By Megan Naftali
“This is Uniondale” and “Uniondale won’t fail, Uniondale is here to stay” were among the chants at a protest held by the Greater Uniondale Area Action Coalition May 21 in front of Museum Row, across from Mitchel Field and just west of Nassau Coliseum.
GUAAC comprises several Uniondale groups speaking with a unified voice, said Jeannine Maynard, the organization’s co-facilitator, who has lived in the Uniondale School District for 35 years. The group is seeking to ensure that the area surrounding Mitchel Field and to the north of it, which for many years had been erroneously referred to by the U.S. Census Bureau as East Garden City, is recognized and respected by all as part of Uniondale, including Google Maps.
In 2015, the Town of Hempstead passed a resolution, supported by U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat of Garden City, designating the section of Uniondale around Mitchel Field as Uniondale, said Pearl Jacobs, president of the Nostrand Gardens Civic Association and a GUAAC member. The move followed community protests.
The 3-square-mile area includes Museum Row, Nassau Coliseum just to the east, and Nassau Community College and Roosevelt Field Mall to the north, according to Maynard and Newsday’s reporting from 2015. Part of Hofstra also falls in Uniondale, though much of the university lies within the Village of Hempstead.
Despite the 2015 agreement to change the name of the area around Mitchel Field, the Census Bureau did not update its maps until the 2020 census, according to Jacobs, and it is often still referred to as East Garden City on several maps.
In a phone interview after the protest, Maynard said the Census Bureau, without consulting Uniondale community leaders and residents, named East Garden City as a Census Designated Place in the 2000 census to denote the area of Uniondale between Hempstead Turnpike to the south and Old Country Road to the north, which led to a 20-year fight to reverse the decision and have the area re-designated as Uniondale.
The U.S. Postal Service splits Uniondale, an unincorporated hamlet of Hempstead Town, into three main ZIP codes — 11553, 11555 and 11556 — often creating the appearance that the community itself is divided in three. On top of that, there are six other Zip codes, not recognized as Uniondale codes, that cover the area, Maynard said. For example, businesses on Endo Boulevard, between Nassau Community College and Stewart Avenue, just west of the Meadowbrook Parkway, fall into the 11530 Zip code, which is for Garden City. Thus, even though the area lies within Uniondale’s boundaries, it has a Garden City mailing address, sowing confusion, with many believing the street is part of Garden City when it is not.
A street like Endo Boulevard is covered by the Uniondale Fire Department, and taxes are paid to the Uniondale fire, school, water, sewage and library districts, according to Maynard. Children living in military housing on the Nassau Community College campus next door attend Uniondale schools, she noted.
The ZIP codes, Jacobs said, are used at times “to manipulate and take away our identity. We’re here demanding that our name be called Uniondale. Mitchel Field is Uniondale, and everything in our boundaries we are insisting be called Uniondale. We want our identity.”
Maynard said she would like to see four additional digits added to the postal addresses of places like Endo Boulevard that the postal service would recognize as part of Uniondale.
Mitchel Field and its environs has been recognized by New York State as part of Uniondale for close to four decades, according to Maynard, noting that the group has a 1984 state resolution recognizing it as such. “It’s taken generations to roll the issue to a point where we want respect now for our map, for our identity and for the scope of what Uniondale really is,” she said.
Erroneous maps have had dangerous implications for the Uniondale Fire Department in the past, as area residents did not realize they were part of the community and were unsure whom to call in an emergency, and perhaps some current residents still do not know, according to Maynard. Such misunderstandings have, in the past, caused delays in fire communications, she said.
“There are parts of this community that think they’re not in Uniondale,” Maynard said, “but we believe that we are one community and we will protect you, too. We didn’t find it acceptable that those lives should be at risk anymore.” Thus, she said, GUAAC is working to raise awareness of the naming issue.
GUAAC, the Uniondale Fire Department and Rice worked collaboratively to lobby Google to correct its erroneous maps of the community, according to Maynard. “They did straighten out the part of the mapping problem that was our fire communications,” she said.
Mayard said, however, that Google “did not take responsibility for all of its subsidiaries,” the smaller entities providing services for the company, so errors still show up in any number of maps.
Members of the Uniondale Fire Department joined the protest, including Jessica Ellerbe, the department chief. “The men and women of the Uniondale Fire Department protect the Uniondale Fire District and risk their lives every single day to protect this area, and we would appreciate if we had the respect to call it our name, which is Uniondale,” Ellerbe said.
Uniondale High School students also attended the protest. Ensuring that a commercial district like the area around Mitchel Field is on the Uniondale district’s tax rolls can make a big difference in school tax receipts — and hence funding for the schools.
“I care because our school needs the taxes we already have, and we need the money just to stay the way we are, and I appreciate our school the way we are and I don’t want it to change,” said Maximillian Luke, a Uniondale High senior. “Even though I’m leaving this year, I know the money and the school itself will impact the students, and I want it to impact greatly and positively.”
John Skelly, a 57-year Uniondale resident who works with the fire department, said he believes erroneous maps can hurt a community in several ways. “It affects your home value, it affects your home’s tax base, and it affects how you live here,” Skelly said. “It affects your schools.”
Scott Brinton contributed to this story.