Despite being listed as a hearing for the architectural and facade review for a proposed mixed-use structure at 733-41 Middle Neck Road, Tuesday night’s Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees meeting was flooded with concerned residents who claimed the public’s input was not taken enough into consideration in the project’s planning.
The proposed structure, which would replace a collection of run-down and vacant storefront on Middle Neck Road and some of North Road- a side road, is a four-story mixed-use building that is 44 feet high and features 60 proposed dwelling units, with 56 two-bedroom apartments and four one-bedroom apartments, 93 parking spaces, a recreation center and a public art gallery.
The presentation of the updated architecture and facade for the building was made by the project’s consulting engineer, Gad Yashoori, and attorney John Farrell, who represented the applicant, Yosef Shemtov.
According to the plans, North Road will see most of the traffic from residents in the proposed building, along with delivery cars and trucks.
For delivery cars, the plans have a half-circle driveway on North Road. but the proposed height would not be able to accommodate larger delivery trucks. The trucks would have to park on North Road to make deliveries, narrowing the road for residents of the proposed structure and North Road homeowners.
“If you have the horseshoe [driveway] that’s not tall enough to have [trucks] fit underneath, that’s mind-blowing to me,” village resident Sam Yellis said. “You can’t fit deliveries for 60 apartments on one hand truck, it’s not a quick in-and-out.”
The site plan features a ramp to the underground parking lot roughly 30 feet away from 10 North Road, which will be the closest residential property impacted by the project. The proposal has a string of arborvitaes along with a vinyl fence as a buffer between 10 North Road and the proposed project. Farrell said the arborvitaes, which grow at a more rapid pace than normal trees, will be planted at 6 to 8 feet high and will grow to roughly a little over 12 feet once they reach full maturity in a few years.
10 North Road homeowners Mark and Miriam Kordvani expressed concerns over privacy and the visual appeal of the foliage on Tuesday evening.
“I genuinely think that if this building is going to be three to four stories high, there needs to be planting [trees] at a minimum of 20 feet so it can block out some of the view that is going to be looking directly into our backyard where my children play,” Miriam Kordvani said. “I don’t want strangers to be able to look at them, to watch them, to see them whenever they’re outside.”
Residents proposed that instead of arborvitaes, a variety of trees and other foliage could be planted to make the site more visually appealing.
While some of the public limited comments to the architecture and facade of the building, which was the only matter the board was at liberty to discuss on Tuesday night, others chimed in with reservations about the negative impacts to the North Road and Great Neck community the proposal may bring.
North Road resident Lloyd Ebrani said the traffic study of the proposed project should be redone at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is not affecting the flow of vehicles on Middle Neck Road.
“Traffic can sometimes take 10 minutes from North Road to get onto Middle Neck Road,” Ebrani said. “We currently have 10 to 12 residential units on the street. Now we are [talking about] adding an extra 60 units. However you put it, it’s a lot of extra stuff.”
Ebrani also questioned the need for a public art gallery in the first floor of the building, with the Great Neck House in such close proximity. He said the art gallery will result in an increase of parked cars near residential homes and the already congested Middle Neck Road.
Fellow North Road resident Jack Ezrahian said he and his neighbors were not properly consulted on the project by the village and called the size and nature of the proposed building in relation to its proximity to residential housing “unheard of” in the village.
“This project is going under the radar, it is going too fast, it is premature,” Ezrahian said. “The permission [for this project] was done way too fast and way too premature.”
Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral reiterated several times that the hearing was strictly on the architectural and facade review of the proposed project. Bral, along with village Attorney Peter Bee, clarified the regulations that the Board of Trustees and the Board of Zoning Appeals have in respect to each other.
“The BZA is one of the boards that is necessary and is needed, and it’s not something we can do without,” Bral said. “They are a board that works on their own without [the] influence of the Board of Trustees. For any of us to meddle in their decisions, I believe it is considered illegal.”
Bral ultimately decided to table the decision on the architecture and facade of the proposal until the next meeting on Jan. 19, so residents can voice their concerns to the zoning board if they wish to do so.
Ezrahni mentioned petitions that have been circulating in the area with more than 200 signatures to redesign the project with the longest side and the entrance to the building not being on North Road. The petition also requests the reversal of previous variances granted by the zoning board.
“I do think that the BZA messed up … they really dropped the ball,” he said.
Efforts to reach members of the zoning board for comment were unavailing. The zoning board is scheduled to discuss the proposal’s site plan via Zoom on Thursday night.
Village resident Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar, who resides within a 200-foot radius of the proposed project, said she was not properly notified of the project by the developer.
“The developer has never sent me a notification,” Gilliar said in a letter to village officials. “In my possession are three of the envelopes in which the developer mailed to my husband notification of meetings/hearings, but not to me. My husband and I co-own the property.”
According to the village’s zoning code, “Before an application for a variance or a conditional, special or other use permit may be heard by the Board of Appeals or the Board of Trustees, a complete and accurate list of the names and addresses of the owners of all the lands within a radius of 200 feet of the property affected by such application shall be submitted simultaneously with the application.”
Gilliar said her husband had envelopes addressed solely in his name from June, September and December 2020.
“The fact that I found out about the application anyway, despite being shut out of the process by the developer, does not excuse, does not allow, does not countenance a violation of the law, a violation repeated and compounded in each mailing, one mailing after another,” Gilliar said. “Our system of laws is the bedrock of our American democracy.”