TJH Speaks with Mayor Alex Edelman

September 11, 2020 11:19 am
September 11, 2020 11:19 amLeave your thoughts

Mayor Edelman, you have been mayor for the past four year. What are you proudest of as mayor?

I have done a lot of things to improve the Village.

I am proud that we have good morale in the Village of Lawrence administration. Our employees are superb, one is better than the next. They are willing to help every resident that calls for services.

I changed all of the lightbulbs in the Village. We added 100 wattage to each light pole while bringing down the cost of the lighting 55% because of the type of bulb we are using. In addition to that, in Back Lawrence, which has issues with spotty dark areas, we installed over 35 light posts. We put up lighting in other areas as well.

Another thing that I’m proud of is that we operate the Village in a way which is very fiscally responsible resulting in a healthy budget surplus.

What is the Lawrence budget surplus?

It is over $10 million.

What was the budget surplus when you became mayor?

About $5.5 million.

What skill do you think one needs to have to be an effective mayor?

You have to be a good manager. You can have two businesses that sell the same thing on the same side of the street and one does better than the other. It’s called simple management.

I have been in business for over 50 years and own several different companies. I have built companies from nothing into very profitable businesses – I sold companies and operate companies. I have over 800 employees, was in the construction business, ambulette business, health care industry, real estate, medical centers, manufacturing. So, I have an overall good sense of management. I apply that skill to running the Village of Lawrence, which is essentially similar to running a small business.

How many employees does the Village have?

Approximately 45.

Being mayor certainly takes up lots of time and energy. Why are you do you want to do this?

I’m doing it because I live here and love this community. I became a trustee eight years ago because I thought that I could improve the quality of life here. Once I became a trustee, I had an inside view and saw certain things that needed to be changed. I became mayor and instituted some of those changes. I worked with Mayor Marty Oliner, who was a tremendous mayor, and got some of the knowledge from him regarding how to do things the right way and I improved on that. I happen to have time now because I am semi-retired now. I have the time to put into the Village and I put the time in because I want the Village to continue to be a great place to live, for us and for the next generation.

What is your main objective over the next two years?

There are several issues that we have. I’d like to improve the road conditions in Lawrence. That has been an issue for a long time. We have been spending an average of $500,000 per year on road repairs. We get back from the County and the State, under the CHIPS program, 60% or 70% depending on the year. So we spend a half million a year on pavement and we get back $280,000 to $320,000. If we spend a million, we would still only get the 60% or 70% back because the law has a cap on it. So I try to manage that and only fix the areas that are the most necessary. But at this time, we intend to embark on a major roadway repair, fixing every roadway in Lawrence that requires repair over the next two years, even though we will go over the cap of what we will be reimbursed because it’s important to finally get it done.

One big issue in this campaign is whether to build the commercial development at the site of the sewage plant off the 878. What is your position on the issue?

Most people oppose it. All of the people living on Rock Hall Road oppose it. The people living in Sutton Park and Harborview oppose it. I have yet to find people who think that it is a good idea.

Why do people oppose it?

For two reasons. Firstly, it simply doesn’t belong there. It is a residential neighborhood, zoned for one-family homes. Secondly, it’s going to create traffic and congestion there. There is going to be no way to get in and out. Imagine in the morning when everyone is trying to pull out of that little alcove over there getting onto Rock Hall Road. It’s going to be impossible.

Why can’t there be an ingress and egress onto the 878?

Because the 878 is a state road, and they will never allow it. There is a light at the corner of the 878 and Rock Hall and having an ingress and egress onto the 878 would require them to make another light a few hundred feet away. The state will never allow that.

But besides for the logistics of the traffic itself, it just doesn’t belong there. Uri Kaufman is claiming that he is going to make another Regency. If I can pick up that property and put it on Central Avenue, I would definitely support having another apartment house just like the Regency. But the fact is, it does not belong in a residential neighborhood. Central Avenue is ideal for an apartment building. Rock Hall Road and Back Lawrence is not.

Any apartment building reduces the value of the neighboring homes and destroys the neighborhood. It’s a fact – you have utility trucks coming in, service trucks…you have garbage trucks coming in at 4 a.m.  On Central Avenue, they are all apartment buildings there so they are used to it by now. But this is a quiet residential neighborhood.

Remember, another thing, the Regency is walking distance to shopping on Central Avenue but at this development everyone would need a car because it’s not near any stores or public transportation.

What about the fact that it would be good to have a building for people to downsize?

We have right now 15 vacancies in the Regency. Across from the Regency there are a whole slew of apartments and there are always apartments available. There is no issue in Lawrence with people having no place to downsize.

How much money can the Village get for the property if it were to build a commercial development?

The official appraisal said that if sold for an apartment complex, the property would be worth $13 million.

Why was there an appraisal done if you are opposed to the project in the first place?

Trustee Syma Diamond and I voted against doing an appraisal, but Trustees Fragin, Kaufman and Goldstein voted to have an appraisal done. They commissioned the appraisal which concluded that if sold for this development, the property value would be $13 million.

The appraisal came back at $13 million but the property on which the Regency was built sold for $31 million.

That is true. But what also happened is that two developers went bankrupt on that. The third developer came in and wiped out everyone else and barely made it as well. Even if the property gets a few more dollars than what the appraisal company that they commissioned says it’s worth, it will never get anywhere near $20 million. And even if it would, it’s not about the money, it’s about the people in the area who would be adversely affected.

What is your plan for the sewage plant?

I want to split it into eight lots to be sold for eight single family homes.  Eight houses would fit there beautifully with a private cul-de-sac, and we even have a name for it— Rock Hall Estates!

Under your plan, how much would the Village get for the property?

I spoke to several real estate brokers in the neighborhood, and they told me that we can easily get $1 million dollars per lot. If you have eight lots that is $8 million dollars, which is fine.

We can’t look at this property as an opportunity to squeeze out every dollar, at the expense of those living around it. The Village is in very good financial shape; we are not depending on that money. We are not looking to destroy all of the people who bought homes on Rock Hall Road and people in Sutton Park. It’s simply not worth it. It’s not worth the traffic, and it’s not worth the aggravation of ruining people’s lives, that’s all.

Now the $8 million that you estimate that you will get for private homes, how did you come up with that number?

I basically checked with a couple of real estate brokers. They all said that people in Lawrence are paying $1.5 million for knock-downs so it is very reasonable to ask for $1 million per lot.

What about the fact that there is no infrastructure on the site and that all of that will have to be built?

The infrastructure would cost approximately $30,000 per home, to create a road, electricity, cables, water and sewer. Remember, it was a sewer plant so there is a sewer connection right there, so that is not an issue.

What would be the lot sizes?

Each lot would be between a quarter and a half of an acre.

They would be different sizes?

Yes, because the layout is a cul-de-sac. We would start the auction at $1 million. Some will go for more depending on the lot size

You mentioned an auction. Is that how they would be sold?

Yes. At this point, the Village has over 30 names of people who are interested in purchasing lots there. Some people even expressed interest in purchasing two lots. We told those people that the lots would be $1 million-plus but that the only fair way of doing it is by auction, which would determine the price. But the opening bid would be $1 million.

By the way, one more thing that is important to know – building this building would cause us problems with stopping overdevelopment at the Woodmere Country Club, which many people now call the Sixth Town.

Why is that?

As you know, we have been fighting the Sixth Town. About a year ago, I got together with Woodsburgh and the Town of Hempstead, and we entered a tripartite agreement where we all decided that 286 homes on the Woodmere Golf Course would be a disaster for the whole area. We all changed our zoning to “conservation zoning,” resulting in there only being able to build 58 homes on the Woodmere Golf Course.

How does Lawrence have jurisdiction over what happens on the Woodmere Golf Course?

Fourteen acres of the property is in the Village of Lawrence. Twenty-two acres are in Woodsburgh and 110 acres in the Town of Hempstead.

So you all worked together to change the zoning laws?

Yes. We worked in conjunction with each other to only allow 56 houses.

Now, if we go ahead and build 120 to 150 units in our own Village, how is that going to look for us, that we are fighting the Woodmere Club down the road but we are building our own chaos over here?   They will use that in their legal case against us. Building an apartment complex at the sewage treatment plant may actually cause the Sixth Town to be built as the developers want, which would be very bad for the whole area.

Is there a pending lawsuit to overturn the conservation zoning which only allows them to build 58 homes?

They issued notices to us that they intend to file a lawsuit against the Town of Hempstead, Woodsburgh and the Village of Lawrence, claiming that we violated their rights by applying this new zoning restriction.

So building a building complex at the Lawrence sewage treatment plant site would effect that lawsuit?

Yes. If we build a massive complex, they will absolutely use that in their lawsuit against us. They will argue that for them, we made more restrictive zoning, but here on this property, which is fully within the Village of Lawrence, we went the opposite way and changed the zoning from single family homes to multi-family in order to build a massive apartment complex.

Assuming your plan prevails and the sewage treatment Plant is sold as eight individual lots, what is the Village going to do with the $8 million-plus proceeds of the sale?

I want to build an aquatic center in the Country Club with a 5-lane pool about 90 feet long, which we have the space for, a light gym, a golf simulator, yoga room, sauna, locker rooms and a juice bar. That would be an ideal type of place. There would be a separate membership for Village residents, and they would enjoy it very much.

What would it cost to build that?

My estimation is that we can build it for approximately $300 per square foot. It would be 15,000 square feet, so you are talking about approximately $4.5 million. Let’s say you have cost overruns, so you are talking about max $6 million. We would still have $2 million leftover on the proceeds of the sewage plant.

Would it only be open to Village residents or to non-residents as well?

I would prefer it to only be open to Village of Lawrence.

OK. Turning to some other topics, during this campaign, there has been a claim that taxes went up. Is that true or not?

It is a gimmick and completely false. Taxes have not gone up; they haven’t gone up at all for the past four years. We have no intention of raising taxes and we have no need for additional taxes. We are quite comfortable with our Village budget the way it is right now.

What is your position on the idea of free parking for Lawrence residents on Central Avenue?

It’s ludicrous. The parking meters in Lawrence produce approximately $45,000 per month for the Village. And besides that, the merchants would never allow that. The purpose of the meters is not just for revenue; it’s also for cars to move in and out so that other customers can access the stores.

What about underground wiring for utilities?

That is another horrible idea. There was a study by LIPA after Hurricane Sandy, and they concluded that the only benefit to underground wiring would be aesthetics. However, they concluded that it would cost approximately $1 million per mile. We have 42 miles in the Village of Lawrence so you are talking $42 million. PSEG recently did a study and said that it would cost $1.4 million per mile. On top of that, you would have to deal with years of construction to get this done. Additionally, the water table in Lawrence is very high, so underground wiring would not be feasible in some areas. And, on top of that, if there is power shortage someplace, it would take twice or three times as long to find it if the wires were underground.

What about the insect problem in parts of Lawrence?

It’s a very interesting topic. They used to spray once a season. Since I became mayor, we have been spraying each and every month from March and on, sometimes into August. The green flies are a problem but some people think that this year was better than last year. And that makes sense because, according to the exterminator, it actually takes a few years of consistent spraying for the larva to disappear.

Is there anything else that can be done?

The only other thing that can be done is to spray DDT, which is a chemical that kills all flying insects. But it was banned a few years ago so we can’t use it.

Would more spraying help?

I spoke to the exterminator, and he said that it wouldn’t help. I would totally be willing to spend more money on it if it would help but he explained that spraying more would not kill the larva faster. But what we are doing is spraying in other area and that is helping. But it’s a progression and takes time. I’m hoping that next year is even better than this year.

You are running at the head of the A Team along with Paris Popack and Eli Kutner as candidates for the two trustee positions. Why are you running along with a team?

I would need my team in place in order to have a majority on the board. And it is very important to have a majority on the board in order to stop some of the ideas that are being proposed that would be detrimental to the Village, such as stopping commercial development where it doesn’t belong.

Paris Popack is a person who has been serving this community for 25 years. She has been a vocal supporter of the fire department and has been instrumental in the country club. She rejuvenated the tennis courts to make it profitable. She had been very devoted to the Village.

Eli Kutner has been living in the Village for several years and throughout that time he has been very supportive of the Village. He has come up with important ideas for safety and security, and he is very community minded.

We have one of the most beautiful villages. It’s one of the best places to live, and we want to continue that style of living here.

What are the safety precautions that will be taken at the voting site on September 15?

That is very important for people to know. We have strict protocols in place to protect the voting public. There will be monitors to make sure that voters are in and out as quickly as possible, while maintaining social distancing. In addition, masks are mandatory. Also, each voter will be given a brand-new pen to use, which will be thrown out after they vote.

The voting site, at the Country Club, will be 100% Covid safe. We urge all residents to come out and vote in person. It’s your Village, and you should be heard.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Best of luck to you on Election Day. 

Thank you so much. It was nice talking with you.

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