As many Long Island communities rethink suburban development, two on the North Shore got regional recognition for setting examples of “smart growth.”
The villages of Great Neck Plaza and Mineola were among the 11 honorees at last Friday’s 16th annual Smart Growth Awards, sponsored by Vision Long Island, a Northport-based planning and development organization.
Mineola got its second straight Smart Growth Award this year in the Transit-Oriented Development category alongside Mill Creek Residential Trust, a Texas-based developer behind three apartment buildings near the village’s Long Island Rail Road station.
The village also won last year with Lalezarian Properties, a New Hyde Park-based developer, for the Village Green, an apartment and retail complex that is currently under construction.
This year’s award is further proof that the village’s “Master Plan” to revitalize its downtown area has benefited the community without bringing the harm the projects’ opponents expected, Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira said.
“It feels great to be on the vanguard, to be out front, and to really do it on our terms,” Pereira said.
Great Neck Plaza won in this year’s Certainty category for rezoning its own downtown area into a “transit-oriented development” district.
The move allowed Nemat Development, a Great Neck-based firm honored alongside the village, to build a mixed-use complex at 5-9 Grace Ave. with two storefronts on the ground floor and 30 apartments above.
Nemat Development is led by Hooshang Nematzadeh, a Village of Kings Point trustee and former Great Neck Chamber of Commerce president.
The effort has attracted more residents to Great Neck Plaza’s downtown district, also located near an LIRR station that offers a 30-minute ride into Manhattan, Mayor Jean Celender said.
“[W]e’re the perfect transit-oriented development community and we adopt the zoning to be able to encourage it,” Celender said.
Mill Creek Residential Trust is currently working to get final permits for its second project in Mineola, a 192-unit, two-building complex at the former site of the Corpus Christi Elementary School on Searing Avenue.
Its first, the 275-unit Modera Mineola at 140 Old Country Road, opened in 2015. It also built Hudson House, a 36-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens.
Those two buildings, approved in 2008, are among four projects the village has approved under its “Master Plan” for downtown redevelopment. Two projects are complete and two are still in the works.
In all, they will bring more than 1,000 apartments to the downtown area when they are complete and occupied.
Mineola has already reaped the benefits, Pereira said — downtown businesses have gotten a boost, and developers’ payments to the village under pacts connected to the approvals have helped fund municipal improvements without raising taxes.
While the two completed projects have not burdened the village’s infrastructure or exacerbated traffic problems, officials are waiting until the other two are finished to even consider more big buildings, Pereira said.
“There absolutely comes a tipping point where maybe it’s too much, and I think that’s why with these last two large projects we have decided that we are going to take a break,” he said.
Great Neck Plaza officials sought to maintain their village’s suburban character and emphasize historic preservation while also encouraging smart development, according to Vision Long Island’s award materials.
In addition to boosting village businesses, transit-oriented projects help the environment by attracting residents who take the train to work and walk elsewhere instead of driving, village Trustee Pamela Marksheid said.
Celender compared Great Neck Plaza’s effort to the Village of Patchogue’s, which has also been honored with Smart Growth Awards.
“It was partly economics, partly getting the land use right, bringing in more residents into the downtown,” Celender said.
Mill Creek’s projects in Mineola and Nemat Development’s in Great Neck Plaza have all received property tax breaks from the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency.
Village officials and residents have objected to the deals, saying they are not financially ideal. But developers say the projects would not be feasible without them.
Two of Mineola’s projects, including the Searing Avenue development, will eventually put formerly tax-exempt properties back on the tax rolls.