Editorial: Is our community full?

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In August, President Donald Trump came up with a new reason for asylum seekers to not try to enter the United States.

Our country is full,” the president said. “Can’t take you anymore, I’m sorry. Turn around. That’s the way it is.”

A similar can’t-do spirit has entered into the debate over mixed-use developments that combine retail stores and apartments in the Town of North Hempstead.

No, we are not suggesting that the opponents are making arguments fraught with racial overtones as the president has.

In this case, the group most hurt by these arguments is millennials who can’t afford to live in North Hempstead – including many who grew up here.

But the idea that North Hempstead is full or near full is central to the criticism of residents and school districts over developments large and small.

The most recent example is the Village of Roslyn, where a proposal to rezone a property across the street from the Long Island Rail Road station to allow retail stores and three floors of apartments was met by opposition by residents and the Roslyn school district.

The project, proposed by a father and son who live in Roslyn, is precisely what planners say is needed for sustained development in 2019 and beyond – transit-oriented housing and mixed-used developments with retail on the ground floor and apartments above.

The Warner Avenue development would replace a row of deteriorating storefronts.

The combination of retail and apartments, the planners say, provides a built-in customer base for businesses competing with shopping malls and Amazon as well as housing for millennials and empty-nesters who no longer get a thrill shoveling their own walks.

This means more people to shop local stores and more people to pay local taxes.

But residents and school officials greeted the Warner Avenue project with concerns over traffic, safety, parking and an increase in students attending Roslyn schools.

Let’s for a moment set aside those concerns, although it is worth noting that transit-oriented developments near train stations attract people who don’t want to drive. Hence, they don’t add to traffic. At least to the extent that those who live in single-family homes do.

But an increase in students attending schools? For a project that calls for 60 apartments?

This raises several questions.

The Roslyn school district, like most school districts, has for many years handled increases in school population. So exactly why can’t the Roslyn school district deal with an increase now?

And is there actually going to be an increase in the school population?

A Roslyn real estate agent told the village board that based on the rents sought by the developer it would be unlikely that those moving into the proposed building would include school-age children.

And consider the Manhasset school district, which recently cited an increase in student population in objecting to a much larger mixed-use project proposed by Macy’s in Manhasset that would include apartments and hotel. But the student population in Manhasset has declined by 160 in the past five years.

What are the numbers on the Roslyn school district? and for that matter, all the other North Hempstead school districts.

And even if the Roslyn enrollment numbers do not show a decline, it still doesn’t explain why the school district cannot handle more students.

For those who need a reminder two-thirds of everyone’s property taxes go to school districts, which are staffed by many talented. well-paid administrators. Surely, they are capable of dealing with an increase in students – as school districts have done in the past.

If for no other reason than to cover the cost of the well-paid administrators.

Not to make too fine a point, but Roslyn is the school district that took years to uncover an $11.2million  larceny by the then-superintendent and other administrators – now the subject of a movie starring Hugh Jackman – yet had enough money to keep the schools running.

We think the current administration, none of whom we must point out were there at the time of the larceny, can figure out where to locate any extra money needed for new students.

There may be legitimate concerns about traffic, safety and parking. That is the job of Village of Roslyn trustees tp address on the Warner Avenue project.

But bigger questions loom.

The population of millennials in Nassau has declined from 400,000 to 350,000 in recent years – with 40 percent of those living here living with their parents or relatives.

Is this a bad thing?

When recently asked about housing for millennials in North Hempstead, Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth said that when she was young she and her husband lived in Forest Hills, Queens. Questions answered.

But other officials have a different take.

Josh Lafazan, a 25-year-old county legislator who lives in the basement of his mother’s home, begs to differ. He said that to build a vibrant economy of the future Nassau County needs to keep and attract the younger generation.

He like many developers supports zoning changes that permit mixed-used developments like the one proposed for Warner Avenue in Roslyn without the time and expense of government approval.

There are already developers who say they avoid the Town of North Hempstead because of the extra layers of approval to build.

Is that a good thing? Has traffic gotten so bad that we cannot handle any more people?

Some residents may also argue that mixed-use developments will change the suburban feel that attracted them here in the first place.

But that suburban feel – which until now included vibrant local shopping districts – has already changed. And not for the better. Just ask residents of Great Neck where dozens of empty storefronts line once-bustling streets.

So change is unavoidable.

This being suburban Nassau County those changes will most often be made – or not made – by local village governments.

All of which will have to decide if where they live the country is full. We hope not.

 

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