An Interview with Cindy Grosz and Aaron Meyer

Cindy Grosz: Welcome back to this very special episode of Cindy’s Political Corner. Newsday recently had an editorial about IDAs. These are the most important people making decisions about the environments you live in, and yet no one even knows what an IDA is. Joining us today is an attorney who is one of the founders of the Oceanside Civic Group…Aaron Eitan Meyer, Esquire, thank you for joining Cindy’s Political Corner.

…Somehow when suburbs were developed in the ‘50s and the ‘60s, it was supposed to be a landscape quite different than cities. Now, we are seeing… an abundance of what we’re going to call overdevelopment.

Aaron Eitan Meyer, Esquire: …We live in the suburbs. We live on Long Island. Single family homes, local stores, walking distance—we have all of these things.

The problem that we have is there are plots of land that are now worth more than ever before. There are blind pushes to build larger structures. It is incredibly lucrative for developers to come in and put in a monstrosity and a complex that has nothing to do with the keeping of the neighborhood that it’s in and really no bearing on the local community. That’s being aided and abetted by local governments and by these IDAs.

People say, “You have a housing shortage.” It’s not that simple. In Nassau County, you have disparate kinds of communities and they don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to support these developments…

You have what amounts to municipally permitted checklists. As long as a development can sign off superficially on them, it’s green lit. Cataclysmic money, absurd amounts of money can be funneled into a project by developers that have no relationship to or interest in a community itself other than what can be exploited.

So you have a parcel of land. Let’s say it’s three or four acres and it’s in the middle of the residential neighborhood. Well, right now it’s owned a certain way, and that’s supposed to protect the neighborhood. But suddenly, let’s say you have a developer that comes in and says, ‘I can build a 300 apartment complex’—I’m exaggerating, but only slightly—‘and that’s going to solve everyone’s problems. And the only patch is I need financial assistance to build it.’ That means the profit margin needs to be expanded further.

CG: There was some research done on this. Taxpayers individually are paying upwards of $50 million to make these monster projects. A few developers are taking it all. Not everybody’s allowed to do this. It seems to have people with ties to the local governments directly. A lot of people within local governments have other businesses and they are connected to it in some way.

AM: I would add that it’s not a partisan issue… These are not foolish developers who are going to put all of their money on one side of the aisle or the other.

CG: What is an IDA?

AM: An IDA stands for Industrial Development Agency. It was created in the end of the ‘60s. You would have agencies that are supposed to promote certain kinds of development, industrial, local, economic development. In order to do that, they are able to offer a wide range of tax breaks. The most notable is called a PILOT—Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

These developers are making money hand over fist because they pay a set amount to the IDA and in exchange, they’re not paying the taxes that would ordinarily be paid on this property. These are ridiculous tax breaks. The theory behind the IDA was that they were supposed to be independent and expected to act in the interest of a particular local government and its residents. It’s become a way of padding profit margins irrespective of whether a local community really needs it.

CG: So one of our listeners just wrote in, ‘IDAs are like slush funds used by our local elected officials to give away money and benefits to political donors and do this beneath the radar.’ This is the opinion of a listener. This does not have anything to do with the station. Can you give us your views on this?

AM: There’s a plethora of factual information out there. We had a debacle involved in the Green Acres Mall which got IDA tax breaks and then they were rescinded, and then there’s been a lot of litigation. It included a nine month investigation in 2019 by State Senator Skoufis.

The report said there wasn’t adequate outreach. Residents were not allowed to voice their concerns. These PILOTs should not have happened. The report is damning, and this is only one of many. Has that changed anything? No. These are happening left and right. Right now you’ve got IDAs basically giving away PILOTs in Oceanside, West Hempstead, in the Five Towns.

I live in Oceanside… Let’s say I don’t have half an hour to 45 minutes to travel into the Five Towns. That’s a factor that’s going to affect me. And so that brings us back to this infrastructure problem that we have. The Five Towns is already problematic traffic-wise.

CG: Every single day I follow on social media many Five Towns media people. There are multiple accidents. People are complaining. What used to be a 10-minute drive is now a 45-minute drive. Constant water breaks have to be fixed. School buses cannot be on time. It is impossible.

Small businesses are falling apart because people refuse to go down main streets anymore. What used to be the bread and butter of the community, they cannot survive with this going on…

We now have an Amazon warehouse that is being built without discussions of traffic, without consensus of the local people… I’m hearing some of the Republicans saying, ‘AOC was right.’ To have Republicans agree with AOC on something is kind of amazing.

AM: It’s part and parcel of this same problem. It’s easy to facially meet the minimum requirements while avoiding them. For example, a traffic study is supposed to be done on representative days. That doesn’t happen. You find traffic studies being done the day after New Year’s or in a Jewish area done right around yontif when nobody is going to be driving.

They claim, ‘The study showed there will be no effects.’ It’s form over substance and that’s not how this is supposed to be. That’s why people are so upset, that they’re willing to endorse the views of somebody that otherwise would never, ever happen.

CG: A lot of people think that these IDAs are working to benefit lower income housing in these high tax neighborhoods…I went to a couple of buildings because I was concerned in the neighborhood; these houses and projects are starting at high six figures, a million dollars. They’re not supplying adequate parking lots so people have to park on the streets. So what is the situation with solving this housing problem and being honest with the taxpayer?

AM: Well, I think you hit it with being honest with the taxpayer. We don’t have real openness. We have repetitions of old arguments. ‘We have a housing problem. We need to build.’ Well no, that’s not it. You don’t want to exacerbate the infrastructure problems that a community already has by just throwing in a few more buildings that will loom over the landscape.

Even if you have, let’s say, two lanes of traffic in either direction, that doesn’t mean you can just plop down a 50 or 60 foot high structure and say ‘Well, people are going to car share.’

In the 2019 past transit oriented development and related districts for North Lawrence and Inwood, sections suggest people will be encouraged to share cars and therefore the traffic burden will be less. These are fallacies. Transit-oriented developments are great ideas in theory. ‘We’re going to build these structures near train stations, it’s going to allow people to live here but work in the city.’ Did anything happen in the last couple of years? A pandemic. LIRR ridership during the week is averaging maybe 57 percent of what it used to be.

CG: I know people who refuse to take any public transportation because of the crime issue. It’s not being addressed how bringing all these new people into neighborhoods will affect crime.

AM: The Town of Hempstead had a meeting to rubberstamp one of these CAS zoning changes. Most of these developments don’t meet the requirements. One of the qualifying requirements is a blighted area which includes significant criminal activity.

So, you get some proclamation saying, ‘it’s blighted’ ‘there’s criminal activity.’ Nassau County is still the safest county in New York State and if you’re talking about significant criminal activity, you’re not finding it here, not now. Yet we have all of these complexes going up where that’s supposedly a requirement.

CG: How should [people] approach county offices with their concerns?

AM: Understand there are different levels that are going to be involved. There’s the county level, there’s the town level, and then, if applicable, there’s the incorporated village.

One of the requirements for CAS zoning is the proposed development has to be located along the county or state roadway. So the county has a role to play in this. Generally the town is the one that can make the zoning changes that the developments rely on.

Similarly, the IDAs, because we have many of them, maybe they’re going to Nassau County IDA. In Oceanside, that’s what happened. Maybe they’re going to the Town of Hempstead’s IDA, which is also happening now for other developments. So you need to be able to understand who’s playing what role and not allow each level to pass the buck onto the other…

If you’re a resident, you somehow need to be completely on top of everything that’s going on in your village, town, and county. It’s designed that way, so that people can’t effectively respond to these things.

When the Pearsall Development had the Cedarhurst meeting in August, I was there… I think they were surprised. Because generally speaking, one of two things happens. Either nobody shows up in which case you get a canned speech saying ‘It’s in the interest of the community and nobody came and spoke and therefore we’re going to do it.’

Or, people show up, voice their concerns, and everything is tabled. And then it comes back…surreptitiously. Maybe the notice is sent out on a Friday right before the meeting and people don’t recognize it. Maybe the meeting is scheduled for the day before a holiday. These are all things that happened just this past year.

Or maybe it’s tabled until after an election and the idea is if they wait until local residents have taken their eye off the table, maybe something else came up, maybe there’s a national issue that’s captured attention. Then you get that vote saying ‘There was initial opposition, but clearly it’s been overcome.’ It’s not accurate, but it happens.

CG: There are certain benefits on Long Island—land, school systems, library services, and other things that were different. This is changing the “landscape” of what a suburb should look like. I am hearing this in people.

AM: Let’s say you lived in Brooklyn and you move out here and you say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if I had a building with my doorman and I could walk out from there to the supermarket?’

That’s the mentality that they’re capitalizing on. They’re saying, ‘Move into one of these complexes. We will have almost everything you need.’ And people think ‘I’m getting the benefit of everything that I had, everything that I wanted.’

The reality is different. I’ve lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights. I’ve done the whole walking to the supermarket. You’re not going to do that here. You’re going to drive your car to the supermarket and back.

They’re taking advantage of the fact that people understandably are looking for the best of both worlds, and they think they can have it because again, you’re operating on the basis of perception, not reality.

CG: We’ve been talking so much about traffic, we didn’t even discuss the ability to handle sewage.

AM: That’s a huge part of the infrastructure problem… The plans for these developments say, ‘We can hook up to the sewer line, expand this pipe, and it’s fine.’ Except the system was never supposed to be dealing with this level to begin with.

With storm preparedness, ecological changes that have affected our shorelines, other projects like the offshore wind turbines that are going to be coming soon, you have a system that’s already overburdened that was never designed to deal with any of this. [On development plans] we’re not seeing the whole sewage system.

I’m not sure that there is a master map of the Town of Hempstead sewage system. Several years ago when I was trying to get ahold of one for some storm related issues, the impression that I received was there was none, at least not for Oceanside, which is horrifying. Instead, we’re told ‘We looked at it and the system can handle whatever it is.’

CG: Another listener just wrote in, ‘I recently had a family emergency and we called Hatzalah to take us to the hospital. We almost lost the family member because the traffic was impossible.’

AM: That by itself should be petrifying everybody. How do you get to the hospitals? You’ve got Cedarhurst Avenue, Broadway, maybe West Broadway if you’re up that way. And that’s pretty much it. If you’re going to South Nassau, you’re going to have to take Atlantic Avenue all the way east. That’s going to take you a nice amount of time. Or, you’re going to detour all the way up Peninsula Boulevard? None of these are good options. The ambulance has to reach you and then it’s got to get to the hospital.

Now they’re going to plunk something down on the intersection of Pearsall and Rockaway Turnpike. This should be extremely worrying to anybody who has an older relative, a younger relative, a health concern, or who realizes that if you get into a car crash, you might need an ambulance. The roads are not there.

CG: We recently had a major tragedy of somebody getting hit by a car coming out of shul and it’s not the first time this has happened, but it’s going to happen more and more with more of the cars. Even with traffic lights, it’s still happening. People are speeding and there are more drivers…Years ago there was maybe one or two cars per family. Now it’s more. Even people living in the apartments above the stores have multiple cars. They can’t find places to park.

AM: That underscores part of these problems that are being ignored. This notion people aren’t going to drive their cars—they’re going to share cars, ride bikes. Come on. That’s not what’s happening.

CG: This is going to be the first of several segments. A group is sponsoring these events and notifications so that people get involved, both pro and against…There used to be a time in politics when there were compromises that made everybody kind of happy.

AM: If people live near one of these proposed monstrosities, they need to talk to a lawyer now. Because once the paperwork is in, it is almost impossible to get it overturned. I went to the Nassau County IDA with a list of outright false information that I had been provided and begged it to reconsider the monstrosity over here in Oceanside and I was brushed off.

If you live near one of these things, by all means, reach out to me. I’ll be happy to do what I can. I know a lot of people across Long Island that are fighting this. But you need to do more and you cannot wait. That’s really the most important thing I could tell people.

Aaron Eitan Meyer can be reached at Facebook.com/Meyer4HempsteadTownCouncil or meyer4hempsteadtowncouncil@gmail.com. The Town of Hempstead IDA Exec Director/CEO, Mr. Fred Parola, can be reached at idamail@tohmail.org or 516-489-5000 ext. 3134.

This interview was excerpted from its original form on Cindy’s Political Corner on WSNR AM 620 and WJPR AM 1640.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thank you! This is an excellent primer for the uninitiated. And, for some, likely a jarring look into the hidden, external, people and processes that define our communities. We should, however, not be blind to the fact that much of the over-development, crowding, and continued deterioration of the suburban quality of life here in our 5 towns is the very doing of our own neighbors.

    The endless expansion of home footprints, building variances handed out like candy on Purim, town and village zoning boards on the take, illegal garage conversions into habitable spaces, the desired (not the needed) ownership of multiple vehicles, and driving because we just don’t feel like walking, are just some of the most common happenings that have indelibly altered our community for the worse.

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