School District 15 residents jeered and shouted at the Lawrence School Board on Monday as its members voted to accept the bid of a developer that plans to turn Number Six School into a large medical practice, if a public referendum passes.
The motion to accept the $12.5 million bid of Simone Development Companies passed by four yes votes to two no votes, with the majority arguing that it was legally required to accept the highest bid. The sale would also allow the property to return to the tax rolls.
“The board did not sell this building to anyone. What this board has done is empower all of you to decide,” said board president Dr. Asher Mansdorf. “We have a different obligation. If we shirk our responsibility and sell to someone who is not the high bidder, what will likely happen is there will be a lawsuit.”
The Lawrence School Board, made mostly of the same members it has today, voted to shutter the large elementary school on Peninsula Boulevard and Branch Boulevard in Woodmere on March 24, 2009. A bidding period for the 6.3-acre property was opened over a year ago, with offers coming in from JCC of the Greater Five Towns, HALB and Shulamith.
Simone’s bid came out on top, and the company plans to develop the land — operating under 523 Church Avenue Realty LLC — as a multi-specialty medical office for Mount Sinai Hospital. The practice will be similar to the Mayo Clinic, and not have any beds, according to an attorney for Simone, Benjamin Weinstock. The developer will retain and renovate the current school building for the practice and convert all of the fields into parking lots. The Town of Hempstead will have to grant Simone zoning approval.
One of the two board members who voted nay, Uri Kaufman (the other was Abel Feldhamer), argued that the developer’s plan for the land would take away one of the only green spaces left in the Five Towns. He said that if it’s for the public good, the board does not legally have to sell to the highest bidder.
“This is a very sad day for the district. This community needs more open space, not less,” said Kaufman, who said that Shulamith’s bid for the property would have allowed the ball fields to remain. “We made the wrong decision. That part of town will see a change in quality of life.”
Residents who live close to Number Six School worry the developer’s plan will hurt the feeling of their neighborhood and reduce their property values.
“With the flood, our house values are down. Now they’re going to add a hospital,” said Dror Zar. “People are saying they’re going to walk away from their homes.
Dov Herman accused the board of ignoring the will of residents.
“You’re screwing us because you’re afraid of being sued,” he shouted at the board. He later added, “The fight has just begun.”
Another resident, Mark Liebowitz, said that a yeshiva or JCC would ultimately benefit the community more.
A public referendum on whether to allow Simone to build the medical facility will be held on March 20 from noon to 9 p.m. at a to-be-announced polling place. The developer will pay for the cost of the vote.
In 2006, the Number One School on Central Avenue was sold for $29 million to a developer. The apartment building at that site is almost complete. Those funds allowed the district to give back money to taxpayers and to delay the raising of taxes.