An artist's rendering of the proposed Bradley Hotel, which would be located on Main Street across from the Town Dock. The proposed hotel would have 46 guest rooms and meeting space for up to 120 people (down from the original plans).
On the evening of Feb. 19, the agenda for the Town of North Hempstead Board meeting included a public hearing to consider the application for a change of zone from Residence C (R-C) to Business (B-B) on the site of the proposed Bradley Hotel on lower Main Street. The portion of the property in question is an approximately 8,300-square-foot strip at the rear of the lot. The strip abuts a residential community on Jackson and Covert Streets. The re-zoning is a first step in the approval process, which will subsequently require a height variance (as described below) and a site plan review.
A large number of neighborhood residents and others turned out to testify. Because of the level of interest and controversy, the need for more information, and the inclement weather, the board decided to hold the item over until its March 6 meeting. Said Councilman Fred Pollack, "Until we get answers to these keys questions, this board will not approve anything." Pollack later clarified the primary issues where he and the board want more precise information from the developers. They are: (1) On-site parking -details as to how this will be handled; (2) more exact projections for the use of the meeting rooms, including projected usage and the proportion expected to stay in the hotel; and (3) parameters on the use of the lounge.
The overwhelming majority of the residents who spoke were opposed to the plans as currently submitted, and many objected to the idea of any kind of hotel on that site. As was true in the previous meetings [see Port News June 29, 2006], the testimony largely centered on concerns about traffic and parking, as well as a change in the character of the neighborhood. One or two objected to the fact that their view of the waterfront would be blocked. The property is currently zoned for a three-story building. If the current plans prevail, the only height variance required would be for the gazebo and the elevator bulkhead; the hotel itself conforms to the three-story use. A group of residents has formed a committee to oppose the hotel, called Preserve Our Waterfront. The attorney for the group and their traffic consultant reiterated the basis for the opposition, citing their own facts and figures, which differed from those of the developers.
The developers once again argued the benefits of the proposed hotel, namely, a boost to the local economy, more business for local retail stores and restaurants, increased tax revenues, job opportunities, and an amenity that local residents can use for their events. They acknowledged the serious traffic problems on Main Street and Shore Road, but denied that the hotel would have a major impact on traffic. They argue that a hotel would have less impact than other possible uses, and reiterated their willingness to work with the town to alleviate some of these problems.
A number of Port Washington's major groups weighed in on the subject. Roy Smitheimer, president of the Greater Port Washington Business Improvement District (BID) testified on behalf of that organization, which supports the proposal. He said, in part, "We must re-connect with our waterfront." He said that a hotel was the "key missing ingredient" in the plan to fully develop our waterfront. Smitheimer added, "Nearly all those communities that are considered to have successful downtowns have a hotel either on the waterfront or in their central business district." He went on to point out that 100 years ago Port Washington was home to at least seven hotels, one of which was the old Bradley Hotel, located several hundred feet to the east of the proposed new Bradley.
Richard Strautman, co-president of the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, also spoke on behalf of local business' support of the proposed plans. He said, "At our board meeting this morning, our directors voted 85 percent in favor." Strautman read into the record the board's resolution, which said, in part, "The chamber of commerce sees significant benefits to the whole town of a local boutique hotel in the lower Main Street area." The benefits cited include: "increased business for local enterprises, economic development for lower Main Street, a convenient amenity for locals and their guests, an attractive streetscape, job opportunities, and increased tax revenues." The chamber opined that the benefits outweigh the traffic impact, which they believe would be less than traffic that would be generated by other possible uses of the site.
Curt Trinko, chairman of Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington (RFMBPW), stated, "The board agrees with the concept of a hotel, but wants a comprehensive approach to planning." Trinko said that they are opposed to what he called "spot zoning." RFMBPW has previously gone on record as being in favor of a hotel in concept, but has expressed some concerns about this particular plan. Myron Blumenfeld, chairman emeritus of RFMBPW is an active member of the Preserve our Waterfront group, and has spoken out publicly against the hotel. Jennifer Wilson Pines, another board member, testified about environmental concerns.
The General Council of Homeowner Associations of Port Washington had previously taken a position in favor of the hotel. Jim Ansel, president, said, "We are of the opinion that the proposed Bradley Hotel will add needed vitality to both Main Street and greater Port Washington."
The plans for the hotel, which would be located on a now vacant site on lower Main Street between Jackson and Covert, call for 46 guest rooms and meeting space that will hold up to 120 persons if the two rooms are combined. There will be a lounge area with a small bar. In response to some residents' concerns about this area, the developers said that the lounge area is intended only for the use of hotel guests. There will be no restaurant, so events that include food would need to be catered. The developers currently are planning for an underground parking lot and valet parking. The hotel would be operated by Wingate Hotels, who own and operate (among many others) the Garden City Wingate.
Joe D'Alonzo, who, like the other developers is a longtime Port Washington resident, said that the rezoning is needed for a small part of the building, some of the parking, and a buffer zone between the commercial and residential properties. (Editor's note: The TONH requires at least 15 feet of buffer landscaping on any commercial site that abuts residential properties.) D'Alonzo said of the approval process, "We are cautiously optimistic."
In a subsequent interview with Councilman Fred Pollack, he said, "I still have an open mind on the subject. There is no question that it will generate some additional traffic, and no question that it would have many benefits to Port Washington. The question is: do the benefits outweigh the problems?" He added, "Does Port Washington need a hotel? Absolutely. But is this plan in the public interest?" Pollack said that the TONH has hired its own independent traffic engineer to study the actual impact that such a hotel would have. The results of that study, he said, will be a major determining factor in his and the board's decision on the matter.
Pollack encouraged anyone who was not able to speak at the February meeting to come to the March 6 hearing at Town Hall. He added that a decision was not likely to be made at the March 6 meeting, because the board does not anticipate that the results of the traffic study will be available at that time. Once the results of the study are in and analyzed, Pollack predicted that a town board decision would follow quickly. "There is no point in delaying this any further once all the facts are in," he said.