Written by Pat Grace Friday, 02 October 2009 00:00
It began with a puzzling agenda item on the Town of North Hempstead Board Meeting scheduled on Aug. 4 that read as follows:
“30. A resolution authorizing the retention of special counsel. Synopsis: this resolution will authorize consultation and legal representation relative to the Town’s acquisition of real property located in Manhasset, New York.”
Neighbors were alerted that the property in question was 51 Andrew Street, that the town outbid an existing buyer with a contract, and that the town had every intention of purchasing the house for 10 additional parking spaces and additional office space for town employees. And no guarantees could be provided that in the future the house would not be demolished.
Neighborhood residents and supportive citizens turned out in force on Aug. 31 to question the purchase on many levels: the price tag plus necessary renovations; no estimate undertaken of the costs/benefits of the project; the necessity; lack of any research including a review of alternate options; damage to an existing neighborhood; and the sneaky tactics –to name a few.
Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Councilwoman Maria-Christina Poons presided at that heated meeting and to their credit, have listened to their constituents, and will not proceed, at this time, with the purchase of 51 Andrew Street, adjacent to the existing town hall parking lot. Supervisor Kaiman has said, “The town will not be going forward at this time in regard to the property located at 51 Andrew Street. The matter will not be on the calendar at the Tuesday night town board meeting. We understand that the bank will be moving on with an alternative purchaser.”
John Crewe, president, Manhasset Park Civic Association, wrote several letters to the Manhasset Press stating his opposition to the purchase and he, too, congratulated Supervisor Kaiman for being sensitive to the concerns of residents. Crewe stated, “We sincerely appreciate Supervisor Kaiman’s decision not to pursue the purchase of the private home at 51 Andrew Street for town use and for listening to the concerns of area residents. There was an accepted and contracted offer for this home by a family prior to the town’s involvement so I hope this family, or another, will now be able to make this property their home. It is unfortunate we had to adamantly oppose the town on this issue but we are simply looking for town hall to be a good neighbor and for the town board to be good stewards of both the tax dollars from and opinions of the constituents they represent.”
Echoing Crewe’s sentiments, Richard Bentley, president Bayview Civic Association, thanked the supervisor for listening to his constituents and compared the incident to the school board’s failed effort to purchase adjacent property a few years ago. The school board was also criticized for acting without a well thought out master plan. “All the members of Manhasset’s Greater Council are thrilled that Town Hall listened to our collective voices and exercised restraint. While we don’t doubt that the town leadership has more work to do in finding acceptable alternatives to Town Hall’s space and parking needs, we firmly believe there were less costly solutions that do not have such a negative impact on the neighbors surrounding Town Hall. Like the school board’s failed effort to purchase adjacent property a few years ago without a well thought master plan, I believe that government/municipal entities should not be in the business of speculative real estate and should not have knee jerk reaction to purchases simply because a property comes on the market. Such may be acceptable in private business, but in government, these economic times require restraint,” Bently said.
Supervisor Kaiman and Councilwoman Poons were commended by Ann Marie Fruhauf, president, Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations, “for listening to the concerns of the community in re-evaluating their plans to purchase the property. I believe that their decision was the right one when considering all aspects of the issue, particularly the economics of it and the preservation of the residential quality of Andrew Street. However, I think it is also important to note that our community is understanding of the parking and space problems which the supervisor identified as one of the reasons for considering this purchase. Our community stands ready to work with the TNH to try and resolve these issues in a manner that is fiscally responsible and acceptable to the town and the community. We would only ask that we be part of the discussion and not put on the defensive.”
Bill and Terry Riggin live on Andrew Street and “are obviously very happy that the town board reconsidered, that better sense prevailed, and that the voice of the residents and taxpayers was heard. While relieved that the town has decided to not move ahead with the purchase of 51 Andrew Street the process has left us very aware of the power of town government and we feel we will need to keep a watchful eye on the town board agendas in the event something of this nature comes up again. A more transparent process would serve the community better. We are very grateful to the all the Manhasset residents who stood beside us and also very grateful for ‘power of the press.’
Greater Manhasset successfully supported its neighbors by opposing a poorly planned expansion of town government. And the Manhasset community is grateful to town government for listening to its constituents.