Towns oppose Westbury OTB casino plans

Bryan Ahrens And Adam Lidgett

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Councilwoman Viviana Russell along with Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray sent letters Tuesday to the Nassau Regional Off-Track Betting Corporation asking them to halt their plans to house a video gambling parlor at the vacant Fortunoff building at The Source mall in Westbury.

The two North Hempstead officials expressed concern for the parlor plan, which was announced Dec. 30, in a statement as lacking transparency and being devoid of any community input.

Bosworth said Wednesday OTB released the information about the proposed project the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and that OTB has not allowed for a process for residents to express concerns.

“One of my basic tenants is open and transparent government, and this proposal doesn’t follow that in any way,” Bosworth said. “In order for the government to make sound and responsible decisions, it is important to get input from the community. Our residents are entitled to that.”

The building where OTB plans to have the parlor is technically located in the Town of Hempstead, but Bosworth said some adjacent communities in the Town of North Hempstead will be adversely affected, including Carle Place, Westbury and New Cassel.

According to the statement, Bosworth and Russell are working with Westbury Mayor Peter Cavallaro, as well as other elected officials, to voice their collective concerns about the proposed project.

Bosworth said that even though the neither the Town of North Hempstead or the Town of Hempstead has any jurisdiction over whether the casino can be built, she, along with other elected officials, will try to sway OTB’s decision. Bosworth said the location proposed to house the casino is inappropriate, as it is so close to many small residential areas.

“Old Country Road already has such huge traffic issues as it is, and so many residents are concerned this [casino] will further impact this,” Bosworth said. “It’s actually just a baseball throw away from a residential area.”

Bosworth said she is calling on OTB to halt all current discussion on the project until OTB can bring the process more fully into the light. She said she is worried that while people are trying to voice their concerns to OTB, OTB will sign the documents and make the decisions to build the casino, and it will be too late to do anything about it.  

She said she has received hundreds of letters and emails from residents expressing their opposition to the casino. On Monday alone, Bosworth said she received 175 letters.

Murray said in a letter she sent to OTB that she opposes the proposed casino because of increased traffic, parking and negatives impacts on natural resources and municipal services, such as water, sewage and garbage. She said in the letter she also has concerns about a possible increase in criminal activity.

“…Hempstead Town does not have an official role or a “seat at the table” with the gaming commission on this matter,” Murray said in the letter. “Despite these facts, I will remain aggressive in voicing my concerns and advocating for local neighbors.”

Murray said in the letter she plans to meet with OTB as well as state officials to talk about the proposed parlor and voice her concerns.

The parlor, which is expected to hold up to 1,000 video slot machines, would occupy 15 percent, or 30,000 square-feet, of the roughly 200,000 square-foot building, OTB said in a statement. OTB officials said they expect the gaming parlor to open some time in 2015.

“The openness and transparency required for such a large and significant project have clearly not been provided by OTB. The announcement of your plan was made during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day and reflected virtually no outreach to the community. A meaningful process providing for authentic community input and vigorous public discussion is an important safeguard for sound and responsible governmental decision-making. Our residents are entitled to – and frankly expect – no less from their public officials. Unfortunately, the actions of OTB up to this point have failed this crucial test,” the letter reads.

Bosworth said that once the public input is allowed for and open discussion happens, it will be clear that the casino does not belong at its proposed site.  

OTB said in a statement that it has a long history of working with the people they are in the community with to be good neighbors.

“We welcome a forthright, transparent and ongoing conversation with all residents, civic leaders and elected officials who have concerns relative to the siting of a gaming facility in a small portion of the former Fortunoff’s store property,” OTB said in a statement.

OTB said in a statement the facility will create 200 permanent jobs, revenue generation for the county and economic revitalization of the business districts around the parlor.

“We are confident that once all the facts are known, the project will enjoy significant community support,” OTB said in a statement.

According to Bosworth and Russell’s statement, the officials believe the project will jeopardize the safety of some residents and cause disruption in their neighborhoods.

“These North Hempstead communities are entitled to an opportunity to have their concerns and questions heard by OTB and addressed in a public forum, before this project proceeds any further,” Russell said in the statement. “We are requesting that at least one such meeting be scheduled this month for our residents and their elected officials, at a location that can accommodate the many residents who would most certainly wish to attend and with sufficient notice to the public.”

OTB said in a statement that it chose the Fortunoff building on Old Country Road, which has been vacant since 2009 after the jewelry company filed for bankruptcy, out of “several” locations.

“This facility provides a centralized location with ample parking and easy access to major thoroughfares as required by the New York State Gaming Commission,” OTB said.

Bosworth and Russell are also concerned, according to the letter they sent to OTB, the Third Precinct of the Nassau County Police Department will face undue burden in accommodating for the increased law-enforcement presence that will come from having the casino nearby.

The four-story building housing the gambling parlor will feature “first-class amenities” such as restaurants and a food court in the building’s remaining space, according to OTB.

Administrative offices that include surveillance and security employees will also occupy the space, OTB said.

OTB said it does not plan to purchase any portion of the mall, which has several vacant storefronts.

“The Source Mall will not be acquired or leased by Nassau OTB and will not be equipped with any gaming equipment or used for that purpose,” OTB said.

Officials said OTB is currently negotiating to acquire the Fortunoff building.

“Negotiations are currently underway between Nassau Regional Off Track Betting and the parties having an interest in the old Fortunoff building on Old Country Road in Westbury,” OTB said in a statement.

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Bryan Ahrens And Adam Lidgett

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