Viewpoint: The Village of Great Neck’s rezoning plan

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The January 15 Village of Great Neck trustees meeting was uncharacteristically filled because people expected to hear a more fleshed out plan for the plan to “revitalize” Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road corridors using “incentive” zoning to spur “diverse housing options” including senior housing, assisted living and affordable housing.

But there wasn’t a presentation, even though the agenda called for the board to “accept” the November 2018 report and recommendations provided by its consultant VHB, and to “accept” the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

November? As far as anyone knew, there was no December presentation that was supposed to provide greater detail from VHB than the woefully sketchy September presentation. Yet the language of the two resolutions emphasized multiple times “robust public engagement process.”

Instead of reviewing the November 2018 report and recommendations, Mayor Bral chastised residents for “fear-mongering” falsities.

Instead of trying to bring people on board and allay concerns – as every other village that has undertaken substantial redevelopment projects has done – this village has done its darnedest to make the village residents feel that something is happening to them by trustees who are shaping the incentive zoning based on conversations with developers. After all, the basis for the “incentivized zoning” is that the 2013 attempt apparently failed to bring in new development, and that the impetus for this new stab was a petition with 500 signatures from 18 months ago.

The board seems to have specific projects in mind like assisted living.

Mayor Bral dismissed the fact that there are two assisted living buildings in Great Neck Plaza already, saying, “Many people who want to visit on Shabbat and don’t drive, want to live next to their family,” adding, “We need to allow certain growth – this is a benefit to the community.”

Bral lectured on the need for increased development (density) in order to keep tax rates down (a bigger property tax pie) – but that ignores the reality that these new developments will likely get tax abatements and may impose new costs on the village. There was no attempt to show a before or after projection so people could visualize.

People appeared to be most concerned about the increase in traffic congestion greater density on the main arteries, Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road, would produce. Mayor Bral replied that the new buildings would be limited in the amount of parking they could provide (as opposed to limiting density based on a code requiring two parking spots per unit), so the developers would be forced to offer shuttle service or zip cars (actually an idea I support).

My issue isn’t so much the increased density or attempt at revitalization which this village sorely needs. It is the way the village is going about it and how it would manage it. There is no overarching plan or vision to actually revitalize Middle Neck Road, to beautify and make this dangerous artery safer for pedestrians and cyclists – more liveable, walkable – or encourage shopping and communing in a cohesive, planned way, or for the village to do anything at all.

The plan seems to be for individual developers, as a condition of being allowed to build to four or five stories, to have street setbacks and improve that portion of Middle Neck Road in front of their property. So far it seems there are three projects being contemplated (but a bunch of POIs, properties of interest); at that rate, it will take 20 years or so before there is actually a “revitalized” Middle Neck Road.

And yet, we are told Nassau County is about to undertake a once-in-a-generation repaving of Middle Neck Road. Instead of adopting “Complete Streets” principles (and the sage advice of an actual consultant who argues for traffic calming and converting Middle Neck Road to one lane with separation from parked cars), there is no cohesive “vision” at all. This village is one of the few in the entire county that doesn’t bother attending Vision Long Island’s highly respected “Smart Growth” and “Complete Streets” conferences where they would hear success stories of Downtown Revitalization from other villages (Baldwin, Westbury), how they were able to get substantial grants from state agencies ($10 million apiece; $100 million available this year) as well as the Department of Transportation which provides funding for Complete Streets and traffic calming projects (Great Neck Plaza) and Long Island Regional Development Council ($10 million available for each region) and enlist public-private partnerships.

The Generic Draft Environmental Impact Statement, required by state law, basically reads as if it were paid for by developers rather than the village board being the lead agency responsible for looking out for its citizens. It pooh-poohs concerns about traffic and parking with a “nothing to see here” dismissal. It is filled with language like this: “there is no significant impact due to changes in land use under the proposed zoning amendments conditions, and no mitigation is warranted.”

But the analysis of impact on the school district – and therefore property tax (60-65% of the property tax bill) – is illustrative (and from what we could discern, prepared without actual input from the School District):

The report projects 82 additional children being “absorbed” over a 10-year period. How do you absorb children? But if the district had to enroll 82 new students, the study projects, that would amount to $2,281,076 in additional property taxes. That amounts to about 1% of the school budget or half of what is allowed as an increase under the state’s tax cap.

Their cavalier analysis of absorbing children does not take into account the important district policy of low-class size so that even one or two more students in a grade or subject could result in the need to form a new class.

Residents (and not just Village residents are affected) will supposedly have a chance to hear a full presentation of the “report” and “recommendations” at the February 5 hearing, before a February 19 vote to adopt. The proposal (237 pages) is online (see http://www.greatneckvillage.org/document_center/DGEIS_20190115.pdf)

1 COMMENT

  1. Why isn’t Great Neck attempting to fill its empty stores? Why isn’t the double/triple parking along Middle Neck Road being addressed and enforced? Affordable housing in Great Neck, that’s a joke and so unnecessary in a town like Great Neck.

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