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Town Meeting Turns Into A Protest

More than 500 people packed North Hempstead town hall on Thursday evening, July 18 to register their opposition to an application for rezoning and site plan approval by Dejana Industries of a five acre parcel of land on West Shore in Port Washington. Town officials clearly did not expect the huge turnout and scurried to provide additional seating in hallways.

The Dejana Corporation operates a number of companies which provide street sweeping, garbage removal, snow removal and catch basin cleaning. They are currently located at two sites in Manorhaven. The re-location to Shore Road will mean the cleaning and storage of more than 90 vehicles, including garbage trucks on the property.

In what at times was a raucous and somewhat contentious meeting during which Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman attempted to adjourn the proceedings without hearing from the attendees, it was revealed that the town entered into a contract with Dejana for the sale of the property in August 2012. Kaiman explained that this process of signing agreements and then holding public hearings is standard operating procedure. Speakers representing the community accused the town of conducting a secret process, including lack of outreach to local residents who will be most affected by the proposed re-zoning project.

Kathleen Deegan Dickson, an attorney with Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana LLP representing Dejana Industries, was first up at the podium, describing the 56,000 feet storage and truck maintenance facility and 10,000 gallon fuel storage tank proposed for the site. She portrayed Dejana as an environmentally compliant company that is proposing a site plan that is DEA compliant and dedicated to using the latest green technologies. She said that all water runoff will be trapped and cleansed before it flows from the plant and a concrete container will enclose the oil tank so that leakage cannot occur.

Rob Calica, President of the Harborview Homeowners Association, a senior community with more than 260 residents, spoke on behalf of the protestors. He noted that the town board has for decades been visionary in their efforts to rehabilitate the old sand mines and landfill along Shore Road and to cleaning up Manhasset Bay. There are more than 500 residences in the two developments that abut the proposed site. There is also a church housing a school, two golf courses, soccer fields and wetlands adjacent to the site as well as Manhasset Bay across Shore Road.

Calica said that the proposed zoning change is not harmonious with the existing community. “Next to police and fire protection, zoning is the most important tool that a government has with which to regulate the quality of life in its communities and that the town is endangering all the good work of decades that has preceded this application.” The homeowners maintain that this was “a sneak attack on the community to re-zone a parcel of land in order to affect a sale of the property.” Kaiman bristled at allegations that the site plan has been before the town planning board for 18 months without public disclosure.

The public found out about the hearing through a small notice in a local paper. Several people interviewed before and after the meeting said that while the town had complied with its legal obligation in posting the notice, they had violated the spirit of public outreach to residents living close to the site. The law requires the town to notify residents within 200 feet of proposed projects and the closest neighbors, in this case reside at the Amsterdam at Harborside, which is approximately 450 feet away.

Typically when an application for re-zoning based on a spot sale contract is made to a government, the developer is told to reach out to the community to establish a dialogue and then come back to government showing broad community support for the project. Calica maintains this did not happen. In his closing remarks, Calica emphasized that “Tonight we heard one side of environmental impact studies. We need time to study the issues at hand and we urge the board not to rush to action.”

The board members voted to extend the proposed contract until the end of the year in order to avoid taking a vote on the proposal. In a separate vote, they decided to hold the entire matter over to the August 13 meeting during which they will decide a date and venue for the next public hearing on this issue. Kaiman said, “Clearly the meeting needs to be at a site which can accommodate more than 500 people. And we need to allow time for everyone to be heard.”