By Ian Behnke
The Town of Hempstead Council voted unanimously Sept. 20 to put a six-month moratorium on a set of development projects in the Five Towns, temporarily halting them. The projects included housing units in North Lawrence and Inwood, according to a town release.
The paused developments were scheduled to bring a variety of different housing and commercial buildings, as well as a nearly 20-acre transit-oriented project meant to erect a community within walking distance of the Lawrence and Inwood Long Island Rail Road stations.
Many local residents expressed concern around other projects, including apartments on the site of the Woodmere Club; a large housing building on Pearsall Avenue in Cedarhurst; and an Amazon warehouse on Rockaway Boulevard on the Nassau County-Queens border, but those projects were not up for vote by the board. These developments were gradually approved beginning in 2020, starting with the sale of the Woodmere Club and a building proposal on the site designed by Efrem Gerszberg and Robert Weiss.
The Hempstead Council decided to halt the developments in North Lawrence and Inwood after several meetings with Five Towners. The most notable meeting was one at the Lawrence Yacht & Country Club in August, attended by more than 500 people.
Roughly 250 people attended the Sept. 20 Town Council meeting, the majority of whom were concerned with the Five Towns development projects. When Town Supervisor Donald Clavin Jr. noted the abundance of names signed up to speak on the matter, he asked attendees to raise their hands if they supported the proposed moratorium, and most showed their support, while fewer than 10 attendees indicated they opposed the moratorium. Among the supporters were Nassau County Legislators Howard Kopell, a Republican from Lawrence, and Denise Ford, a Republican from Long Beach.
This disparity in support for the moratorium was reflected in the testimonies of those who spoke at the microphone.
“I would implore anyone sitting on the board,” Isaac Zucker of Woodmere said, “if you have never been in the Five Towns during the morning rush or afternoon rush, which are school arrival and dismissal time – please, we can camp out on the street of your choosing and watch the cars sit.”
He even offered an open invitation to sit on his lawn to observe the traffic, promising coffee and doughnuts for the council members if they visited his home. Zucker wasn’t the only attendee who complained about the traffic congestion that has long plagued the area.
“I had to take my mom to the cardiologist,” Danielle Gill of Lawrence said. “It took me 55 minutes to get from Central Avenue to Rockaway Turnpike.”
The trip spans two miles along Broadway, according to Google Maps. Gill said she would have never been able to reach help if her mother was in an emergency, noting that the new housing would exacerbate the issue.
Judy Bernstein of Lawrence brought up a different concern. She read a detailed description of one of the proposed projects, an apartment building that would bring 313 units to the area, including several multi-family dwellings. She said the design would conflict with a Nassau County report that found the development would not interfere with local school districts.
“Inevitably, the number of students and the cost to the school district was way more than what was estimated,” Jack Bierwirth of Lawrence said. Bierwirth cited his previous experience with local development projects as a retired school superintendent in Nassau County.
Another concern of several residents was the added demand for water that the new developments would bring to the Five Towns. Dr. Allan Stein of Lawrence said water suppliers are asking residents to cut back on water use while citing water-quality issues.
Not everyone said the development would hurt the area. In fact, several saw the potential for the new developments to reduce crime rates in the Five Towns area.
“Almost 1,000 crimes and you have to live there,” said Rabbi Daniel Weinberger of Inwood.
After everyone who wished to speak was heard from, the overwhelming support for a moratorium won out and the board voted it into effect with a unanimous vote. Ultimately, several residents appeared to be passionate because they learned about these projects after they were passed into effect.
“We don’t want to wait to hear about deals you make after the fact,” said Rena Saffra of Cedarhurst, “like the transit-oriented development in North Lawrence and Inwood.”