It was an icy winter night in 2005 when the Democratic candidate for 3rd Legislative District, Ali Mirza introduced members of the Elmont Community to Sustainable Long Island (SLI). SLI “is a non-profit organization that promotes economic development, environmental health, and social equity.” As a result of that introduction in the winter of 2005 the Elmont community formed the Elmont Coalition for Economic Development (ECSD), and working with SLI, the community developed a Vision Plan. Since then, ECSD has hosted numerous meetings, press conferences and photo-ops with politicians of both parties. But, as time passes, how is Elmont benefitting from all of the substantial and meaningful early years of planning?
One County legislator points to using the Vision Plan as the foundation for millions of dollars spent on brick sidewalks, curbside benches and antique lighting along Elmont Road north from Linden Blvd. to Dutch Broadway. The Town of Hempstead supervisor directs attention to the triangle formed by the intersections of School Road, Elmont Road and Hempstead Turnpike as foundational to the community Vision Plan.
A funny but thought provoking fight with Boss Tweedy, a new 7/11 on Elmont Road, Taco Bell and Applebees on Hempstead Turnpike, closer collaboration with NYRA including a horse race named for Elmont during Belmont Stakes Weekend are some other claimed victories.
A recent news article, Nashn J. (2011, November 22) Extreme Makeover: Elmont Edition Elmont Franklin Square Herald reports a list of projects (duplicating in part the aforementioned) and adds the long discussed full service supermarket on the south western corner of Elmont Road and Hempstead Turnpike.
The Extreme Makeover article list is familiar to those “in the know” but ends with an ominous and in part factually defective statement about how eminent domain “actually” works by town Spokesperson Mike Deery who says “once the Argo [the building on the south west corner of Elmont Road and Hempstead turnpike] contract is finalized and approved, RD Management will try to purchase the property from its owners in a private transaction.” He continues, “If an agreement can’t be reached, the town will condemn the property and pay its owners the market-value price for it — a requirement of eminent domain law.” Now, these landlords are generally not good neighbors - let’s be clear, they have neglected Elmont for years as is evidenced by the condition of their buildings and by their lack of civic participation unless it directly affects them – like having their building condemned.
Another local paper report, Argueta, M. (2011,November 25) Belmont Casino Plans Remain Dicey Until 2012 Floral Park Dispatch discusses the crown jewel of Elmont redevelopment – Belmont Park Casino. “Not too much will happen just yet,” says Sandra Smith. “Until the Legislature goes back in session in 2012, where they [The Shinnecock Indian Nation] can really start to have communication with the governor and the legislators to see if things can move forward in terms of the Shinnecock Indian Nation getting a compact (agreement),”Smith continued. Sandra Smith is Co-Chair of ECSD.
Elmont residents are disappointed because they understood that the casino project met Governor Cuomo’s Long Island Regional Economic Development Council scoring criteria. Now, they are asking if the Belmont Casino was really ready for scoring or were Elmont residents mislead.
Recent economic development in Elmont looks like brick sidewalks, antique lights, talk and Boss Tweedy on the side. But on the things that matter, the things that really invest in Elmont - well, you be the judge.
The Elmont Coalition for Sustainable Development is still in labor – waiting to give birth to meaningful, job creating, community lifting redevelopment of Hempstead Turnpike Corridor.
The Town of Hempstead, according to Councilman Ed Ambrosino, “needs to burn the existing town [zoning] code” and develop a new one based on the changing needs of Elmont, and other areas within its borders. In spite of this recognition by the councilman the town tinkers around the edges of zoning by making changes that have little practical value but uses it as talking points during election seasons.
The County – well, it put the final nail in the coffin of Belmont Park redevelopment (for now) with its ill conceived dumping of the Nassau Coliseum “idea” on the south Lot of Belmont Park and on any chance the casino had. Why? The Governor laid out clear and open criteria for projects to be considered and the Coliseum idea, dropped in the middle of an election campaign as talking points on jobs for incumbents, did not meet even the barest of requirements for consideration in the governor’s open and clear directive.
The State – First, Craig Johnson after photo ops, press conferences and tepid support of the community’s Vision Plan sells his supported to city Democrats. In exchange for supporting Aqueduct over Belmont, Johnson is sited in an AEG Report on page 160 as a senator who committed to support AEG's bid in order to protect concerns over another senator's role in AEG (refresher).
The community is introduced to the dynamic team of a wealthy investor, the Shinnecock Indian Nation, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Freshman Senator Jack Martins. Together they dispatched local residents and employees to express their full throated support for Belmont as a Casino. The proposal projected 5000 jobs, a railroad station, and soccer fields for kids etc. However, there was no compact (agreement) between the state and the Shinnecock Indian Nation. Along the way, the project is practically decoupled from the greater Community Vision Plan and presented for consideration to the Governor’s Long Island Regional Economic Development Council (LIREDC). Clearly two key points of consideration were not in place? Was this a dry run; a practice exercise? Boss Tweedy got us again?
The LIREDC mission stated that the Council’s goal is to “seek to leverage Long Island’s considerable competitive advantages - its critical mass of a superbly-educated workforce, attractive natural assets, successful high-tech businesses and world-class research centers stocked with Nobel Laureates - to create appealing new employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.” Further, the report focuses on four categories of projects:
- Investments in an Innovation Economy – projects related to science, technology and medicine.
- Investments in Rebuilding Long Island Communities “Smartly” – The Hempstead Village Renaissance includes 3,400 housing units 700,000 sq. ft. of commercial space and The heartland Town Square in Brentwood is essentially a self contained Suburban City.
- Investments in our Natural Assets - An Agri-Park in Caverton and Scallops restoration on the Eastern End of Long Island
- Investments in our Workforce – EngINE and WIN are two public – private projects that aim to boost number of engineering graduates and identifies and educate potential high-skilled workers – including high school students - for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
What went wrong with The Belmont Park Project?
The fact is, the organization charged with overseeing Economic Redevelopment in Elmont (ECSD) became an extension of local and state Republican politics. It shouldn’t be a surprise when at some point in the near future Governor Cuomo is blamed for standing in the way jobs for 5000 in Elmont. The Casino project (as it was presented) never had a chance of surviving the Governors open scoring process for funding. Here is the report, no spin – you must read it!
Whether you are for or against casinos is not at issue. What is pertinent is can ECSD advocate on behalf of and in the best interest of the whole community. The organization, though well intentioned, must be depoliticized and revitalized as originally intended, a grassroots, community and non-partisan body that “promotes economic development, environmental health, and social equity” in Elmont like Sustainable Long Island, the organization that serves as the model for its existence.