Local residents came out in droves to a meeting hosted by the Town of Oyster Bay at Hicksville High School to make their voices heard on the proposed revitalization of the Hicksville downtown area, a project that has been talked about for decades but has seriously gained traction in recent years.
Initially scheduled to be held in the cafeteria, turnout was so massive that a last-second decision was made to transplant the meeting to the gymnasium down the hall. The main thrust of the meeting was centered on zoning changes that Oyster Bay planners are proposing in order to give the area around the train station a much needed refreshing.
The revitalization project started in 2010, after many studies had been conducted over the preceding years. It was a collaborative effort amongst community members, the Chamber of Commerce, the Hicksville Community Council, and a number of civic organizations and Vision Long Island, in cooperation with the Town of Oyster Bay and Nassau County. The ultimate goal of the project is getting the Hicksville Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) station area redeveloped and revitalized, according to Hicksville Chamber of Commerce President Lionel J. Chitty.
“This project is vital…we don’t have any other choice. We want the community to understand that we need to turn Hicksville into a destination,” he said. “Right now, everyone comes to Hicksville to go to the train station. We need more people to come, spend time in Hicksville, spend money, shop local businesses, find out some beautiful things about the local area, and spend the day.”
Chitty noted that, “The town accepted our proposal…they didn’t say no,” he said. “Right now, they’re coming back to us with a proposed zoning change. They want to see what the community thinks about it, and see if we could move forward or not.”
Town of Oyster Bay Councilwoman Rebecca M. Alesia ran the meeting, and noted that getting input from the people who most stand to be affected by any changes to Hicksville’s downtown was important before proceeding with revitalization efforts.
“The general feeling is that the community would like to see some changes made to the zoning in Hicksville…to revitalize the area,” she said. “We started this process with a meeting of civic organizations, got some feedback, and now we’re having this meeting to present the results. We’re looking to get general feedback from the community, and based on that feedback, we will take that to the town board and see if there’s anything we need to fine-tune.”
The plan presented to the public that evening consisted of two different zoning districts to replace the central business district, according to John Ellsworth, director of Planning and Environmental Services for Cashin Spinelli & Ferretti, a construction consulting firm hired by Oyster Bay.
“One zoning district is going to be centered along Broadway, and will be more of a traditional downtown consisting of three-story maximum buildings with commercial on the first floor and residential above,” he said. “And then in the immediate vicinity of the train station, it will be a little denser development, with a focus on bringing in businesses and spurring economic activity.”
Residents expressed concerns about traffic and safety issues, but the general consensus appeared to be open-mindedness towards the changes needed to drive the revitalization project forward.
Ellsworth noted that the town went through this process already, and it was made clear that local residents want something to happen; however, he said, there are still a lot of details to be worked out before that can happen, including consideration of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Third Track project, a proposed addition to the LIRR that is slated to run from Floral Park to Hicksville.
“Obviously, parking is a big issue now, and will become an even bigger issue if and when the third track comes in. That can’t be pushed to the side, so it has to be addressed up front,” he said. “Another concern is increased motor vehicle traffic in the area, and one of the things we’re going to offer is a cap of 500 on the number of residential units initially, just to see how it goes. Then we’ll re-evaluate.”
Janet Ambinder of Hicksville said that she remains undecided on the revitalization project.
“Honestly, I don’t know much about it. On the surface, it sounds good for Hicksville, but until I know more I can’t say either way,” she said. “One thing I can tell you is that I hope it addresses the traffic problems in the area, and that it doesn’t make them worse…we call that traffic the ‘Hicksville Experience’ for good reason.”
Mike Estes, who lives near the downtown area, remained steadfastly against the project even after the presentation by the Town of Oyster Bay.
“This is just going to make my life a nightmare,” he said. “Traffic is already terrible, and when all is said and done, I fear this is going to negatively affect property values and raise crime in the area. I appreciate the meetings and all, but there’s still a lot of kinks to iron out.”