Friday, March 12, 2010

Eminent Elmont

Ergo, No Argo

Well, Well. What do you know?

The Hempstead Town Board voted unanimously to take back Elmont -- or at least a vital part of the town -- by Eminent Domain. Bravo!

The once charming Argo theater -- now little more than a lowly brownfield, the next showing scheduled to play out somewhere at the intersection of blight and neglect -- to be demolished, a spanking new supermarket to rise in its stead. Hooray!

Kudos to the Town Board -- especially Councilman Ed Ambrosino, who has been a catalyst in the movement to raise Elmont from the ashes. And, we suppose, a big "thank you" to Town Supervisor, Kate Murray (the second in as many weeks. OMG!) for taking the next step in the suburban revitalization process.

Yes, we've heard all of this before, and have even borne witness to the votes of the Town Board, giving the legislative nod to such intended instruments of renewal and growth as blight designations and urban renewal plans, all signifying little or nothing on the great stage that is the gateway to Nassau County.

True, the owners of the rat hole that is the old Argo property, and neighboring properties, bent on keeping Elmont down in the dumps (literally) have sued the Town of Hempstead to stop the "taking" of their properties for a "higher use." [In this instance, the taking of the Argo in favor of a sewage treatment plant would be a "higher use."]

Still, the Town's vote in favor of progress along Hempstead Turnpike, that twenty miles of ugly, its willingness to stand up to those who would stall the renaissance that Elmont so desperately needs, and its commitment, at long last, to give the community what its residents have been clamoring for lo these many decades -- a supermarket -- speaks volumes. [Could finality for the Lighthouse Project be far behind?]

Agreed. We've heard this all before, in Elmont and other communities. And yet, where the Town folk could have stood pat, sitting on hands, heads firmly placed up respective posteriors (a neat trick, perfected to an art form years ago by Town officials in the "Stand Pat, Sit on Hands, Up Yours" Special Taxing District), waiting for the courts, or the likes of a modern-day Godot, to decide Elmont's fate, they did not. Instead, or so it would appear, they are preparing to "take" the bull (by Eminent Domain), rather than to simply dish it out. Huzzah!

With millions in grant money in hand (better use it before Dick Ravitch leverages it into debt), thanks to State Senator Dean Skelos and Assemblyman Tom Alfano, Elmont is poised, like the Phoenix (or was it Scottsdale?) to rise.

Will the demise of the Argo, clearing the way for the rebirth of the Elmont community, now come to pass? Or will best laid plans and Town Board votes fall short -- ala the Courtesy in West Hempstead and Grand Avenue in Baldwin -- leaving but blight and brownfields in the wake?

Time will tell. While caution dictates a "wait and see" here in Elmont, we're hoping to "see" sooner rather than later.
- - -
From Newsday:

Town's renewal plan to uproot Elmont businesses


Over intense objections from property and business owners, the Hempstead Town Board Tuesday adopted an urban renewal plan for Elmont that would uproot 23 businesses and force their landowners to sell to a developer who would build a supermarket.

Supervisor Kate Murray and the six council members voted unanimously to move forward with the redevelopment of the former Argo Movie Theater and adjacent properties in Elmont's business corridor, a stone's throw from Belmont Park racetrack.

Town officials said they will use the power of eminent domain to seize the properties if the four owners and the developer, yet to be named, are unable to reach deals on their own.

At Tuesday's public hearing, all four property owners urged officials to consider an alternate site, raising a host of objections from economic hardship to fairness.

Three of the owners expressed outrage that in a free country, the government could force them to sell their land to a private developer. That only happens, they said, in a Socialist or Communist country.

"It sounds like I am living in China," said Lawrence Liu, one of the property owners.

Edward Ambrosino, the councilman who represents Elmont, said residents and civic leaders met over the years to discuss ways to revitalize the community and concluded there's a need for a full-service supermarket.

The properties at Hempstead Turnpike and Elmont Road, when combined with an adjacent town-owned parking lot, could accommodate a 40,000-square-foot supermarket, Ambrosino said.

"We have an obligation to try to address the needs of our constituents," he said after the meeting. Years ago, Hempstead used eminent domain to acquire properties west of the Argo as part a plan to build affordable homes, Ambrosino said. Today, the site, totaling about 25,000 square feet, remains empty.

Under urban renewal, Hempstead is permitted to use eminent domain to seize properties that the town deems blighted or underutilized, said Eliot Bloom, special counsel hired by the town's Planning Department for the Elmont project.

Two developers, Darcon Construction of Elmont and Mattone Group of Queens, have submitted proposals to build a supermarket, Bloom said.

The planning department expects to recommend one of the developers to the town board in a month or two, Bloom said. The developer would then meet with the landowners to negotiate the sale.

Tess Mittman, who owns the former Argo Movie Theater, and Jay Oberlender, another property owner, are suing the town to stop the sale.

If underutilized property is a yardstick town officials use to seize private land, Oberlender said, then all property owners should be alarmed.

1 comment:

  1. I also think this is the right step, and since both Hempstead and Kate Murray have been the objects of much criticism over issues such as this, they ought to be congratulated for stepping up to the plate in a situation that had to be tough. Don't know if this is happening or not, but it strikes me that some kind of time limit needs to be imposed on the negotiating process with the developers. Also, especially given the controversy attending this situation, it's absolutely critical that there's not even a hint of political favoritism associated with the development process. Here's hoping we're not dissappointed.