developer, AvalonBay of Long Island, plans to construct over 200 homes, which will be comprised of both rental and purchase houses. The variety of home choices will be unique, consisting of apartments, town homes and single-family houses.

"My colleagues on the town board and I are looking to provide more housing choices that meet the evolving needs of our residents and reflect their lifestyle priorities," stated Murray. "Additionally, this project will stimulate the economy, creating vital construction jobs during a time when such work has been adversely impacted by a bruising recession."

The town board was thorough in its review of the proposal, ensuring that the proposal would be harmonious with the character of the township. In fact, the plans provide for a pool, a playground and the preservation of historic homes at the site. Matt Whalen, Vice President of AvalonBay Long Island, stated that the Town of Hempstead asked all the right questions and worked with AvalonBay in reaching out to community stakeholders.

The Mitchel Field development includes eight homes designated as part of the Homes for Our Troops program, which will be built and specially adapted for severely wounded veterans. The existing "General's Row" officer houses, which were built and operated since World War II and provided homes for many of the officers in the Navy, will be renovated to their original beautiful stature, assuring that an important part of the town's history is preserved.

"I am proud that this project will honor the history of the service personnel for whom Navy homes were built at this location," stated Murray. "It is fitting that eight of these historic homes will be donated for use by brave veterans who have been injured while serving our nation. I am also pleased that additional Navy homes at this location will be restored with modern conveniences and amenities."

In addition, the development will provide a much-needed mix of housing types, including workforce housing. The development will include three distinct types of housing: single-family homes, 44 town houses and 160 apartments, which will attract singles, young couples and empty nesters. The need for housing that appeals to young professionals and young couples has been documented in numerous studies and the "baby boomer generation" is looking for alternative housing options from their single-family homes.

The approved plan also includes a donation of approximately 20 acres of land to be donated to Nassau Community College and Nassau County. This donation will allow both the county and college the opportunity to enhance their existing offerings to Town of Hempstead and Nassau County residents.

Councilwoman Goosby noted that AvalonBay has the capital needed to begin this development. "Done properly, this development will bring much-needed housing options, jobs, increased tax revenue and numerous other benefits to the residents of Hempstead," stated Goosby.

"Reasonable and balanced development is essential to the continued growth and prosperity of our township," remarked Councilwoman Goosby. "AvalonBay's proposal to bring clustered rental homes, refurbish single-family houses and establish veterans housing at the former Navy property in Garden City clearly complements the character of the local community."

"We're very pleased that AvalonBay and the town have worked together to create a progressive development that will create needed housing, stimulate the economy, honor the rich naval history of this location and help improve the lives of wounded veterans," concluded Murray. "I look forward to the groundbreaking and to a project that will enhance our township."

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