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Possible Snag in Movie Theater Redevelopment

Parking Issue Could Halt Project

Until last week, things appeared to be on track with the Westbury movie theater redevelopment project. In recent months, the board of trustees had granted a special use permit while the zoning board granted the necessary parking variance.

With these steps in place, Westbury commissioned an architectural and engineering firm to commence the design work on a parking deck applicant Lowe Properties had proposed to build over the village’s Madison Street parking lot.

However, now that the initial design work has been completed, village officials claim that Lowe Properties is balking at the projected costs of building the parking structure, putting the project in jeopardy.

“The applicant and village had agreed that Lowe would build a parking deck over the Madison lot, and that the village would commit $1.5 million of federal community development dollars to subsidize the construction,” said Westbury Senior Building Inspector Bill Mello. “However, when we received the cost estimates of nearly $3 million, the developer advised us they will not build the deck at that cost.”  

As a result, the application, which should be under consideration for its final approval at the village planning board, is now on hold.

Mayor Peter Cavallaro said that he and the village have tried to move this long-awaited project along as quickly as possible in hopes that construction could begin in the spring.  “I am disappointed. We thought we were on the verge of getting the project started, and now the applicant has decided not to spend the money needed to build its parking,” said Cavallaro. “The applicant stood to get the benefit of $1.5 million of public funds to assist in the construction, but is not willing to pay the rest of the cost. Lowe understood that that would be its obligation to do so, but I guess they did not think it would be that high, even though their own architect gave them an estimate for almost the same number that we received from our design team.”

The mayor continued, “Without the developer providing a minimum amount of parking that they need, I do not see how the project can move forward.  That was always the village’s approach, and we thought we had a deal.”

Last week, in an effort to do everything possible to find a solution to the parking issue, Cavallaro said that the village asked Nassau County if any additional federal stimulus dollars or other funding available could be considered to keep the project moving. “Obviously, the village will not ask our taxpayers to fund a private development project, but if we can get third-party funding, we will explore that,” said Cavallaro.

Westbury Village Clerk Ted Blach indicated that the village also sent a letter to Lowe Properties last week that “put forth a creative parking alternative, that needs to be further studied, that attempts to get the developer back on track.”  

According to Blach, the new proposal offers, in lieu of requiring the construction of the parking deck, for the village to lease to Lowe spaces in its municipal lots on Madison and Belmont streets for use during the theater’s hours of operation. Blach said that while that proposal is conceptual at this time, the village wants to get an indication from Lowe as to whether or not it would entertain such an idea as a way to move forward.

“The village has really extended itself in every way possible to try to get this project done,” Blach said. “The developer’s variance relieved it of the requirement to provide 348 spaces, but the parking deck was to provide what the village believed to be a number of spaces necessary to make the project work.  The new alternative would replicate what the parking structure would have provided, but Lowe needs to be amenable to revising its plan to pursue that alternative.”

According to Cavallaro, the alternative put forward could work but the village needs to explore it further before making a final decision. “Those lots are underutilized at night, when the theater would be in operation, so they could be used to provide the theater with parking. We would have to somehow make sure that there was still enough parking for our other needs, and for customers of other businesses in the area, but we can probably make it work if we are creative,” said the mayor.

The village is waiting to hear from Lowe’s principal, Cyrus Hakakain, or his attorneys in response to the proposal. The village, said Blach, would have to move on and consider other alternatives if the developer does not respond by March 1.

“We have funding issues that we would be jeopardizing if we do not move quickly after that time, so we need to know what the developer has in mind as soon as possible,” said Blach.

At press time, developer Cyrus Hakakian had not yet responded to The Westbury Times’ request for comment.

The renovation of the theater has long been an issue for village residents, village government, the business community and the property owner. The main issue that has delayed the project has been the lack of on-site parking. The proposed parking deck, or some other means of providing approximately 160 to 170 spaces near the theater, is necessary under the applicant’s own detailed parking and traffic analysis.  The Westbury Village Board of Trustees and Zoning Board relied on the applicant’s analysis (as well as their own data and analysis) to grant the special use permit and parking variance, each of which requires the construction of the parking deck.  

Westbury Village Attorney Dwight Kraemer indicated that if the developer agrees to a new parking plan, then the Memorandum of Agreement to which Lowe and the village are parties would need to be amended, and the various boards would need to reconsider their prior approvals under the new parking arrangement. The village, according to Kraemer, has the ability to move quickly to take the steps necessary to get the project moving again.

Cavallaro said he and the board remain “committed to doing whatever we can reasonably do to facilitate this project becoming a reality.  We cannot, however, approve a plan that will jeopardize our residents or the rest of the business community.” He added, “Mr. Hakakian knows that, and we are hopeful that he and his partners will embrace the alternative that we have put forward as a realistic means of moving the project forward, or for him to come up with another acceptable approach. Mr. Hakakian has been consistent in his willingness to work with us to make this project a reality.  I am still optimistic that this will get done.”