The process of deciding which potential developments will be submitted to the state as part of the effort to revitalize downtown Baldwin resumed on Sept. 9 via Zoom after a months-long pause because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Local Planning Committee, which comprises community leaders and business owners in Baldwin, joined Town Supervisor Don Clavin and consulting team VHB Engineering on the call to discuss potential projects for the Baldwin Downtown Revitalization Initiative, for which the community received a $10 million grant from the state last year to overhaul the long-struggling downtown.
The group discussed three new transit-oriented and mixed-use projects, which were proposed during the pause.
Most of the projects fall within the Baldwin zoning overlay district, which has a temporary zoning code to encourage developers to build there and revitalize the downtown, which has been blighted by vacant buildings for nearly 20 years.
Baldwin Commons, at 785 Merrick Road, would be an affordable housing development within the overlay zoning district that would stand four stories high and have 33 residential units, Lou Bekofksy, of VHB, explained.
The plans include no commercial or retail space and 33 parking spots. The total cost of the project would be about $12.8 million, and about $850,000 of the DRI funds has been requested. The Local Planning Committee has about $9.7 million of DRI funds to work with.
The sponsor for Baldwin Commons is Conifer Realty LLC, which Bekofsky said has previously done work on Long Island and is likely to complete the project.
“This would be one of those opportunities where you’d be able to get something from a developer who has a proven track record that could build something really nice for that area, and have that southern bookend of the DRI zone,” Bekofsky said.
The developer would need variances on the number of units, he added. And the project would have other funding sources.
Another new proposal is a project called The Grand, at 795 Merrick Road. It would be a mixed-use development, including retail space and 50 residential units. It would stand five stories high, but would not include any parking spaces.
The sponsor is 795 Merrick Road Realty LLC, and the total cost of the project would be about $2.7 million, with $540,000 of the DRI funds requested. Bekofsky said the site is in a prominent corner in the urban renewal area of Baldwin, and the developer would need to seek significant approvals, including for floor area ratio, density and height.
“This project has a lot of hurdles to overcome,” said Darien Ward, president of the Baldwin Civic Association. “In the past, with the DRI, with this many variances required, has this, in prior situations, moved forward?”
Bekofsky said that each project and municipality is different, but agreed that the project presents significant hurdles, adding that providing no parking could be difficult to get approved.
Clavin, who serves as the LPC co-chair, and Bekofsky pointed out, however, that there is a Town of Hempstead parking lot behind the site. Clavin suggested reviewing use of the lot to “see if it can create real growth in that region.”
“It’s really important if we want to see real growth along Grand Avenue from the southern tier all the way up to the train,” he said.
Additionally, Milburn Plaza, at 24 Sunrise Highway, which has been referred to as the Breslin Realty site over the past few months, has been submitted as a potential project. The mixed-use development, which would include retail space and 200 residential units, would replace the auto storage lot at Sunrise Highway and Grand Avenue that neighbors have said is an eyesore that depresses property values for nearby buildings.
The building would be five stories high and include 150 parking spaces. The total cost of the project is an estimated $70 million, and $2 million is requested of the DRI funds.
Bekofsky asked LPC members to consider the location of the site, because it sits at the heart of the intersection, within walking distance to the train station.
“It’s one of those things that could potentially catalyze other development, given the location of the site from a planning perspective, and from a walkability perspective,” he said, adding that variances would be requested for floor area ratio and density.
Dr. Shari Camhi, superintendent of Baldwin schools, asked about the number of bedrooms in each unit, which could affect the number of children attending local schools — more bedrooms per unit could increase the student population. Bekofksy said he did not yet have that level of detail, but there was a study done to establish a threshold of development that can occur without having significant impacts on the community.
Clavin asked if the developer indicated whether it would seek a tax break from the Industrial Development Agency, and Bekofsky said he had not had that conversation yet.
“I shouldn’t make assumptions, but I would assume that if there’s a benefit available, that it would be applied for by a majority of the development community,” Bekofksy said.
“There’s potentially a [payment in lieu of taxes agreement] that’s available that we’re discussing,” David Orwasher, chief development officer for Breslin Realty, said at a Baldwin Chamber of Commerce meeting in March.
Representatives of the chamber have advocated for the Breslin Realty project, and in July launched a petition in support of it, which has since garnered more than 350 signatures. Chamber officials have said the organization is pro-development and pro-business and encourages development in Baldwin.
At press time Monday, a community meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, and the next LPC meeting is set for Oct. 14. The LPC, at the October meeting, will vote on the priority projects to be presented to the state for approval. The final DRI strategic investment plan is due to the state by Oct. 30.