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Baxter Estates to Consider Shields Site Abandoned?

Baxter Estates will consider a plan to rescind a 1994 zoning change it gave to Shields Hardware to build a new store because of inactivity on the site at Main and High Streets. The village will hold a hearing early next year to determine the feasibility of invoking an abandonment law that's already on the books, that revokes any zoning changes due to "failure to complete the project within two years of issuance of building permits."

Though the area affected is only an additional 25 feet behind the Main St. plot that was already in the Business Zone, a change in zoning back to residential would effectively prevent Shields from building without drastically altering plans for the new store. Since the old store burned to its shell in 1990, any new construction must comply to NYS Code. That code stipulates a required amount of parking be made available around new construction. It's that extra 25 ft. of residential land between High Street and Shields' previous business-zoned plot that was slated for parking. The land was re-zoned at Shields' request.

Since then, it's been one abortive attempt after another to get the building up, including several building permit expirations and subsequent renewals, re-worked plans, construction delays, and in August of 1996, the collapse of a cellar retaining wall that trapped a worker for almost two hours until he was freed by emergency personnel. Since that collapse, the cellar hole was filled with dirt and activity has basically ground to a halt. The current building permit has expired.

Village officials expressed exasperation with the project at a Dec. 2 meeting of the board of trustees and voted to hold a preliminary hearing Jan. 6 at Village Hall to examine the re-zoning.

Village Attorney John Farrell, Jr. noted that Section 188.1 of the Village Code states: "...the Village Board of Trustees may after public hearing restore the property to its former zoning district...the failure to complete the project within two years after issuance of building permits may be deemed to be an abandonment."

Farrell said he informed Shields of the possible re-zoning in a letter he sent earlier this month. "I suggested in the letter that we re-zone the property to what it was before the zoning change," he said. "I think we can argue that we have an abandonment. We have specific authorization to re-zone back."

Farrell advised the board to "schedule a preliminary hearing in January then you can go through all the environmental studies and determine if you're going to introduce a local law to change the zoning. In the meantime, you can get everything to the Nassau County Planning Commission." Though the property was only recently re-zoned, a negative environmental-impact statement and clearance from the county planning board are required. Village officials noted that the county planning board was not in favor of the 1994 re-zoning but gave its approval nonetheless.

Trustees and residents lamented the sad state to which relations between Shields and the village and the project in general have sunk.

I'm saddened by this whole state of affairs," said Trustee John Weaver. "They're pioneer merchants on Main Street, but I don't understand their position. It's been six, seven, eight years after the fire and we're still looking to get the building rebuilt. I think we need to have a hearing to examine the re-zoning."

One area resident asked about getting the re-zoned property re-graded and the removal of debris that's currently stored there. "The area that was re-zoned used to be a bank (of earth)," she said. "Now it's a hole. Can the bank be rebuilt? And how about the storage of all that junk?"

"To rebuild under the new state code (Shields) had to provide parking," said Mayor Leslie Read. "We re-zoned to allow for that parking."

"What we want to do is see the new building go up," he said, "but right now (they're) stonewalling."

When asked by the Port News to comment, Shields chose not to.

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