The organizer of the community group opposing a developer’s proposal to build a medical facility at Number Six School warned that there’s no turning back after the March 20 vote.
“In most elections, you have the opportunity to reverse the results. When you give away land, that’s forever,” said Joshua Schein, an organizer of the Community Coalition of the Five Towns. “This is the wrong neighborhood for a medical center. Should we really be turning over our fields and schools to a developer?”
In an event hosted by the Lawrence Association, an audience at the Peninsula Public Library had the opportunity to hear the opposing views of Schein and Benjamin Weinstock, the attorney for Simone Development Companies, whose $12.5 million bid for Number Six School was accepted by the Lawrence Board of Education.
The vote on March 20 will determine whether the land will be sold to Simone, which plans to build a 60-doctor medical facility operated by Mount Sinai at the former school site. As part of the development, the ball fields at the school will be paved over to make way for a 450-car parking lot, the main contention for the Community Coalition along with traffic concerns.
Weinstock, however, argued that the fields would not remain in their current condition no matter who is awarded the property.
“We don’t like change, but it’s impossible for this building to stay the same,” he said. “It will be developed. We think what’s proposed is reasonable.”
Weinstock said that Simone has listened to the comments made at the town hall meeting and has made adjustments to the site plan. To address the biggest complaints about traffic, Simone would add a lane on Peninsula Boulevard so drivers can slow down to enter the parking lot and then easily merge back on the road. The exit will prevent drivers from making a left.
Audience members were skeptical that there would be enough parking considering the amount of staff members (60 doctors and 100 other staff members), but Weinstock said the lot has more than enough spots based on studies conducted at similar facilities to the one proposed.
Simone will also lobby the county to lengthen the time of the left turn light to Branch Boulevard if more than two cars are detected. The developer will pay the expense, Weinstock said.
Additionally, the playground will be larger than originally planned, at 6,000 square feet, and fencing will be put up along Church Avenue and Ibsen Street to discourage people from parking in front of houses.
However, Schein, along with other audience members, argued that the developer is not accountable to anything it has proposed to the community — even Mount Sinai’s involvement — since the details are not in the contract with the school district (attached, obtained by the Community Coalition of the Five Towns through a FOIL request).
Any development at the school site would require variances from the Town of Hempstead. The area is currently only zoned for residential properties.
“There’s nothing we’re saying that won’t be a part of this facility,” Weinstock said. He added that Simone has a lease with Mount Sinai for 20 years at the facility, although it has not been signed yet.
Proponents of the plan point to the creation of jobs and the tax revenue it will create for the school district. The sale of the building will net the district $12 million. Every year after will grant the district about $700,000 in taxes, according to Weinstock.
But Schein said this might not be the case either.
In its contract with the district, the sale of the building to Simone is conditioned on the issuance of tax abatement from the Town of Hempstead. According to New York Real Property Tax 485B, improved commercial property is eligible to pay for half the taxes of assessed value the first year. Taxes increase 5 percent every year after.
Simone will be making PILOTs — payments in lieu of taxes — to make up the difference, Weinstock said.
Polls will be open on March 20 between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.