By Naeisha Rose
As winter comes halfway to a close, many elected officials are seeing the writing on the walls on a new plan to develop a swath of land in Elmont, New York. While a number of officials suspect the Belmont Park Redevelopment Project will receive approvals on grants for the initiative by Spring, some local leaders like Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) question the practicality of the venture.
Grodenchik has constituents in Queens including; Queens Village, Hollis, Bellerose, Jamaica Estates and Floral Park.
The Belmont Park Redevelopment Project would bring a new stadium for the National Hockey League team the New York Islanders, a shopping center, hotel, office space, restaurant space and a movie theater to 43 acres of land that sits next to the Belmont Park equine racing facility, according to Grodenchik and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
The site will intersect at Hempstead Avenue and the Cross Island Parkway, according to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement from New York State.
The mostly residential community where the project would be implemented sits on the border of Nassau County and Queens is home to approximately 3,500 people of Haitian descent, according to Data USA, which provides neighborhood statistics. However, according to Stringer and Grodenchik, it could also become home to traffic congestion for the Long Island neighborhood and the adjacent areas in Queens if the development is built.
“A project of this magnitude will have far-ranging impacts on these neighborhoods, with the potential to significantly increase congestion,” wrote the elected officials to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in December. “We urge the New York City Department of Transportation to undertake a proactive study of potential impacts and consider appropriate mitigation expeditiously.”
One Elmont resident who is concerned about the project is community activist Mimi Pierre Johnson.
“Yes, I want to see development in the community, but it has to be beneficial to the community,” said Pierre Johnson. “There is talk about the Long Island Railroad [having full-service] but it is not definite that it will be done.”
Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the LIRR stated the MTA is “working with local elected officials and stakeholders to identify feasible solutions.”
“We are continuing to explore all options for full-time service at Belmont Park,” said Donovan. “While funding remains an issue, and the existing infrastructure is not configured to support this without negatively affecting tens of thousands of daily LIRR customers on the Main Line, we maintain our commitment to provide reliable service and dedicated trains for events.”
If approved the development will be near several schools, including the elementary school Gotham Avenue, located at 181 Gotham Avenue, which is less than a mile from Belmont Park.
“What benefits are there going to be for the school district,” said Pierre Johnson. “There are also mom and pop stores that have been there when the economy was good or bad…what happens when you open a bunch of box stores – [the mom and pop stores] are going to go out of business.”
Pierre Johnson is also worried about increased traffic in an area that had at least three car accidents between 2015 to 2018, that she knows of.
“Elmont is in the middle of the Belt Parkway, the Cross Island Parkway and the Southern State Parkway,” said Pierre Johnson. “You have people that are going into Queens, people that live in Elmont, Floral Park and Bellerose…and if you want to avoid the traffic on Elmont Road you have to go to the side streets because of the cemetery.”
There are two cemeteries that are beside each other in Elmont that are 1.3 miles from Belmont Park, the Beth David Cemetery and the Maimonides-Elmont Cemetery.
Outside of traffic congestion, lawmakers like Assemblywoman Michealle Solages (D-Valley Stream) fear that property values and the quality of life for constituents in the suburban Elmont and the Queens neighborhoods outside her district will go down because of their proximity to the stadium.
“This neighborhood is primarily people of Caribbean descent that live here to get away from the city,” said Solages. “We have equity in our homes.”
Home equity is the market value of a homeowner’s property minus what they owe on a mortgage, according to Wells Fargo, a housing lender. Outside factors like a massive development could increase or decrease its value.
In nearby southeast Queens’ neighborhoods like Queens Village, Cambria Heights, and Rosedale, which have a population of 11,514 people of Haitian descent, and to a lesser degree Jamaica, Hollis and St. Albans’ own 5,725 Haitians, this development will have an impact on their day-to-day lives too.
The project also includes a 19,000-seat arena for the 44 to 60 Islanders home games and 145 non-NHL events, 435,000-square-feet will be dedicated to retail space, restaurants, and movie theatre and an additional 30,000-square-feet will be allocated for office space, according to the elected officials. In addition, there will be 5.75 acres of public open space, 10,000-square-feet for community space and innovation space, a 250-room hotel, and more than 7,000 parking spots for this development.
A project of this scope will increase traffic and security issues that could spill out into residential neighborhoods, according to Solages.
For Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), the new Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities & Commissions, he wants to see a project that will serve the residents impacted by the development – specifically minority and women-owned business owners, who he wants to make sure are thought of when decisions about commercial space are being made.
“I believe that we have an economic development planning process for one clear reason: to understand the needs of the community and to subsequently present the best possible plan for the benefit of the public,” said Comrie.
Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) is a bit more optimistic about the plan. He isn’t opposed to the project but believes the stakeholders who live in the area should have a say in the development too.
“I lived here all my life and Belmont Park has been underdeveloped,” said Vanel. “There’s going to be a cost to stuff, but does that mean we don’t have it at all.”
Vanel sees the development as a way to create a net gain of jobs, as opposed to no new jobs at all.
“It’s about responsible development,” said Vanel. “There is an opportunity to get jobs on all different levels.”
“I was born and raised in this area and I have two children as well,” said Solages. “I want to ensure that Belmont Park is growing economically, but in a way, that benefits the community.”
ESDC would need an override of the Town of Hempstead Building Zone Ordinance to facilitate the project, according to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement from the state.