At the May 27 Island Trees Board of Education meeting residents who were concerned about the possibility of Home Depot moving into the Nassau Mall asked for the board's support in protesting the proposed development.
The discussion began when one concerned resident asked the board, "I was wondering if the board of education has adopted any policy or attitude toward the proposed occupation of the northeast, northwest corner of Nassau Mall by Home Depot." The school board president Jerry Donahue replied, "We haven't as of yet, we plan to." He went on to say that the board saw all the people along the Memorial Day Parade route carrying signs protesting Home Depot. He added, "I think that the consensus of the board of education is that it is not an appropriate place for it to be. We got copies of the plans and we are going to look into it further but I think the board of education is opposed to this at this time."
Superintendent Richard Segerdahl suggested that the board draft a resolution in opposition of Home Depot to be passed at the next board of education meeting. He said that he believed that the angle that the school needs to approach it from is the idea of the Garden Center that is proposed at the Home Depot. He said "It is a very big problem with the field where all the children play." He pointed out that the Home Depot fence will only be 30 feet away from where the children play. He stressed the fact that there will be pesticides stored at the Garden Center which will be unhealthy for the children playing on those fields. He added "If you think back, not too many months ago, to the fire at Frank's, when we had to evacuate the middle school and that establishment was across Hempstead Turnpike and then the lot. This is much closer and I think it will be a hazard to the children playing on the fields."
One resident concurred with Segerdahl's statement, "There are a lot of kids playing on that ballfield and we really don't want Home Depot in Nassau Mall. The elected officials better think and be serious about this."
Segerdahl stressed the importance of a public stand. He said that the fight will not be very effective if only a few people get involved. He said "The key that we have found is people, so when we hear when the [Town of Hempstead Board of Zoning Appeals] hearing is we must get everyone possible to be down there. That is the only thing that will affect the outcome, I believe."
One of the residents present at the meeting stated that it seemed as though the Nassau Mall and Home Depot were trying to keep this project as clandestine as possible. This belief comes from the fact that they only notified the surrounding homes about the meeting they had earlier this month about Home Depot. "We certainly would have been at the meeting at the mall but nobody let us know it was going on." Representatives from Home Depot stated that the meeting at the mall was just an exploratory meeting for the neighbors whose property directly abuts the Home Depot site and that as the plans got further along they plan to reach out to the larger community.
The Island Trees School Board plans to pass a resolution about their stance on Home Depot moving into the mall at their June 24 meeting. Segerdahl has contacted County Legislator Dennis Dunne, Town Councilwoman Linda Reed, and State Assemblyman Marc Herbst about attending this meeting to hear what the people of the community have to say about this endeavor.
Segerdahl told those present that the board "will do everything we need to, even if it means sending a letter home, like the district newsletter, to 6,000 residents, letting everyone know that we don't want Island Trees being dumped on over here with this Home Depot." He added "We have an obligation, I believe, as a community, to stand up and not allow this to happen but it can't be you folks saying, 'Okay school board, we want you guys to take care of this for us.' We will do as much as we can but we need everybody. That's what's going to impress these people, not just three people going down there. They need to see a lot of people going down and saying we don't want this, go somewhere else."
"I think that it is very imperative that the people who go to the zoning meetings aren't just the people who are directly in proximity to the mall," said Donahue. "Whether you are directly affected or not, whether it is in the future or presently, somehow you are going to be affected by this so it is important that the word gets out and everybody gets notified about these meetings."
Traffic concerns were also a major issue at this meeting. One resident was concerned because the plans seem to indicate that there will be another road put in that will run in front of his house. Home Depot did not have this in the plans that they showed at the May 11 meeting but it seems to be indicated in the plans that were given to the town to be approved. One resident said "I am worried about my kid being run over." Another resident told everyone "There are a lot of school children on Cardinal and Oriole Roads that come here and cross the street and I think that is a major hazard in addition to your objections in the first place." Segerdahl expressed the opinion "I don't think we can come up with one positive thing about it being there. Just think about the traffic on Hempstead Turnpike now and think about all the traffic there will be. Think about the parking now and think about what the parking will be."
One woman wanted to find out about the legalities of the variances that Home Depot are applying for. She said that it seems as though they do not have to go through a lot of the processes that regular homeowners have to. She then suggested "Is it possible, since it seems that a lot of this is going to take place over the summer that there is a need for a task force to look at different aspects of this?"
The lawyer for the district replied "The only thing that I have found, after 30 some odd years of dealing with them, is that the zoning board of appeals understands volumes of people. If you are there when they have the hearing there will be a tremendous amount of pressure on them to go along with the group and the will of the general community. Home Depot has money power but they don't have voting power. The board of appeals is appointed by the town board so you are dealing with your elected officials. You will find they follow the dictates of the people. You have to be there at every meeting."
One woman who has been very involved in this protest told those gathered at the school board meeting "I spoke to the Levittown Property Owners Association. They are willing to help us. In the last 20 years they have lost only one case with the town board of appeals so they have a lot of clout and a lot of say with the town board. They are willing to help us. Their last meeting is June 9 at the Levittown Library." Another member of the community mentioned the fact that the East Meadow Civic Associations were able to gain a lot of ground with Home Depot. Some issues they fought about and won were noise and traffic.
A member of the Levittown Fire Department brought a new concern to residents. He stated "My personal opinion is that bringing Home Depot here will greatly increase the time that it takes for the fire department to get down Hempstead Turnpike." Board member Carl Bonsignore added that it was not just the fire department that would be affected, but 911 and all emergency services. He said "This is a major factor to consider, besides pollution."
Segerdahl suggested that the board use the next meeting as a beginning meeting on this subject and form little task forces. He said "I think that it's got to be a mobilized effort and break down into small groups mobilizing within our own district to not let these things slip by and let the politicians and the zoning board know that we are very serious about this."
The issues that are being focused on presently are safety issues regarding emergency services, traffic problems, pesticides, quality of life, and the problem related to the diesel trucks. While there are many other issues involved these are just a few of the biggest concerns that residents have about Home Depot moving into the Nassau Mall. After the last meeting with the people from the mall and Home Depot, Randy Briskin, the manager of the mall stated that they will make every effort to address the concerns of the citizens. Residents feel that they cannot trust what the people from Nassau Mall say though because they feel that representatives from the mall have lied to them each time a new store moves into the mall.
Residents are hopeful that they have a chance to prevent Home Depot from, in one resident's words "ruining the neighborhood."