Ideas pitched to boost Middle Neck Road, East Shore Road in Great Neck

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Marwa Fawaz, a senior project manager for VHB, presents possible zoning improvements the village could make. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)
Marwa Fawaz, a senior project manager for VHB, presents possible zoning improvements the village could make. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Village of Great Neck residents filled Village Hall for a presentation on revitalizing Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road on Tuesday night, with most agreeing that commercial vacancies are too high.

The village had increased the scope of a study by VHB, an engineering consultant company, in November to analyze possible zoning law changes to encourage residential and commercial development while protecting the character of the village.

Robert Barbach, the superintendent of the village’s Building Department, said this follows a 2013 corridor study, which had resulted in the Middle Neck Road Multifamily Incentive Overlay District, the Steamboat Road Town Home Redevelopment Incentive and Overlay District and other “incentive zoning procedures.”

But the board concluded it had not seen the results it wanted, Barbach said, prompting the $100,000 study.

“The purpose of the study was to identify potential amendments to the zoning code that could stimulate the desired multifamily residential and commercial development to desired sites,” Barbach said.

Representatives from VHB highlighted a number of issues with Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road, including a “lack of cohesive identity” among buildings, underutilized parking, business vacancies and a need to support the commercial sector with increased residential development.

Among VHB’s suggestions for Middle Neck Road were raising the maximum allowable building height to be four to five stories, embracing mixed use development, relaxing parking restrictions and calming traffic at three intersections.

VHB also recommended expanding incentive zoning to East Shore Road, working on streetscape improvements, boosting walkability and trying to improve access to Manhasset Bay.

Some attendees touched on the cost of living in Great Neck, with one young woman saying her generation was moving out for lack of affordability and seeing “a decline in Great Neck.”

A few residents also questioned how the village went about trying to plot development ideas for Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road.

Rebecca Gilliar, a member of the Great Neck Old Village Civic Association, agreed that there are “really serious issues that need to be addressed.” She asked why the Board of Trustees did not first request a committee of residents to come up with ideas and then work with VHB to come up with a master plan.

“Let us have those months to come to you with ideas about our own community, and then you combine it with what VHB recommended,” Gilliar suggested.

Mayor Pedram Bral said the village wanted to consult experts and that it have more public meetings where residents can make suggestions.

Jean Pierce, referring to the previous zoning studies, said she found it to be more of a “tweak.” She also said an assisted living facility for the corner of Middle Neck Road and Hicks Lane should be “totally out of the question.”

“I think the reason we’re having a public meeting is for you to say what you believe,” Bral said.

“That’s why I’m saying it to you,” Pierce replied.

“Right, but I want to hear what you believe should go there,” Bral said. “Don’t tell me what you believe should not go there, just tell me what you think should go there, and I think that’s what I would like to hear from everybody else also.”

Paul Bloom, an attorney representing clients who he says are ready to invest millions of dollars in the village, said he supports the idea of adjusting the zoning on Middle Neck Road and East Shore Road.

“The general concept is something that will spur what I think is going to be the revitalization of what I also consider a dying village, a business district that doesn’t exist,” Bloom said. “In the last couple of years you have lost every major national chain that could have been here.”

Hooshang Nematzadeh, drawing on his involvement in the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce, said retail vacancies in the village are close to 30 percent. “This is getting worse and worse,” he said.

The draft study follows presentations regarding potential development for the Millbrook Court apartments, which could lead to a net increase of more than 60 apartment units, and replacing an underused office with an assisted living complex with more than 90 units.

In unrelated village business, Great Neck village trustees approved laws for the A1 zone that will increase the maximum allowable square footage for accessory buildings from 100 square feet to 500 square feet and allow for the construction of detached garages.

Officials previously said these laws aimed to bringing the A1 zone into sync with the rest of the village.

The next Board of Trustees meeting will be Tuesday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m.

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