When a neighborhood is in high demand, institutions respond to growth by expanding. Three years after I moved to West Hempstead, the streetscape continues to change. Our spiritual scene includes new and expanded shuls, the renovated mikvah, and a new campus for the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County. As families grow, their homes expand to accommodate more children or grandparents. My block is a mix of homes whose exteriors haven’t changed in a half century, and modifications with additional floor space. On the northern edge of the community, residential developer Heatherwood is constructing Heritage Westminster, a complex of 428 luxury rental units, at a cost of $428 million.

Designed in an architectural style that complements local history, it is in a practical spot across the street from West 130, an apartment complex completed a decade ago on the site of a motel. It stands next to a train station and is a short drive to large stores in downtown Hempstead. Nearby, on Woodfield Road, a former supermarket, sandwiched between a storage warehouse and a laundromat, is also slated for a residential development.

Last year, there was tension on Long Island when Gov. Kathy Hochul appeared to impose a plan to build 800,000 new homes across the state by overriding local zoning codes and public input. Civic groups and lawmakers mobilized, and the plan was killed.

“At the end of session, it became apparent to me there was no interest in what I was proposing, which was bold, it was ambitious, we knew that from the start,” Hochul said at the time. She then noted that the exodus of New Yorkers for more affordable states continues, and rather than examine high taxation and other economic factors that contribute to the cost of living in this state, she spoke of the need to build more housing in order to maintain affordability.

Orthodox Jewish communities understand the need for growth, as Lakewood’s population expands into Jackson and Toms River; and children of Kiryas Joel see their former village become the Town of Palm Tree, a pun on the Yiddish name Teitelbaum, its founding Rebbe zt”l. Simultaneously, they also purchased properties in Bloomingburg, building a year-round community on the edge of the Catskill Mountains.

These locales were rural when the first Jewish families settled there. They encountered opposition from longtime residents who did not want to see more vehicular traffic, fewer public school students, and neighbors whose culture is very different from theirs. With political support and legal representation, these Jewish communities succeeded in building homes, shuls, yeshivas, eruv lines, providing an alternative to the crowded and unaffordable neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

The Five Towns as a Jewish community developed as a result of “white flight” from Brownsville and East New York, later augmented by arrivals from Queens and beyond. In the 70 years since Rabbi Binyamin Kamenetzky took Yeshiva Toras Chaim (the English name for Yeshiva of South Shore) from Belmont Avenue in Brooklyn to William Street in Hewlett, its campus and facilities have expanded. It shines as a bright star in a constellation of yeshivos sprinkled across this corner of Long Island.

As the population grows, the same concerns that were expressed in Rockland and Ocean counties in opposition to Jewish development appeared last week in one free Jewish weekly representing the Long Island suburbs.

“The infrastructure of these small towns can only handle so much in terms of traffic and other services that a population like this requires. Others feel the congestion will affect their quality of life. This is beside the fact that there are young couples and families with young children who need affordable housing, of which there is a serious shortage,” the editor’s column noted.

“Another angle regarding this new building, which is a positive aspect, is that older residents who want to downsize from large homes or move into this area to be closer to their children also need housing, which this type of construction project can provide.”

The editor was commenting on a proposal before the Town of Hempstead to transform a set of parking lots and auto repair shops next to the Inwood LIRR station. It is branded as a TOD, or transit-oriented development, the hot buzzword among planners and developers. TODs are built next to train stations to encourage the use of public transportation, marketed to young professionals who travel to the city for work and leisure. They sometimes include amenities such as a gym, pool, playground, and barbecue area as an alternative to a house with a backyard or driving to a recreational facility.

From the experiences of my friends, I feel that TOD is the reasonable solution to the suburban housing crunch. I know divorcees who love West Hempstead, but after splitting up and selling their houses, there are no places here for single adults. I know elderly parents who wish to live near their children and grandchildren but do not need a large home for themselves. The recent apartment developments in West Hempstead do not threaten the suburban scenery as they are on the edge of the neighborhood.

Concerning infrastructure, it would be foolish to allow development that cannot be served by existing roads, water lines, utility grid, and trash collection. My neighbors would like to see improvements to Halls Pond Park with updated playground equipment, more benches, and perhaps a restroom. We complain about our taxes but if we must pay, then put the money to things that people use. In an Orthodox community, the “Shabbos Park” is an important amenity where people gather in the afternoon. Local governments should follow the city’s example in which developments are given approval when they contribute towards public green spaces and infrastructure improvements.

On this matter, I’ve reached out to my local Town Councilman and County Legislator and will keep you updated on Halls Pond Park.

 By Sergey Kadinsky