Residents seeking answers over Port LIRR expansion

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Port Washington residents said they are concerned over being excluded from talks between the Town of North Hempstead and the Long Island Rail Road over the proposed rail yard expansion. 

Mindy Germain, executive director of Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington, said the group hasn’t been included in the project’s conversations, and that “the organization is just one of the many committed to getting more facts about the project at this point.”

The rail yard expansion, which was proposed in 2013 to add trains and improve express service, is currently in the early planning stages, said an LIRR spokesman, Salvatore Arena.

But, Arena said, the talks between the town and the LIRR are focused on two possible proposals.

The first option would require the LIRR to purchase a section of the South Bayles Avenue lot from the town and extend two tracks. 

The second option would extend one track and install a new track that would extend into the Haven Avenue parking lot. Option one would eliminate 40 parking spots and option two would eliminate 140.

Germain described the project as “one of the biggest” in the recent history of Port Washington, and said she sees no reason why the residents and the resident groups aren’t involved in the conversations.

“If they’re going to be taking away that many parking spots,” Germain said, “they should be including the people they are taking the spots away from. And since we’re not engaged, we’re going to have to continue to push and push and push.” 

“Since the Long Island Rail Road first announced the possible options in May 2013, we launched a dedicated web page, published an informative project brochure, conducted community outreach, issued press releases and participated in community meetings, said an LIRR spokesman, Salvatore Arena. “The LIRR is working closely with the Town of North Hempstead to address all concerns, including parking and station improvements. As the project moves forward and details become available we will share them with the public to seek input before finalizing all  improvement plans at the station site.”

When the original plan was announced, Matt Alevy, a Port Washington resident and daily LIRR rider, organized a petition and gained the support of Town Councilwoman Dina M. De Giorgio, who was running for running for town supervisor at the time.

Alevy said he and De Giorgio attended commuter council meetings to address the problem, but the LIRR representatives  weren’t helpful.

“Both plans — from a commuter and resident perspective — are unacceptable,” Alevy said. “Luckily this project has been delayed this far.”

Alevy said he continues to oppose the plan, and that the LIRR hasn’t involved the community in the discussion.

“Our plan would be to involve everyone,” Alevy said. “We would open the dialogue with the community and figure out a way to accommodate both sides.’’

De Giorgio started a committee that submitted 12 conditions to be considered by the LIRR, Alevy said, including added shuttle bus service, a parking fee increase and a way for the LIRR reimburse the town for the lost spots.

“The town needs to be compensated if the LIRR buys a portion of the land,” Alevy said. “If there was a new parking structure built or other construction done, it’s be expensive, and we hope that an agreement is met that involves the LIRR reimbursing the town.”

Parking permits for the LIRR station cost $30 a month — and, according to Alevy are considerably lower than Manhasset station’s $70 fee.

Alevy said the low parking fee is causing another problem for commuters, too, because it’s being overused and if spots were taken away, it’d be even harder to park.

Alevy said the parking lots are being overused because the fee is only $30 dollars. 

If spots were taking away due to the rail yard’s extension, parking would be even harder, he added.

Port Washington Chamber of Commerce Co-President Mitch Schwartz said the chamber is against the proposed extension. 

If parking is eliminated, the town needs to be compensated, he said.

“I don’t quite see the advantage Port Washington is getting from this,” Schwartz said. “In fact, taking away parking is a big disadvantage. It might also negatively impact local businesses during the construction period.”

By Stephen Romano

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