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Dadras Architects Meet with the Public

Can you teach an old village new tricks?

Dadras Architects’ suggestions for revitalizing the Old Village covered a vast spectrum of approaches from establishing a museum, developing more attractive and compatible signage, building wider sidewalks and bump-outs to make the pedestrian experience safer to passing ordinances for new up-zoning and incentive zoning. Their ideas, based on numerous thoughts gleaned from focus groups representing young folks, merchants, seniors, community activists and leaders, as well as their planning experience, were presented for community consumption last week. A large crowd came to Great Neck House to hear the outlines for pumping new life into the Village of Great Neck’s commercial and retail area on Middle Neck Road.

In introducing the Dadras brothers, Victor and Robert, Mayor Ralph Kreitzman said, “We don’t mind being called the Old Village. We were the original village. We have a proud history of firsts..the first post office, the first polling place, the first telephone switchboard, the first parks, and the first temple... We want to make it a safe and vibrant location for residents and shoppers to enjoy.”

He indicated that the village hired Dadras Architects two years ago as revitalization consultants because they are considered very experienced innovators in the field. A grant that was obtained by Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel helped defray some of the cost of the consultants and the mayor also announced that a capital improvement grant, secured by Nassau County Legislator Judi Bosworth, would also be a boon to any enhancements, if, with “fingers crossed” it is approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. Efforts are under way to write a grant proposal to the Department of Transportation for street improvement projects.

And by the way, even though the project is called “Old Village, New Main Street,” there are no recommendations to change the name of Middle Neck Road to New Main Street.

Victor Dadras began the presentation by reviewing the outcomes of the focus groups held in 2010. Those who participated highlighted the assets enjoyed by the village, the Village Green, the “walkability” of the village, the scale of the buildings, the free parking, the independent “small town” merchants, the historic building style and architecture. The issues identified that need to be solved included the need to improve the visual aesthetics by dealing with the hodgepodge of signage and awnings, maintaining the buildings better, the littering, and sidewalk repair and improvements. The other issues raised were traffic safety, lack of bike paths and racks, the lack of a general supermarket, the wish for a farmers’ market, and the empty storefronts.

He said, “You have many things that other areas wish they have much to build upon.”

So, what would help?

The first idea was to revitalize street improvements with facade and storefront restoration and street-scape enhancements such as historic markers. In the PowerPoint presentation, Robert Dadras showed examples of storefront facades that are visually “busy and cluttered.” He then showed the same building with all the stores having a unifying theme and color. In those examples, one’s eye was drawn to the architectural elements rather than to all the competing signage. Potential facade improvement guidelines would include restoration of double-hung wood windows, restoration of masonry and trim, new exterior light, new wood signage, new retractable canvas awning, and so forth.

Suggestions were made to improve signage and better access to existing parking lots. The architects are promoting “one-stop” shopping to discourage people from moving cars from one parking space to another. Entrance to parking lots could be improved through better signage to increase safety and efficiency.

Another suggestion was to create a Village of Great Neck Historic District complete with walking tours and driving tours. Gateway signage such as “Welcome to the Old Village” was discussed. A museum to house historical artifacts about Great Neck was seen as a possible outgrowth of a collaboration among various entities such as the village, the park district and the library system.

While the scale of the village promotes “walkability,” the consultants believe that street crossings can become safer through better signage and extensions of sidewalks, called bump-outs, that shorten the distance across busy roadways. They have studied each crosswalk.

They stressed that it was important for the village officials to review and, if necessary, revise their current zoning to achieve the desired goals. Incentive zoning provides a reward-based system to encourage development that meets development goals. They also briefly touched on “infill” development which is the process of developing vacant or underutilized parcels in an existing area with mature development. Usually, workable infill development brings the kind of density that supports an array of amenities in an area.

Another buzzword bandied around that evening was “cluster” development which refers to promoting stores, restaurants, offices and arts/history/culture centers to be grouped together...not by making established storekeepers move, but by encouraging clusters of like businesses in any new development.

Dadras strongly recommended that a Business Improvement District (BID) be established because a BID can spend money on things that the village is not allowed to. Further, they suggest that a Local Development Corporation, a not-for-profit corporation which establishes a capability to finance local growth, be set up.

Both architects felt that all of these things could promote tourism and make the Old Village a destination as well as a more exciting, profitable and enjoyable downtown for everyone.

The first question out-of-the-gate was whether or not the consultants were recommending a major change for Middle Neck Road by either making it one lane, like Great Neck Road in the Plaza, or by eliminating the on-street parking spaces.

The architects have not made any specific recommendations relating to the above on Middle Neck Road although they do like the concept of reducing lanes, a “cutting edge” idea.

Fred Knauer asked whether local businesses would be too financially pressed to make certain improvements. The response was that a “carrot” approach would be suggested to the village. The architects concurred that proper guidelines with the input of the business owners and proper enforcement would eventually improve the business climate.

Lifelong resident Ed Galvin remembered that the parking lots had trees, the street was lined with huge oaks and that the area used to be beautiful. He thinks that the configuration of barriers in the lots and streets actually discourages shoppers from coming to the Old Village. Mr. Galvin said, “Our village is now a pass-through village” as people race to the Plaza. The response was, “Don’t compete with the Plaza...give people a reason to stop and shop here.” The architects said they would give more thought to trees in the parking lot so that the area would be softened and would not be “a sea of asphalt.”

Jon Peterson, as a regular walker, supported many of the ideas presented, but did comment that drivers do not stop at crosswalks. He asked about how habits are changed in this regard. Proper design and public education can help, he was told, but if there was anything that the public was skeptical about at the was changing the driving patterns of incompetence, inattention and inconsideration that result in drivers never stopping at the crosswalks. It was pointed out that even the “cops don’t stop.”

Jean Pierce brought up concerns about families walking to synagogues and ignoring traffic safety devices already in place. She asked, “How will these people be educated?”

Alice Kasten, president of the Great Neck Historical Society, stated that she was happy to see the village “restored back to its roots” and that the society would be cooperative in developing historical walking tours and the like.

The Record asked if there were recommendations about a particularly dangerous traffic situation around the Middle Neck Pharmacy and Everfresh block. The consultants said that special traffic consultants would need to weigh in to ameliorate the problems there.

Mayor Kreitzman pointed out that Nassau County owns Middle Neck Road and that their permission is needed for any design changes to occur to the street. He urged that residents who were unable to attend the meeting to take a look at the proposal at the village website and send in comments and questions to the village.

The meeting was filmed by public access television. Check local listings in this newspaper. The PowerPoint presentation is available online at the village’s website at