The Village of Great Neck Planning Board on Thursday voted 3-1 in favor of a plan by developer Frank Lalezarian to build 11 homes on 3.1 acres of woodland on Clover Drive on the border of the villages of Great Neck and Great Neck Estates.
The vote came at a regularly scheduled meeting of the planning board with board members in support of the proposal offering no explanation for their decisions.
Board member Robin Gordon, who cast the lone no vote, said she objected to the plan because the planning board could not guarantee the development would have an access road, which requires approval by Great Neck Estates, as well as safety concerns.
“There is a difficult driveway entrance on Clover Drive,” Gordon said. “There are numerous safety issues.”
“I think on so many levels that it’s bad for the community,” she added to applause from residents at the meeting. “I feel like this issue, in all of my years on the planning board has shown more potential to rip a community apart.”
Gordon said Lalezarian’s plan was the most controversial issue she has seen in her 20 years as a member of the planning board.
Board member Allegra Goldberg was the only other planner not to approve the proposal, abstaining from the vote.
The planning board’s approval is conditional upon the plan being approved by Great Neck Estates and a state agency approving the development’s roadway, which has been the subject of debate among board members and the public.
The plan has already been approved by the Village of Great Neck Board of Zoning Appeals.
Efforts to reach Lalezarian for comment on the approval of the project were unavailing.
The board’s vote in favor of the proposal followed a special board meeting on May 1 that began at 7:30 a.m.
Four board members said at the meeting that they would vote against the application, citing safety concerns.
Gordon said at that meeting the planning board should hold off on voting for the proposal until it gained the Great Neck Estates’s okay since the only access to the proposed development went through Great Neck Estates.
“I think that this violates the village precedent in a way that hurts the village,” Gordon said.
Board members Goldberg, Michael Fuller and Fred Knauer agreed with Gordon, saying they would deny the application.
The four board members reversed themselves after acting board Chairman Raymond Iryami called an executive session, saying the 50-minute closed-door session was necessary for the board to receive advice of counsel.
Iryami announced after the closed-door session that the board would support the project contingent on Lalezarian receiving approval from Great Neck Estates and a state agency approving the development’s roadway.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Department of State Committee on Open Government, last week questioned the closed-door session that was ordered by Iryami.
“There are any number of situations in which a board will take legal advice,” Freeman said. “But once you start discussing the project again, it has to go out to the public.”
Iryami on Thursday, responding to a question from a resident, defended the legality of the closed door session.
“We were not instructed to do anything,” he said of the closed-door meeting.
Iryami said last week he ordered the closed-door session to ensure board members understood the legal ramifications of denying the project.
“As the chair, I need to make sure that they understand all of the issues and all of the facts,” Iryami said. “We need to make sure our ultimate vote is consistent with the law.”
Freeman also said the village planners violated open meetings law by announcing the special 7:30 a.m. meeting on the village website less than 24 hours earlier.
“The law requires that notice be given to the news media and be posted in a conspicuous public place,” Freeman said.
Freeman said as soon as the board knew what date they were holding the meeting, they should have posted a public notice a week before the meeting date.
Iryami last week defended the notice, saying that residents were notified at the board’s April 24 meeting to check the village’s website for the date and time of the May 1 meeting.
“Everyone was on notice,” he said.
Freeman also criticized the 7:30 a.m. starting time of the meeting, saying that it did not allow interested parties to attend the meeting.
“That is an unreasonable time to conduct an open meeting,” he said. “Can most people who have an interest in the application show up to the meeting?”
Planning board attorney Christopher Prior said the board tried to schedule an evening meeting.
“After significant effort to schedule an evening meeting to do so, the only mutually available date and time to accomplish this in a timely manner was the morning of Thursday, May 1,” Prior said in an e-mail.