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Town of Hempstead Vows to Fight for Argo Theatre Redevelopment

The Town of Hempstead plans to defend its decision for redevelopment in the Argo Theatre area in Elmont after property owners have filed a lawsuit, claiming the town’s assessment that the property is blighted is not factual.

According to the town, lawyers for the property owners have filed papers in State Supreme Court disputing the designation of the former Argo Theatre location as blighted, among other objections.

A finding that blight existed at this location was included in a report authored by Saccardi & Schiff, development planners, which was adopted by the Hempstead Town Board in 2008. The blight designation is required in order for the town to have the location redeveloped by the private sector. Specifically, the town has been working to have the site improved with a full service supermarket in keeping with the community’s wishes. To that end, the state awarded the town $2.5 million in Restore New York funds for the project.

“Hempstead Town is committed to standing with community leaders and residents, pushing for the complete and successful revitalization of downtown Elmont,” said Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray. “The former Argo Theatre is at the heart of downtown Elmont and it is key to the community’s renewed business district. We believe the location is clearly blighted and we’re going to fight to put the community’s interests first.”

The Argo Theatre area is defined in the blight study as the area located on the south side of Hempstead Turnpike between Elmont Road and properties opposite the intersection of Plainfield Avenue, east of a property containing a county water facility, west of Elmont Road and north of Foster Meadow Lane.

Commercial land uses within the blight study area include retail use. The area includes grocery and delicatessen, hair salon, discount store and furniture store among other uses such as office space used for the Trinity Baptist Church.

The eventual redevelopment of the site includes the town having to take the land via eminent domain and having it turned over to a developer to place a full-scale supermarket at the location, which is desired by many members of the Elmont community.

The Urban Renewal Plan for the Argo Theatre area, which, in addition to the blight study, was prepared by Saccardi & Schiff, states that the plan’s objective is to “redevelop deteriorating and underutilized properties with a commercial use and with accompanying outdoor surface parking designed to meet the shopping needs of the Elmont community.”

The first step was adopting the blight study, which concluded that the area was “underutilized, [in a] strategically located area with one large, almost completely vacant property, a vacant commercial building and some commercial uses which are in some obsolete or outmoded buildings.”

Property owners Tess Mittman and Jay Oberlander believe the area is not blighted and business owners should continue to operate instead of being forced to relocate to make way for a supermarket.

The use of eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development was upheld by United States Supreme Court in the 2005 case Kelo vs. the City of New London. The court found, by a 5-4 decision, that if the proposed project creates new jobs, increases tax revenues and revitalized a depressed or blighted area, the proposed use is considered a public use.

In order to stop the town, the property owners must successfully argue that the 2.91-acre area is not depressed or blighted.