Practically all the seats were filled, with some standing in the Nathan L. H. Bennett Pavilion at Hempstead Town Hall as the town board was scheduled to discuss the proposed Urban Renewal Plan (URP) for the area in West Hempstead that includes the controversial Courtesy Hotel.
Before the town board considered the URP, the board held a hearing a proposed zoning change as requested by Trammell Crow Residential, which would purchase the hotel property, demolish the hotel and build a luxury apartment community on the site.
The Trammell Crow plan is the one that is favored by many community leaders, including members of the West Hempstead Civic Association, since many feel it represents the surest and most expedient way to close the hotel. However, the Trammell Crow plan has been met with resistance by some town officials since it is feared that the Trammell Crow proposed apartment complex is too dense for the area and would create an adverse precedent in the town, opening the way for large developments that would threaten a suburban way of life.
Proponents of the Trammell Crow plan, however, argue that the complex isn't too dense for the commercial area that also includes such structures as a storage facility and National Wholesale Liquidators, would create much-needed housing and would expand the tax base to give the community much-needed tax relief. But perhaps the biggest upside to the plan is the elimination of the hotel.
While it has been reported that Trammell Crowe has an agreement to purchase the hotel, in order for the project to move forward, the Town of Hempstead would have to rezone the area from a business district to a residential district.
At Tuesday's hearing many community members voiced their support for Trammell Crowe's plan after the developer's associate Maria Rigopoulos made a presentation on the proposed redevelopment of the Courtesy Hotel site.
The Trammell Crow plan called for a 176-unit complex on the 2.71-acre site that would be built as a condominium complex but the units would be rented for prices ranging from $1,950 to $2,700 per month.
Although Rigopoulos said that density, which for the proposed plan calls for 65 units per acre, is a hot topic, density is not a bad thing if the building is properly designed and Trammell Crow has a wealth of experience is building complexes such as the one planned for West Hempstead.
Although representatives said their proposed building would be four stories high, according to the rendering that was shown at Tuesday's hearing, the building would have parking on the ground floor and four stories of apartment units above the parking for a total of five stories.
Currently, the highest density residential housing in the unincorporated areas of the Town of Hempstead is 45 units per acre of housing for the elderly and handicapped in Inwood.
However, representatives for Trammell Crow and some community members feel the Courtesy Hotel site presents a unique opportunity since it's near the West Hempstead train station and would not impact negatively on the entire town but positively on West Hempstead.
Resident Walter Enjes said he was initially concerned about the density of the Trammell Crow project but said he supports the project because it presents solutions to many problems.
Some community members also feel that if the town board elects to go the route of an urban renewal plan for the area, it may take years to close the Courtesy Hotel and cost the town thousands of dollars in eminent domain proceedings.
"Something needs to be done quickly," said one resident.
Scott Jablow of the Cathedral Gardens Civic Association brought up a rally to close the hotel on Mother's Day during which Town Supervisor Kate Murray promised to have the hotel closed by year's end. Jablow said that now is the opportunity for the supervisor to follow through on her promise.
"The only way you can keep your promise is to stop wasting our time and work with Trammell Crow," Jablow told Murray during the hearing.
West Hempstead School Superintendent John Hogan said that the board of education supports the Trammell Crow project and added that having the Courtesy Hotel, which has been the site of numerous police arrests, in the community could present a safety hazard to the children of the community.
Still, some believe the Trammell Crow proposal could negatively affect other parts of the town. In a letter to Supervisor Murray and the Hempstead Town Board, Robert J. Zafonte, president of the East Meadow Civic Association, stated he is opposed to the Trammell Crow project. "The structure is overwhelming in nature. Just to be clear, height and density are enemies of suburbia. Approving the Trammell Crow proposal would lead to similar proposals to build in our township," he stated in the letter.
However, there are other municipalities that are considering housing units. The Village of Mineola, for instance, is considering a 285-unit condominium complex that is nine stories high for Old Country Road. The reason the village is considering it is because it is proposed for an area that is not expected to impact the residential community and would expand the community's tax base. The Mineola plan includes condominium units that would be purchased by the buyer as opposed to rented.
Some in West Hempstead would argue that the Trammell Crow proposal would have more of a positive impact on the neighborhood than the Courtesy Hotel.
The Hempstead Town Board reserved decisions on whether to rezone the area to residential to accommodate the Trammell Crow project and whether to adopt the urban renewal plan. If the town rejects the rezoning bid by Trammell Crow, that would pave the way for the adoption of the urban renewal plan.