Written by Pat Grace Friday, 04 September 2009 00:00
Monday evening, Aug. 31, Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Councilwoman Maria Christina Poons faced an angry crowd. At stake was the purchase of the home at 51 Andrew Street by the town to add 10 parking spaces and increase available office space for town employees. The property is adjacent to the existing parking lot behind town hall and the town has already made a bid of $625,000 and that alone, on many levels, angered those present, the majority of whom were neighbors on Andrew Street and members of civic organizations assembled to offer support.
Neighbors claimed a family had been bidding on the home offered at about $600,000 and the town outbid them, removing the property from the tax rolls. Homes in Manhasset are generally over a million dollars and Andrew Street represents an area of affordable housing and fear was expressed the neighborhood could disappear piecemeal as the town seems to be operating without a master plan, in the current case, buying quickly simply because a home adjacent to town hall has been offered for sale. These are tough economic times they argued, and if the public sector shrinks, government should shrink too. And they were not buying Kaiman’s argument of urgency. “Where’s the fire?” one yelled. Kaiman said the town needed to act quickly to purchase the property and with prices depressed now was the proper time to act. Also, he noted, the house was empty and no one was being displaced. The purchase would be financed by a town-wide bond, with the cost born over 30 years, just, according to Kaiman, “a few pennies a year for the average taxpayer.” And, he added, the proposal must go before the town board. “When” someone asked, “was the last time the board opposed you?”
The crowd hammered away at the fact that no cost-effective study had been prepared, that “urgency” ruled. Kaiman was reminded of the traffic and parking study the town prepared three years ago during the visioning process, a study that concluded 1,200 off street parking spaces were available between Northern Blvd. and the end of the business district—although many agreed the study was flawed. Still, those present wanted the town to think outside the box. With so many storefronts empty, they suggested, rent that space for town employees. What about negotiating with Macy’s, Christ Church, Valley Pond Park, or the Highway Department on Shore Road for additional parking—$625,000 plus renovation costs, plus damage to a neighborhood was too high a price to gain 10 parking spaces and additional office space they argued.
Also, there is a cottage industry of renting parking spaces to out of town commuters and the town provides little enforcement. Why can’t the town rent 10 spaces from a business or individual, it was asked, for it would certainly be cheaper. Kaiman countered saying the square footage of the house must also be considered. “Have you walked through the house?” a neighbor asked, “because it needs a lot of work.” Kaiman hadn’t and was told it would require another couple hundred thousand dollars for renovation.
The supervisor was asked if he could guarantee that the house would never be torn down. He’d never do it he said, but down the road he could not guarantee it. Even if a covenant or restriction was in place the town could legally undo the restriction. However, Kaiman said, he could guarantee that landscaping would be done to soften the commercial aspect, and that the parking spaces would be built on the side of the house facing town hall. The crowd would have none of it. “You don’t handle the existing parking lot well,” he was told and an angry neighbor cited trucks, mulch, vermin and asked why they should believe the new parking lot would be treated any differently.
It was pointed out to Kaiman that if an individual wanted to purchase the home and change the zoning to commercial, he would have to appear before the board with numbers, architects, etc. “You are spending our money and are not prepared to argue your point,” a resident growled, citing no research had been undertaken and angry that Kaiman repeatedly acknowledged he wanted to buy the house and saw a need to act quickly.
One gentleman took the floor, announced himself a Democrat, and said Kaiman had run for office saying he’d provide transparency, but there was no transparency here, on the contrary, he termed his handling of the issue as “sneaky.” The reference was to an agenda item on the Town of North Hempstead Board Meeting scheduled on Aug. 4 that related to the town’s possible interest in a property for additional parking for the town hall parking lot. The item was listed on the agenda as follows:
“30. A resolution authorizing the retention of special counsel. Synopsis: this resolution will authorize consultation and legal representation relative to the Town’s acquisition of real property located in Manhasset, New York.”
Neighbors were alerted by a member of a civic organization that the property was in fact 51 Andrew Street and they were able to attend the meeting.
When asked for her position on the issue Councilwoman Poons said residents should concentrate on the need for 10 parking spots and forget about the house. People come to see her, she said, and arrive late because they cannot find a place to park. When she claimed to have spoken to neighbors who were not upset about the town’s purchase of the house several shouted, “Who? Every neighbor is here, they said.” Poons identified one elderly individual who stood and said she had not understood the transaction and had since changed her mind. Following the meeting Poons said three or four neighbors called her and she informed them that the house would not be torn down. They had thought, she said, the whole lot would become a parking lot, and they were pleased when she informed them the house would remain. But, of course, Supervisor Kaiman had informed the crowd that down the road there was no guarantee the house would remain.
The neighborhood is anticipating the next meeting at town hall because they fear it is window dressing and the purchase of the house is inevitable. However, Kaiman said he will investigate other alternatives, no doubt town hall’s neighbors will too.
(Editors Note: Please refer to Mr. Riggin’s Letter to the Editor)