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Editorial: 2 Potters Lane Case: Answering to a Higher Authority

Aside from the shock and anger about a wooded lot being clear-cut illegally, residents were perplexed when counsel to the Village of Great Neck Board of Zoning Appeals stated that under New York law, if a member of a zoning board is affiliated with an applicant and there is “no financial gain” involved, that member is not required to recuse himself from hearing the case.

During the early months of the open case, then board member and congregation member Nick Nabavian was insistent that he would be able to participate objectively in the hearing. By custom at least, board members in the Village of Great Neck had always stepped aside if an application of any kind came before a board from a religious organization where they held membership.

Everyone fully expected and assumed that the zoning board member who was a member of the congregation who owned the parcel would recuse himself from the zoning board decision.

In the end, Mr. Nabavian resigned from the board for other reasons. He was replaced by another member of the congregation, Tedi Kashi. To Mr. Kashi’s credit, he abstained from voting when the board reached its decision last week.

But throughout the hearing, there was a public perception that a member of the applicant organization might indeed vote.

It is not impossible for a board to establish their own Code of Ethics that could exceed state standards. Just as the Water Authority of Great Neck North cleans water to a standard that exceeds New York State guidelines, so too, could a zoning board.

The American Planning Association has suggested ethical standards in which they state that planners “abstain completely from direct or indirect participation as an advisor or decision maker in any matter in which they have a personal interest and leave any chamber in which such a matter is under deliberation.” The document defines “personal interest broadly to include any actual or potential benefits or advantages that they, a spouse, family member or person living in their household might directly or indirectly obtain from a planning decision.”

This was a case that was emotionally charged for everyone. In truth, many of the congregants of the United Mashadi Jewish Community of America were also very upset that the lot had been cleared illegally.

The zoning board spent years dealing with this case and listened carefully to the neighbors’ concerns. In reading their final ruling and the terms listed for granting the variances, they are to be commended for doing their best to mitigate negative impacts in a difficult circumstance while acting in accordance with laws that strictly limit their options in such cases.

Going forward, public confidence in the zoning board process would be greatly enhanced if they, and other zoning boards in Great Neck, considered self-imposing a higher code of ethics than set by state law.

- Carol Frank