Written by Carol Frank Friday, 15 January 2010 00:00
Zoning board members in the Village of Great Neck are apparently split regarding whether or not to grant variances required in order for the United Mashadi Jewish Community of America to proceed with an auxiliary parking lot for overflow events. In the village court last year, the Mashadis’ attorney, Peter Mineo, entered a guilty plea in the case of the 2 Potters Lane lot where 51 trees were clear-cut without a permit. The applicants have since paid in full the fine of $40,000 and as a part of the settlement, are required to replant three trees for every one cut down, at various locations in the village. The applicants would clearly like to put the past behind them and get the 61-space parking lot approved. It is just as clear that many neighbors are still smarting from the loss of the wooded lot that provided a vista, shade, screening and habitat for songbirds and small mammals.
The applicant’s architect, Thomas Fitzsimmons, presented two alternative plans for a temporary gated gravel lot, with low shielded lighting, a 6-foot stockade fence and plantings along with the removal of more existing trees. The major difference in the two plans would be either keeping the house on the lot where a caretaker would live thereby keeping a residential look or demolishing the house. The applicant prefers to keep the house.
The zoning board voted to require that the applicant submit site plans that show drainage plans and elevations, for both alternatives. When those are completed, the village engineering firm, H2M, will make comments and approve them or not.
The lengthy hearing, which Mr. Mineo repeatedly asked to be closed after the evening’s proceedings, covered many points, some of which have been discussed in prior meetings and other points, which were amplified.
Many residents pointed out that the driveway into the proposed parking lot is quite close to Steamboat Road and would be unsafe if the volume of traffic in and out of the parking lot increases. A driver headed west on Steamboat Road makes an oblique left turn onto Potters, often quickly. The driveway into 2 Potters Lane is 80 feet from the intersection of Potters and Steamboat. A number of residents stated that cars turning either right or left from the lot would be vulnerable for collisions. Other residents warned that pedestrians would probably not walk down to the crosswalk at the intersection and would, therefore, also be more subject to danger from fast-moving cars turning into Potters Lane.
Traffic consultant for the applicant, Harold Lutz, stated that the danger of pedestrians walking from surrounding streets where they currently park in overflow situations is greater than the risks that the residents predict. In certain situations, the leadership of the facility has posted crossing guards to help provide more safety precautions for pedestrians.
Seven existing trees on the lot, three fairly large ones, are slated to be removed, if the lot is approved.
Since the last time re-plantings were discussed in public and many residents decried the use of arborvitaes, Mr. Fitzsimmons has altered his plan substituting Thuja Green Giant arborvitaes in the place of smaller arborvitaes, which were originally proposed as evergreen plantings. The giant arborvitaes would be interspersed with Leyland cypress trees, which are quick-growing and have a pyramidal growing habit. Both species can grow to 60 or 70 feet high.
Proposed ginkgo trees also garnered criticism and have been dropped from the proposal for deciduous trees. Red maples, kousa dogwoods and Japanese nyssas have been suggested by Mr. Fitzsimmons instead.
Jean Pierce presented the board with photos of trees, considered wire-friendly by LIPA, which she felt should be considered for the site if it is developed as a parking lot. Some varieties of arborvitaes are considered shrubs rather than trees, however, the green giant is noted as a tree.
Norman Wheeler, while complimentary of the work of the facility, said that the neighbors who can see the property from their homes, “just want the wooded look of the lot restored.”
In general, the public has not favored formal plantings in rows surrounding the lot and would rather see more of a naturalistic look. Landscape architects favor trees and planting with a more upright habit because they do not take up as much space
Board member Steven Markowitz was up front in stating that at this point he questions whether the applicant has proven a real need for a parking lot, enough to merit a change of use. He asked, “Is there justification for this given the burden to the neighborhood?”
Chairman Dennis Grossman stated that in the past, zoning boards have created restrictions and covenants sometimes when approving a plan. He said that sometimes the rules are so numerous and specific that they are hard to remember and consequently hard to enforce. He said, “We would need more global limits that are clear-cut and easy to understand and commonsensical.”
Board member Norman Namdar wanted to make sure that such a lot, if approved, would not be open all the time. This remark stemmed from complaints of neighbors about some parking lots in the village that have become attractive nuisances. Michael Nasimi, speaking on behalf of the congregation, stated that it would only be unlocked for specific events when demand for parking was great.
Board member Victor Habib asked the group to supply the board with a list of events for the upcoming three months that might draw overflow crowds and a list of “big” events for the past three months so that the board could get a handle on usage and need.
The newest member of the board, Tedi Kashi, stated that he was willing to decide about specifics involving an environmental impact statement, but would defer to other members if they needed more time to decide.
The applicant agreed to extend the time limits for decisions until the Feb. 4 meeting. The hearing is not yet closed and members of the public may send letters or statements to the board for inclusion in the public record.
Zoning boards do not create zoning laws. They exist as independent bodies, whose members are appointed by a village board of trustees, to give relief from zoning laws when applicants can show evidence that they need to be exempted from those laws. Publicly elected trustees in villages pass local ordinances and over time have created zoning laws to protect the rights and privileges of its residents, maintain certain land usages and the character of a place.