Atlantic Beach officials held a public hearing last week to air plans to seize property that Chabad of the Beaches purchased last November for $950,000.
The plan to take the site under eminent domain unearthed bubbling local controversies ranging from charges of anti-Semitism to whether public money could be better spent elsewhere.
Atlantic Beach would convert a vacant structure on one of the targeted properties — 2025 Park St. — into a community center and recreational facility with beach lifeguard operations; a second property, at 2035 Park St., would be used as a community park, with open space, seating and landscaping.
The two properties total 18,500 square feet and are adjacent to an existing village-owned recreational facility that includes tennis, pickleball and basketball courts.
Because the parcels had been vacant for two years before Long Beach-based Chabad of the Beaches purchased them, Rabbi Eli Goodman senses that an eminent domain move might be motivated by a desire to stop his Orthodox Jewish organization from expanding from Long Beach into Atlantic Beach.
“It wasn’t until after we bought the property that this came up,” Rabbi Goodman told the Nassau Herald, saying that he sensed discrimination.
“The fact is, if the community really wanted this property, it was left vacant for two years, there was plenty of opportunity to build a community center,” he said. “This is anti-Semitism. This is clearly something that we don’t even want to talk about, and therefore this could go many, many years in the courts.”
“All we want to do is have something for the community,” Rabbi Goodman said.
During his allotted three minutes at the public hearing, Rabbi Goodman noted that government use of eminent domain is typically a “last resort: You want to build a road, a highway, train tracks, and you have no other choice.”
Sixteen people spoke in person at the hearing, most expressing opposition to acquiring the site and basing their opposition on fiscal considerations.
Phyllis Jonas, a 49-year resident of Atlantic Beach, suggested that the village would need to borrow money for the purchase and asked about money that would be needed to maintain the building and the surrounding land.
Another longtime resident, Richard Libbey, opposed the eminent domain proposal and recommended other locations for a community center.
“The idea of a community center at that location is horrible,” Libbey said. “I could give you five other locations that the village could build on and not pay for the land, probably.”
Alek Squeri, a village lifeguard, called the planned community center “unnecessary.”
“What the lifeguards need are better wages,” Squeri said. “Competitive wages, not the lowest wages on the whole strip.”
John Squeri, Alek’s father, was upset that the village would consider “taking people’s property.”
“Make them an offer. Shame on all of you,” he said to the board of trustees.
Another resident, Kevin Kelly, noted that it was difficult to judge the village’s plan without a specific proposal. “What are the specifics?”
Kelly added that the Park Street parcels are “not an ideal location,” for a park.
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