Hundreds of Floral Park residents filled Village Hall Thursday night, and many flooded over into another room, to voice their concerns before three public hearings on the redevelopment of Belmont Park.
The gathering, deemed a “strategy meeting” by literature from the Belmont Task Force and several speakers, gave a platform to prominent village figures and residents alike to speak on the potential erection of an arena, hotel and retail space at Belmont.
“We are concerned about what is proposed and how it is going to affect the community,” Mayor Dominick Longobardi said. “The project has simply grown too big.”
Longobardi said that he was not opposed to the development of Belmont Park, but rather the project’s size.
Empire State Development, the state’s development agency, will host three hearings on Jan. 8, 9 and 10 at Elmont Memorial Library for members of the public to voice opinions about the project.
Deputy Mayor and Belmont liaison Kevin Fitzgerald said that when the project was initially announced over a year ago, the village had serious concerns. The project’s scope has gradually grown over time, Fitzgerald added.
“Little by little, different pieces are added to it and at the end of the day it becomes a very big project that the original project is almost unrecognizable,” Fitzgerald said.
The draft environmental impact study was approved by the Empire State Development board in December, and Fitzgerald attended that meeting. In the time allotted for public comment, he asked that members of the board attend meetings like Thursday night’s and the public hearings, so that they could “feel the passion and the sincerity of our residents when they speak about the concerns we all have.”
The board and representatives were not invited to attend the meeting Thursday, according to a development agency spokesperson.
“ESD has conducted a robust community engagement effort to ensure that local residents’ voices are heard,” agency spokesman Jack Sterne said. “We look forward to continuing the conversation at our public hearings on January 8th, 9th, and 10th and working with community members to ensure this transformative project is successful.”
West End Civic Association President Marc Mullen brought up concerns over noise pollution, congestion and parking that the redevelopment would bring. The west end of the village is a direct neighbor to Belmont, and would experience significant issues with noise from tailgating and events, Mullen said.
A noise-reducing wall or wall of shrubbery was brought up by Mullen, as well as potentially gating the community, once considered just a joke, to combat the possibility that event attendees will forego expensive arena parking for parking in the surrounding communities, Mullen said.
The addition of tens of thousands of cars per month traveling through the village will significantly affect the work of the village’s Police Department, Police Commissioner Stephen McAllister said.
“It is not anticipated that the project generated traffic volumes will unduly influence the rate of accident occurrence,” McAllister read from the environmental impact statement, evoking laughs from the crowd. “We all know how we drive. Is there a chance for accidents with 36,000 more cars per month?”
“It’s just ridiculous,” McAllister said.
The increase in volume will potentially slow the 34-member department’s response times and bisect the village down Plainfield Avenue, McAllister added.
“We haven’t lost yet,” resident Joseph Alfonsi said. “We have to take this very seriously.”
“It’s going to be so eye-opening for us here,” Alfonsi said of the potential impacts of added cars traveling through the village.
Pre-written letters addressing project issues from the draft environmental impact study to Empire State Development and copied to state Sen. Anna Kaplan, Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, Assemblyman Ed Ra and Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen were part of a packet handed out by the Belmont Task Force upon entry to the meeting.
“As a resident of the Incorporated Village of Floral Park, I find it distressing to learn that the Belmont Park Redevelopment Civic and Land Use Improvement Project has grown in scale and scope since it was originally proposed,” the letter reads.
Fitzgerald told residents that those who sign the letters could bring them to Village Hall and the board will mail them, and he encouraged them to write their own. The packet also included contact information for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and elected officials representing Nassau County and the towns of Hempstead and North Hempstead.
Fitzgerald also told residents that even if they do not have specific comments on the environmental impact statement or project, to speak up at the hearings that they think the project is too big.
The three public hearings will be held at the Elmont library on Jan. 8 from 6 to 9 p.m., Jan. 9 from 4 to 6 p.m. and Jan. 10 from 6 to 9 p.m. Written comments can be submitted until Feb. 11. Copies of the environmental impact statement are available for public review at the library, as well as Floral Park Public Library and Queens libraries in Bellerose, Queens Village and Cambria Heights.