“I feel like I have Walmart moving in next door,” Great Neck resident Ruth Goykadosh said to a packed room full of parents, residents and community members at the Great Neck Board of Education meeting Monday night. “It’s going to change the face of the community.”
Goykadosh was one of 13 community members who took to the podium during the board’s open time to express strong feelings about a planned parking lot at North High School, which was approved as part of a $68 million bond referendum in May.
Superintendent Teresa Prendergast said the referendum, which included $652,000 for the parking lot, was approved by 77 percent of the 8,244 voters last spring after more than 30 community presentations, including slides about the student parking lot, as well as two letters sent to the community — one in February and a more detailed letter in May.
Before the open time, President Barbara Berkowitz read a written statement about the parking lot, explaining the timeline of the bond referendum in 2017 as well as a breakdown of what will be included with the parking lot construction, including vegetative screening, evening security, drainage problems and the need for increased student safety.
“The need for additional parking was created by an increased student enrollment at North High School due to the implementation of the option zone a decade ago,” Berkowitz said.
“At that time, the enrollment numbers at North High School were about 950 students, and currently there are 200 more students attending the school than 10 years ago, thanks in part to our desire, by creating the option zone, to equalize student enrollment in both high schools.”
Some residents, however, feel that they were not properly notified about the lot and that it was somewhat disguised so that residents would not notice its planned construction.
“Despite Ms. Berkowitz’s statement that said they had numerous meetings about the bond, this bond was labeled as educational enhancements and infrastructure repair,” Robert Mendelson said in a letter to Blank Slate Media, referring to board President Barbara Berkowitz. “The residents who voted for it trusted that label and did not check every line item. Now, as these voters are discovering this one specific line item they are outraged. … The parking lot was one of over 100 line items in the proposed bond, buried to make its detection less likely.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Prendergast said the need for the lot was based on increasing student safety as many North High School students park on the streets around the school during the day.
The gated lot, which will add 97 parking spaces at the corner of Beach and Polo roads, will only be open for school hours, Prendergast said, and no floodlights will be installed in the lot since it is not intended for nighttime use.
“We moved to Great Neck because of its residential quality,” resident Barbara Shaw said. “The trees, the parks, the library and the school, it helps to make for a greater quality of life. The environmental issue is a key issue. We’re losing green spaces. It’s our moral obligation to protect our environment. By ripping up green space and making it a parking lot is not the way to go. For the benefit of a few high school seniors to park on-site instead of walking is unconscionable.”
Prendergast said the existing lot is often referred to as a swamp because of its poor drainage and constant muddy conditions.
“Many people call it a swamp because it is not fit for any athletic opportunities or contests,” Prendergast said. “That field has very poor drainage and it is not used at all for any athletic contest for about 20 years, and in our district, we have opportunities where community organizations can come out for facility permits and no one has wanted to use that field for about six years because it’s muddy. It’s a breeding ground of mosquitos.”
Though much of the vegetation will be removed for the lot, Prendergast said the district plans to keep a 30-foot barrier of undisturbed vegetation along Beach Road as well as adding 60 Leyland cypress trees around the perimeter of the lot for additional screening.
Some residents say they feel that the safety benefits outweigh the preservation of this space, including resident Bali Lerner, whose daughter is a senior and an athlete.
“The reality is we always used to look for extra places to practice and one of those places is that small patch of grass, but it’s buggy and wet and has no sunlight so we have to look for other areas,” Lerner said. “This field we’re giving up isn’t truly a field.”
There are also residents who feel that neither an additional parking lot nor street parking is the answer and different, more modern options should be considered.
“There’s something called ride-sharing, people in Manhattan are renting bikes,” Josh Adler said. “If we’re talking modernity, is the only way to satisfy Great Neck’s need for modernity through a new parking lot?”
Jake Pellegrino contributed reporting to this story.