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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in LIBN, “Hempstead Dances Around Eyesore Hotel”

Media Source: Long Island Business News

Levin_TomThe Courtesy Hotel has been the bane of the West Hempstead community for more than a decade. But now that the hotel, the site of numerous arrests for prostitution and drugs, is a step closer to oblivion, many residents are opposing the Town of Hempstead’s efforts to replace it.

Specifically, the residents take issue with a town rezoning plan that includes not only the hotel site but part of a nearby retail parking lot.

The town’s favorite “urban renewal plan” does not mention specific development, but does seek to rezone the site to 45 units per acre. All told, it would involve the redevelopment of about 10 acres total, encompassing the Courtesy Hotel’s 2.7 acres, property on the other side of the nearby Long Island Rail Road tracks and about five acres of a parking lot owned by National Wholesale Liquidators across the street.

“We were shocked,” said Robert Kwiatkowski, vice president of real estate for National Wholesale Liquidators. “We found out the day before they were having a hearing. That’s more than half of our parking field.”

Dozens of West Hempstead residents spoke out against the urban renewal plan at a July 11 public hearing, championing instead a year-old proposal to build rental housing on the site of the Courtesy Hotel. This plan, endorsed by local civic groups, was put forth by Trammell Crow Residential, a Texas-based developer already in contract to buy the Courtesy for about $13 million, according to Charles Theofan, West Hempstead’s commissioner of planning and economic development.

TCR plans to demolish the Courtesy and construct 220 rental units on the property.

“The Trammell Crow people did an excellent job of public relations with the community, because [the community has] said ‘we want this,’” Theofan said.

West Hempstead Civic Association President Rosalie Norton acknowledged that Trammell Crow was the only developer to consult with her group and others in the community to glean input and refine its proposal.

“This has the support of the vast majority of the people who understand it,” Norton said. “None of the other three developers who have written to the town or put in a [request for qualifications] ever approached anyone to … discuss it.”

Other developers vying for an opportunity at the West Hempstead site include Breslin Realty, the Benjamin Organization and the Sheldrake Organization. Each proposal varies in scope, but all include housing, some with a mix of retail uses.

The issue is density, and what the area can sustain. Like most contracts that lead to new development, the offer from TCR is contingent on how many units the site can hold.

“Over 2,100 people have written to us and signed letters and petitions urging the town board to accept the Trammell Crow proposal, even with its density,” Norton noted.

But the town’s planning department has recommended zoning that would allow for 45 units per acre, which would reduce the number of units that would fit on the Courtesy site to about 170 – 50 fewer than Trammell Crow wants to build. For the most part, the residential zones in the Town of Hempstead allow 20 units per acre, although Hempstead’s “golden age zones” allow 30 units per acre, according to Theofan.

“The highest density we have is 45 units per acre in just one location, where the Mary’s Manor is in Seaford, which is for handicapped individuals,” the planning commissioner added. “So we’re talking about something way off the scale.”

If the town adopts the urban renewal plan, it will ask the developer to reconfigure its proposal to reflect the 45-units per acre zoning.

The attorney fighting condemnation of the Courtesy, Thomas Levin of Meyer, Suozzi, English and Klein, thinks the town has taken too long. “They’ve been trying to close this place for seven years and they haven’t made any progress, so the civics have totally lost faith in them to do it,” Levin said. “There’s a plan on the table that if the town acted on it would be over by now and the hotel would be closed and demolished.’

“And they’re still sitting on this thing,” Levin said.

According to the attorney, the town also wants to build housing on part of the National Wholesale Liquidators parking lot, most of which is currently used by about 200 cars for commuter parking, made available to residents by the company at no charge.

“They thought it’s a municipal lot, but its not – it’s our lot,” Kwiatkowski said. “And if they went through with their plans, they would have a building that’s 300,000 square feet with no parking, which doesn’t make sense to me.”