Signatures on petition for more diverse housing in Great Neck village overstated

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Support for more diverse housing in the Village of Great Neck may've been overstated, an analysis of the petition suggests. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Support for more diverse housing in the Village of Great Neck may've been overstated, an analysis of the petition suggests. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Great Neck Village Mayor Pedram Bral has said at least once that 500 people signed a petition calling for the Board of Trustees to fight a “housing crisis” in the village to help justify revamping the village’s incentive zoning.

But the number of people who signed onto that petition is closer to 400, according to a copy of the petition acquired by the Great Neck News. And of those signers, the Great Neck News identified 157 addresses outside the Village of Great Neck via an analysis of property records and the village’s assessment roll.

More than half of the outside village signers – 84 – could be identified as coming from Kings Point. Most of the others had addresses listed in Great Neck Plaza and Great Neck’s unincorporated areas, with a few also coming from Great Neck Estates and Kensington.

A handful of people could not be identified as being in or outside the village.

In 2010, the population of the Village of Great Neck was 9,989, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The bureau estimates that, as of 2017, there were 10,303 people in the village.

Meanwhile, a change.org petition started on Saturday by the Northshore Asian Civic Association calling on the board to reject the proposed changes and extend the hearing period, garnered 750 signatures within a day. By early Tuesday afternoon, it had over 1,100 signers.

The Northshore Asian Civic Association started a petition against the proposed incentive zoning changes over the weekend. It has more than double the signers of the 2017 petition. (Screenshot from Change.org)
The Northshore Asian Civic Association started a petition against the proposed incentive zoning changes over the weekend. It has more than double the signers of the 2017 petition. (Screenshot from Change.org)

The petition does not have a public list of signatures, so the Great Neck News could not independently verify how many signers reside within or outside the Village of Great Neck.

“Many of us moved to Great Neck because we love the quality of the school district, the diversity of the community and the charming of small town life,” the petition states. “While we agree revitalization and capital investment is critical to the long term success of VGN, we do not feel the proposed zoning change is the solution.”

At the Jan. 15 Board of Trustees meeting, Bral said the village hired VHB, an engineering firm, more than a year ago as a consultant to come up with ways to revitalize the Middle Neck Road corridor because of the petition filed in 2017 and concerns about the area’s businesses.

“The reason we are doing this, and I’m going to say a very brief statement, why we started even looking at this, was because we got a petition of about 500 people asking for some changes to provide a more diverse residential space,” Bral said at the time. “Also, since I became the mayor, and even before I was the mayor, there were always complaints about the empty stores, the business corridor not being kept properly, all the stores are closing, and everyone was asking for a way for us to intervene and come up with ways of making the village more friendly, more accessible to different age groups to younger to older.”

Changes to the village’s incentive overlay district, which would include portions of Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road, have not yet been approved as of Feb. 18.

But the proposed amendments aim to encourage development by allowing for incentives to be given to developers – say, an extra floor of height – in exchange for something that would be a “community benefit” like affordable housing or public access to the Manhasset Bay waterfront on a case-by-case basis by the Board of Trustees.

Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar, a civic activist, along with other residents, conducted an analysis of the petition independently of the Great Neck News after obtaining the petition via a FOIL request.

Gilliar’s analysis found similar numbers, with 151 of the petition’s 399 signers – someone may have signed twice – identified as residing outside the village. Most signers are not registered to vote, almost all of the surnames appeared to be of Iranian descent, and nearly 40 percent reside outside the village, Gilliar said.

“The intent of the petition was to confirm the mayor’s assertion that our village needs apartment buildings five stories high,” Gilliar said, “but it turns out the petition does not speak for those of us who actually live here in this village.”

Gilliar also noted that “the mayor had obviously not had the petition vetted, as would be done in any of the other villages.”

The petition itself claims “the Village of Great Neck is currently facing a crisis with our young adults and young families moving out of the village at an alarming rate.” It goes on to say that the “aging population and mass exodus” of young, educated people will negatively affect taxes, schools, home values and the village’s growth.

It then says that “this dire situation is due to the limited options available of purchasable housing that is appealing to the younger generation” and that “the existing stock of detached single-family homes and apartment buildings in the village” is “no longer desirable to a large segment of the millennial generation.”

The petition also says “as taxpayers, we respectfully demand that the [Board of Trustees] find policy solutions to encourage alternative forms of purchasable housing options in the village that are aimed at the next generation of Great Neck homeowners.”

The document recommends that “specifically, the BOT should encourage a reasonable amount of denser development, such as condominiums, that provide a greater range of housing choices at a greater range of price points than the existing stock of available housing.”

Robert Barbach, the former building superintendent who is now a consultant to the village’s building department, said the village did not vet the petition and took the petition “at its face” because it has been “a recurring comment” that properties have become more expensive and young adults have found it difficult to live there.

“It’s representative, even if it’s not people who are residents of the village. It’s people who would like to be residents of the village,” Barbach said. “… That’s really the key here – that people would like to come and live in our village and they’re finding that the entry point is sometimes just so difficult.”

Asked about the petition and how less than 300 Great Neck village residents signed on, Bral said that he “can’t imagine that we can get a majority of them signing a petition,” and that the diverse citizens advisory committee solicited a lot of feedback from residents.

Bral also said that when the village started the “revitalization” process, “it wasn’t necessarily to address the lack of housing.” Rather, he said, it came from talks “about how the business corridor needs a facelift” and what can be done to accomplish that.

“The whole idea of incentive zoning is to bring the developers and the landlords on the negotiating table and we can say this is what the village needs and this is what we’re willing to give them.” Bral said. “They’re not getting anything as of right.”

 

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