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Planning Commission Recommends Preserving Green Space on Franklin

Members Suggest Designating Vacant Property as Village Parkland

Garden City’s green space will remain untouched after the majority of Planning Commission members voted to recommend preserving a vacant triangular piece of village-owned land on the west side of Franklin Avenue between Third and Fourth streets and designating the area as parkland in the near future.

The much-discussed proposal to develop the land in question was originally set forth by Planning Commission Member and Garden City resident Bill Bellmer. In a letter addressed to the Garden City Board of Trustees this February, Bellmer suggested that the village sell the parcel for residential use. In his written correspondence to the board, Bellmer stated that that the village will not only initially gain the revenue on the sale of the property, but also benefit from the continued tax revenue, the attractiveness of the residences, and the elimination of the need to maintain the land.

The seven-member Planning Commission reviews plans for the development of vacant areas, streets, parks and other public places, and subdivisions of private property to assure consistency with established community standards. The Planning Commission also performs site plan review, which is required on all new buildings, additions and altered land use activities, except for single-family dwellings on single plots.

Prior to voting on the Bellmer proposal, Commission Chairman Jack A. DeFranza stated that the board has received “a rather large outpouring of interest and a lot of mail and a lot of phone calls,” regarding the plan to develop the vacant site.

A member of the Commission for more than 22 years, DeFranza said when he first heard of Mr. Bellmer’s plan he thought that land development was good for Garden City. “I have to tell the board that I’ve changed my mind. With an outpouring like this…I have to say that I am personally not for the plan that Mr. Bellmer has put forth,” he said.

The proposal has met with opposition from a growing number of residents primarily living in the Central Section of Garden City. In a letter sent to the Garden City Board of Trustees appearing in Garden City Life on April 22, 2011, lifelong Garden City resident and former CPOA President Joe Mohen stated that residents were both “blindsided and horrified to learn of the efforts of Bellmer to convert green space along Franklin Avenue into developed housing.”

The letter further stated, “My neighbors are appalled at this initiative to take away the green space where our children play, where we take our evening strolls, and is so much a part of our way of life. The green space on the east side of Franklin is already zoned for development and we are certain to lose it someday; that makes it essential that the Green space on the west side of Franklin be protected as park land, as it will be all we have left,” Mohen wrote.

Planning Commission member Charles L. Koester reminded attendees that the issue of the land development goes back to 1981, when there was a recommendation to put garden apartments on Cedar Place, which lies between Third and Fourth streets. “That was defeated,” Koester said.

On May 4, 1989, the Planning Commission met and unanimously voted to maintain the west side of Franklin between Third and Fourth streets as green space. Despite that ruling, Koester said that the village never officially designated the area as parkland.

Koester recalled that a 1993 open space preservation study performed by Buckhurst, Fish & Jacquemart reported that Garden City has 39 acres of passive parks and 43 acres of active park space. Of the active six parks, only one park has active status (Grove Park). Of the other 14 listed, 11 parks are located in the Eastern Section and seven have parkland status. There is one piece of property in the Central Section that has parkland status (Community Park) and two in the Western Section and the Estates section has none, according to Koester.

In reaction to the plan, Koester voiced his point of view, which met with a round of applause from the audience. “I don’t think that the village has reached the point where we are desperate to sell,” he said.

“What we should be doing is looking at all vacant land in relation to preserving green space and waiting for direction from the trustees to tell us that they need money and they want us to pick out properties to sell. Until such time, from my point of view, none of these properties are for sale,” Koester added.

Village Administrator Bob Schoelle also stated that he has not modified his position since the April 13 Planning Commission meeting, at which time he said that he felt strongly that the area should be preserved as green space.

As the initiator of the idea, Bellmer said he wanted to clarify his reasons for suggesting the development proposal in the first place. “The village always identified the parcel as vacant property not parkland... The village only acquired the parcel in 1970 in a land swap with the Garden City Company,” Bellmer said.

“At this past budget meeting session in the early spring, new sources of revenue were being sought, which prompted my letter as a private citizen for discussion,” Bellmer added.

Having heard the negative feedback from the Commission members and residents, Bellmer officially withdrew his original proposal to the board of trustees and offered to suggest a new motion to sell off half the land and designate the rest as parkland.

Mayor Donald Brudie, Trustees Andrew Cavanaugh and Nicholas Episcopia attended the meeting and the mayor urged the board to vote on the original proposal.  “This is absolutely lunacy to give up land. God isn’t making any more land in Garden City. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. You build a house on there, that’s it. You’ve lost that green space. You’ve lost the beauty of the gardens, the green, the trees; it’s gone. You can’t get it back,” Brudie said.

Chairman DeFranza maintained that the issue of land development will ultimately be settled by the Village Board of the Trustees and not the Planning Commission. The mayor made the point that the board still wanted its decision to be “guided” by the Planning Commission’s final recommendation.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Koester made a motion that the Commission should send notice to the board of trustees that it is totally in favor of preserving the two pieces of property on the west side of Franklin Avenue between Third and Fourth streets as open space “with the hopes that they would look to it as dedicated parkland either now or in the near or distant future.”

The board voted 5 to 1 in favor of the motion, with Bellmer being the only nay vote and William Ellis absent at the meeting.