Written by Katherine M. Trager Friday, 01 October 2010 00:00
On the evening of Sept. 16, a Town of North Hempstead public meeting was held at Westbury’s Park Avenue School as a component of the town’s ongoing plan for the redevelopment and renewal of the New Cassel community.
The purpose of this meeting, which was hosted by Town Councilwoman Viviana Russell, was to present and discuss two specific parts of the Town’s current strategy: the New Cassel Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA) Program and a community Arts Initiatives project for New Cassel.
According to a handout distributed at the meeting, the BOA program can be defined in basic terms as a “community-driven economic development initiative.” The program uses State grants to obtain professional and monetary support in pinpointing and planning for the restoration of currently unoccupied and/or overlooked properties within certain boundaries, as noted in the pamphlet, “that have the potential to be catalysts in the community.” The proposed Brownfield site boundaries include most of the New Cassel area as enclosed within the borders of Brush Hollow Road, Wantagh State Parkway, Main Street and Grand Boulevard.
New York State considers a “Brownfield” to be “vacant, abandoned, or underutilized property with actual or perceived contamination.” Stephen Holley, a vice president at AKRF Environmental, Planning and Engineering Consultants who is working with the town, stressed the “perceived” nature of the contamination. Holley emphasized that the property “doesn’t have to be a contaminated site necessarily. It could be just a property that’s vacant.” These locations might include former gas stations or drycleaners, as well as sites that were previously used for industrial purposes.
The goal of the BOA program is to “look at sites and determine which ones make sense to try and redevelop and what might be a good redevelopment strategy for that site,” Holley said. He also noted that it’s especially important to identify sites that “have the most potential for kick-starting additional redevelopment if they’re redeveloped first.” For privately-owned sites, it is necessary to “work through ownership issues…the town might try and acquire a site or, if you have a site owner that’s interested in redeveloping, access money through the BOA program.”
The vacant school on Grand Street in New Cassel, which is known to contain asbestos, was specifically identified as one of these privately owned sites. Several New Cassel residents at the meeting expressed concerns to Councilwoman Russell about loiterers congregating at this location. A significant portion of the meeting was devoted to addressing their comments. Russell assured residents that there has been a police presence at the site and that the town is working to obtain ownership of the property.
“Unfortunately, it’s a process, because the town does not own that property and we are trying to work with the owner,” Russell said, adding, “We are very close to the end of that process where we are going to go in and clean up the property.”
Holley also linked the residents’ concerns about the school property with the objectives of the BOA program. He invited residents to formulate their own ideas for future uses of that site.
“We’ll take all those ideas, see what the community comes up with, do the studies that we have to do … and see how those things can mesh together to get something to happen constructive and positive on that site and other sites,” he said.
The Nassau County-sponsored Arts Initiative Project, which is a second revitalization program now in progress for New Cassel, will also necessitate community input and involvement. Vanessa Greene, an organizer of Arts Build New Cassel: A Community Cultural Development Program, described her team as believing that “the best kind of community programs are programs that the community actually designs. We are not going to conceive of projects … and impose them on New Cassel. What we would like to do is to partner … in conceptualizing, in designing and actually producing art projects.”
Greene said she is looking forward to working with New Cassel, “Because, along with the physical revitalization … it’s going to be really wonderful to do some cultural documentation, to do some oral histories … to actually produce some art.”
As per the handout distributed at the meeting, some of the goals of Arts Build are “to build community pride and relationships” in New Cassel, “to create educational, employment, and professional development opportunities” for New Cassel residents, and to “encourage and attract new investment, build public and private sector partnerships, and expand New Cassel’s capacity to create jobs and sustain arts and civic activities.” The handout also listed some “Ways to Get Involved” for residents, including attending local forums to offer “recommendations on how best to use the arts to advance the revitalization of New Cassel” or joining the local Arts Build committee for designing and developing arts and cultural programs for the community. Arts Build is also planning to publish an artist directory of individual New Cassel artists of all types “to support the development of the individual artists and to encourage collaborative projects between artists and the community.”