Although no one can explain exactly why the fence went up (see next week’s installment on the history of the park) around the 1.5 acre parcel of land on Port Washington Boulevard know as Alvan O. Petrus Memorial Park, it seems the community today is closer than it has been since 2009 to finally having the parcel restored as a park.
The Town of North Hempstead Housing Authority is waiting for a letter from the New York State Department of Housing and Renewal assuring the investors in “the property,” which includes the Harbor Homes housing development, as well as the 1.5 acre parcel, that their tax credits, which have another six years left, will not be adversely affected by the subdivision of the property.
At the same time, Sean Rainey, executive director of the North Hempstead Housing Authority, has asked First Sterling Financial Inc., the company that organized the financing for the renovation of Harbor Homes, to ask its client, JP Morgan Chase, to approve the transfer of the 1.5 acre park to the town.
JP Morgan Chase is the majority shareholder in the limited partnership that owns the property. The Town of North Hempstead Housing Authority is the managing partner and has the minority financial stake. Rainey has been working behind the scenes with Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio for the last three years to find a simple path to re-open the park. He has often been characterized as the bad guy by the community in this complicated process, but in many ways his hands are tied.
“Although the housing authority is the minority shareholder and managing partner in the limited liability partnership that owns the development, [the housing authority] is limited by its charter from using any money to build or maintain a park,” Rainey said. This is a fact that many community residents have chosen to ignore.
In separate interviews with The Port News, Rainey and De Giorgio explained how the loss of the park became an unintended consequence of a well intentioned state program. Under a New York state law, financial institutions are encouraged to invest in the development of low income housing in exchange for tax credits often worth millions of dollars annually.
Although representatives of Chase have said in the past that they have no interest in the 1.5 acres, there is a concern that selling or giving the property to the town will jeopardize their tax credits.
Rainey says: “We are waiting for a letter from the state that subdividing the property and transferring the ownership of the 1.5 acre parcel to the town will not adversely affect the tax credits on the property that the bank received in exchange for funding the refurbishing of the housing complex, which was completed in 2005. They are entitled to these tax credits for another six years.”
Rainey expects a relatively quick determination from the state Department of Housing and Renewal. Simultaneously, he said, “We have asked First Sterling LLP, the syndicate that represents JP Morgan Chase, to ask their client to approve the sale of the property to the town once we have the state’s determination on the tax credit.”
The approval would clear the way for the redevelopment of the land parcel into a modern Americans With Disabilities Act compliant recreation and park area. Rainey added, “Thanks to the leadership and new plan proposed by Supervisor Judi Bosworth and supported by Councilwoman De Giorgio to simplify the transaction, we believe the approvals needed to dedicate this as perpetual parkland will happen very soon.”
Councilwoman De Giorgio voiced her frustration with former supervisor Jon Kaiman. In 2012, with great fanfare, Kaiman announced a complicated land swap that was supposed to end with the town acquiring the property.
The proposal proved so complicated that it was impossible to obtain investor approval. “It was just the wrong approach,” said De Giorgio. “And we wasted two years trying to make it work.”
Now, “I am optimistic because we have Supervisor Bosworth, who is committed to making this happen. I believe that this is the moment to get it done.”
Bosworth threw out the old land swap deal proposed by Kaiman and has moved quickly to advocate for a simple and logical solution to the deadlock.
Bosworth has made the re-opening of the park a priority for her administration. “Everyone on the town board is in favor of this project,” she said. “We have the will to get this done and one way or another it will happen. A budget says in black and white what our commitment to the community is and in our budget we have allocated $500,000 in the five-year capital improvements plan for Alvan O.
Petrus Park. There is no reason for the state to hold back a letter to support the housing authority’s point of view that the subdivision of the property will not affect the tax credits and that is all the investors are looking for. The 1.5 acres will never be used for anything but a park.”
Bosworth said she will introduce two resolutions at the Sept. 9 town meeting. The first will be a resolution for the housing authority to cede the parcel of land to the town and the second will be a proposal to move ahead with planning for the development of the park. “We are all optimistic that from here on out things will happen quickly,” Bosworth said. “Hopefully we can break ground in the spring.”