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‘Model Blocks’ Presented to Public

Community members voice their views on Residents for a More Beautiful PW program

The auditorium at the library was packed on November 17 with concerned residents and local elected officials eager to hear the details of the proposed Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington (Residents) Model Blocks Program. The proposed project encompasses four blocks from Port Washington Boulevard to Haven Avenue. The goal of the project is to revitalize Main Street.

Dan Donatelli, one of Residents Co-Presidents, stressed that the Model Blocks Program was the natural progression of the “Shared Vision Project” of 2005 when the Town of North Hempstead asked the residents of the Peninsula for their input on the future development of Port Washington. Donatelli said, “The model blocks project is our effort to realize the goals of the visioning process that we all went through several years back. Doing nothing is not an option. If we do nothing Main Street will continue to deteriorate. We already have empty stores, broken sidewalks, and garbage piled on sidewalks. We are starting with only four blocks because it is prudent to move slowly and carefully.” Donatelli outlined the goals for the project. Create a multi-use overlay district. Incentivize building owners to create modern more luxurious living and working spaces. Encourage LIPA to bury the electric and utility wires underground. Make the most of existing parking facilities and add additional spots where possible. Create streetscapes that encourage pedestrian traffic and beautify Main Street. Create a pedestrian plaza at the train station to accommodate performances and markets. Establish architectural guidelines for building facades and setbacks.

Residents hired BFJ Consulting, an international urban planning company, to work with local stakeholders that included many groups and individuals including the Town of North Hempstead, Nassau County, New York State, the Port Washington Chamber of Commerce, the Port Washington Business Improvement District, the Police District, the fire department, the Real Estate Association, the Port Washington League of Women Voters, Amy Hagedorn, Main Street merchant and building owners, along with local mayors, the President of the local Parents Council and, of course, the staff of Residents For A More Beautiful Port Washington, Executive Director Mindy Germain and Director of Development Mariann Dalimonte.

Mindy Germain made the formal presentation assisted by representatives from BFJ. The main point of the presentation was that in order for downtown areas to flourish they must be multi-use, so that people can shop, eat, live, park and walk around clean inviting streets and plazas. Germain pointed out that other local communities such as Glen Cove, Huntington and Northport have revitalized their downtowns and that it is time for Port to move forward.

One of the key elements required to achieve the goals is a change in the zoning laws for Main Street so that building owners are able to reconfigure the space inside their buildings in order to increase revenue. This might mean adding a third or fourth story to a building in order to provide high end and moderate apartments for empty nesters and young professionals. The premise is that if building owners are incentivized with zoning changes that would allow them to maximize revenue they will voluntarily comply with architectural guidelines, and provide pleasant streetscapes in front and at the back of their buildings with places for pedestrians to sit, foliage and awnings.

The presentation was comprised of many slides showing redesigns of the station plaza, building facades and streets with benches and planters creating a cleaner, varied and more inviting streetscape. There were pictures of reconfigured parking areas as well.

Germain closed the presentation by saying, “What we have shown you are tools and plans for an enhanced more walkable Main Street. We have not shown you anything that is pie in the sky but rather a realistic and achievable plan that the public and private sector can achieve over time.” Germain’s appeal echoed Donatelli’s in that she asked attendees to consider all aspects of the proposal and comment on the specifics. “Let us know what you like and don’t like. Our elected officials want to know what you think. They are here to listen,” she said.

During the question and answer period, there were some skeptics in the audience. They questioned how parking would be provided for the residents occupying newly built apartments in the Model Block Zone. They voiced concerns about a “canyon effect” if too many building owners chose to put a fourth story on buildings. Others, like Laura Shabe, a resident of North Maryland Avenue, said this plan had been developed “without talking to the community, the people who live adjacent to the proposed Model Blocks.”

Germain stressed that “this is a process and reaching out to the community for their input is part of the process.” After the meeting, Port News received the following remarks from Germain. “The comment cards we collected (after the meeting) were overwhelmingly positive. We realize that there are issues that need to be further analyzed particularly parking and four stories. We look forward to working with neighbors to the model blocks and other concerned citizens and partners to address these issues. We are thrilled that we received overall support and look forward to working with the community over the next few months with the goal of creating plans the entire community can embrace. There are things you will like and things you won’t like and changes will be made.”

There are copies of the presentation at the Port Washington Library. Questions and comments should be directed to Residents For A More Beautiful Port Washington.