Written by Carol Frank Friday, 20 January 2012 00:00
Perplexed and upset residents, many of whom attended a meeting on the same topic in 2004, expressed their dismay that the proposal to rezone the northeast corner of Great Neck Estates from commercial to multifamily has arisen from what they thought was a graveyard of bad ideas.
Mayor David Fox tried to quell the residents and keep them focused on listing the topics of their concerns so that the environmental impact study to be done by the applicant, GN Properties, LLC, will be comprehensive and thorough in its scope. The mayor said, “There have been no approvals...this is not a discussion about the merits of such a project...the board wants to go through the SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) process and this is the first step.” Village attorney Tom Levin confirmed, “The board wants to hear what the public wants to see studied..then the board will establish the list of items to be included in the study.”
The property in question, 212-230 Middle Neck Road, is the white, low-rise commercial building, known as the Rose property, located between the Shell Station and Clover Drive. The owner would like to raze it and erect a three-story rental apartment building with 40 units. It is essentially the same plan proposed seven years ago which was decidedly rejected by the residents and board of trustees.
The action falls under incentive zoning and apparently the applicant has offered a cash sum, $880,000, to the village if they approve the rezoning. That may not be the final figure; it is the initial offer. If the board agrees, it would be the first time since the village has been incorporated that rezoning has taken place.
The most mentioned area of concern was traffic, traffic, traffic and the resulting congestion and air quality issues. There was also strong criticism of traffic consultants who never conclude that their employers’ projects will have a negative impact on traffic.
Susan Weitzman emphasized that the impacts of noise and lighting should also studied as well as the “horrendous traffic on Middle Neck Road. Another resident stated that the village should look at the water containment on the site and the effect of impervious surfaces.
Jason Applebaum stated that in assessing traffic issues, he felt that the effect of this proposed building should be considered in light of the new apartments that are being built in other villages in Great Neck. At another point, he added that he and others were afraid that environmental studies can be manipulated and he was asking for reassurance from the board that they would not be hoodwinked.
Mayor Fox said, “We are not going to be doing this in the dark.” He stated that the studies will be in depth and that the village will, in the future, fully inform residents of meetings addressing the issue, perhaps even by using robo-calls and moving the meeting to a larger venue. He added that the last time the issue was raised there was an emotional response, a “knee-jerk” reaction and that the only difference this time was that it would be fully vetted and a determination would be reached as to whether the project would benefit the village.
Concerns were raised about the effect of 40 more families on pool, park, the summer camp, police services and real estate values.
Azriel Genachoyski said, “We are on the verge of changing from basically a one-family residential area to apartment houses ..we did not move here to live in the environment of the city.”
He also referred to a statement made years ago by former mayor Ed Causin who criticized traffic consultant studies that always state that “there will be no negative effect on traffic patterns...yet when I go down Middle Neck Road, I get stuck.”
Howard Weitzman followed up on the theme, “We’ve all seen a tremendous amount of development... apartment buildings went up, retirement buildings went up, office buildings went up, and every one of those buildings had an environmental impact study, and every one of those buildings had a traffic study done and every one of those buildings reached the conclusion that the impact of that particular property was de minimus with respect to the traffic on entire peninsula. So they didn’t contribute to snarled traffic on Middle Neck Road, Lakeville Road, Great Neck Road... no one is to blame.” He pointed out that all the traffic consultants use the same methodology, namely, to only take into consideration one specific area and not include planned or potential construction in the mix.
It was also proposed that since the property is adjacent to a service station there be a full investigation into onsite contamination. Standards for the level of allowable contaminants are stricter for residential properties than for commercial properties.
Mayor Fox answered the question, “Why look at this issue again?” He said, “Things have changed...the economy has changed, life has changed since this came up before...There are people who live here who would like to move out of their houses, but would like to stay in Great Neck Estates...We will make sure that this matter is investigated in depth to see if benefits outweigh detriments.” Villages are allowed to hire their own experts, traffic and environmental, to assess project proposals and determine if environmental studies are complete, thorough and accurate. In those cases, the cost is not borne by the village, but the fees are charged to the applicant.
Residents on Clover Drive are especially concerned about the potential for major changes to the quality of life and character of their street because of this rezoning proposal and the proposal to develop and build 12 homes behind their homes on a steep, wooded parcel of land that is mostly in the Village of Great Neck but needs access through the Estates. (A public hearing on the Old Mill, LLC will begin on Feb. 2 before the Village of Great Neck Board of Zoning Appeals.)
In 2004 when this identical rezoning proposal came up before, Mayor Fox called for peninsula wide planning, especially to address traffic issues. At the time, Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead Jon Kaiman told the Record that if the villages requested so, the town would assist in taking a look at the “big picture” as it relates to planning.
With a feeling of deja vu, we again called Supervisor Kaiman who said that when this idea first surfaced, Nassau County was poised to grant money to the town for such purposes. With the defeat of County Executive Tom Suozzi, that money disappeared. However, Supervisor Kaiman said that if the villages were interested in discussing peninsula-wide planning, he would make town staff with planning expertise available to assist. We have informed Village Officials Association President and Mayor of Kensingston Susan Lopatkin of the offer.