Village of Great Neck trustees agreed to revise proposed zoning changes intended to revitalize Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road on Tuesday night, after more than four hours of sometimes heated debate.
Residents flooded Village Hall, armed with signs, flyers, mostly calling for the rejection of the revisions to the zoning code for fear of it adding five-story buildings, making the village too crowded, worsening traffic, and potentially harming both the school district and property values.
Originally the proposed zoning changes renamed the Middle Neck Road Multifamily Incentive Overlay District the Corridor Incentive Overlay District and extended it to part of East Shore Road, with the goal of encouraging positive commercial development.
While the zoning underneath it would remain fundamentally the same, the overlay district would allow the Board of Trustees to determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to offer developers the opportunity to add an extra floor in some projects. It would serve as an incentive to developers in exchange for a “community benefit,” such as affordable housing, commercial development or assisted living facility.
Peter Bee, who worked with the building department and VHB, the engineering firm serving as the village’s consultant on revitalization, said the law empowers the board to give some relief, but also caps them from going beyond a building height of four stories for ground floor commercial development and five stories for assisted living facilities and affordable housing.
Under the change, affordable housing and commercial uses would be “presumptive benefits.”
“So adoption of these changes would not entitle a developer to build a five-story building,” Bee said. “All that a developer could do is ask the Board of Trustees to be granted some limited relief from the existing restrictions as to use, placement and mass.”
Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said the proposal would not bring forth a wave of five-story buildings and instead aims to build on what the village has. He also said that the village, if it were to get $12 per square foot of commercial space added, could see up to $300,000 of extra revenue while shifting some tax burden off of residential property owners.
“That is not chump change in our village,” Bral said.
But many residents had honed in on the scope of the proposed changes, particularly with the inclusion of East Shore Road, and also said the conclusion drawn by VHB’s traffic study – namely, that there’d be no adverse impact to traffic there – was far from believable.
Susan Lopatkin, the mayor of the neighboring village of Kensington, said she understands the amount of effort that goes into rezoning and applauded the village for its effort. But Lopatkin said that both she and Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg believe there will be an adverse traffic impact for East Shore Road and more should be done to find the sources of the congestion.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a traffic study in my 11 years [as mayor] that’s said there’d be an adverse impact,” Lopatkin said.
Kris Torkan, a Great Neck developer and head of Villadom Corp, said the village is “one of the nicest” on Long Island and that everyone “wants to live here.” But nobody wants to come and do business as “the stores and main street are all dilapidated,” he said, so the zone change is needed.
“I really think it’s a fantastic proposal, but it needs a lot of fine-tuning,” Torkan said of VHB’s plans, also noting his support for revitalizing Middle Neck Road. “My humble opinion and, forgive me, the proposal is too aggressive for taking Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road at the same time into consideration.”
But many also raised fears about the potential that more students than projected by VHB could have to be absorbed by already pressed school facilities, compromising the quality of the school district they moved to the Great Neck area for.
Additionally many residents like James Wu, a 10-year resident who said he moved to the village from Flushing to “get away from overdevelopment,” said the changes could spark a wave of developments that threaten Great Neck’s quality of life.
“Now, as a principle, as a resident, I don’t think our ambition as a community should be to maximize our infrastructure, to put as many houses and as many stores in our community as possible. That isn’t really why we live here,” Wu said. “We live here because we want to live in a community where we can be comfortable, where we can raise our children, where we can visit our grandparents, where we can be happy and live good lives.”
There was also debate on whether or not there were currently enough assisted-living options and if they were needed.
Some residents also raised concerns about transparency and called for an extension of the public hearing so everyone could be heard.
The full hearing and other comments can be found on the Village of Great Neck Facebook page.
Village officials ultimately decided to adjourn the meeting to March 5 and directed Bee’s office to create amended legislation in wake of the concerns about five-story buildings, increased traffic, East Shore Road and “a number of other issues that were raised.”
Bee advised trustees that the revised legislation would essentially have to go through a new public hearing process, meaning they’d have to put out public notice again, have another assessment for environmental purposes, and then re-route the proposal “back to the Nassau County Planning Commission.”
Bee said it’s unlikely that the new law could be crafted in the next four days so 10 days of public notice can be given in time for March 5.
Trustees also floated ideas on how to reach out to the community about the changes and the March 5 meeting.
“I wouldn’t tell them not to come, I would say to come but with the understanding [of this],” Trustee Annie Mendelson said.
In unrelated business, village trustees also approved a six-month moratorium on small residential subdivisions within the village so they could study the issue.