The prospective development of a vacant lot and adjoining vacant building at 86-88 Main St. in Mineola met community opposition based on village parking issues last week.
The Mineola Board of Trustees heard arguments for and against the development of the two lots into a four-story mixed-use retail and residential space centered on a lack of parking in the area at a public hearing last Wednesday. The hearing was ultimately adjourned until Jan. 9.
The village has encountered parking issues consistently while attempting to revitalize the downtown business district, Mayor Scott Strauss said.
“I’ve seen how the village has morphed,” Strauss said. “What is your plan for parking in that area where there is virtually none?”
“This area during the day, during the week, is heavily occupied and there is very little parking available,” engineering consultant Sean Mulryan said.
He presented the board with a copy of a November 2016 report on parking from Level G Associates and U.S. Census data.
According to census data, 15 percent of renter occupants in the village do not own vehicles, and the development is aiming its marketing at those individuals, Mulryan said.
“I can’t believe that,” Trustee Paul Cusato said.
The current plans call for a retail space on the first floor and three stories of apartments above. The building would be divided into 11 one-bedroom apartments.
The application was submitted by property owner Joseph Puccio and Zambrano Architectural Design under the development incentive bonus law, an effort to continue to revitalize the village’s downtown, a major component of the Comprehensive Master Plan adopted in 2005.
The incentive bonus law gives the board the ability to approve variances on a case-to-case basis for business developments like this, attorney Marco Silva, who is representing the developer, said.
The goal of the downtown section of the master plan is to create a vibrant, walkable and accessible downtown that is a community focal point, the plan states.
Mulryan addressed several other projects going on in the area and slated for the future.
Multiple construction projects are underway in the downtown area.
In addition to the construction beginning on the LIRR third track expansion project, construction is underway at both the Village Green across the street to erect a 266-unit apartment building and between Harrison Avenue and First Street on Mineola Boulevard for a five-level, 551-space parking garage.
These developments have many consequences, Fox’s of Mineola owner Bob Fox said. Fox’s has two locations directly down the block and across the street from the planned development site, at 79 and 80 Main St.
“We always get carried away with these developments,” Fox said. “It’s all great in theory, but it doesn’t work that way in reality.”
Fox had to turn away customers while doing impromptu traffic direction the Friday before Veterans Day because of the construction and lack of parking in the area, he told the board.
“I cringed. It’s horrible that this is the way we treat our customers,” Fox said. “We do everything we can for customer service, but if we can’t park the customer or she has a very unpleasant experience, we’re going to lose her.”
Fox also approached Puccio about leasing the space at 86 Main, previously Buccelli Uomo.
“I understand you’re going to have all this parking coming in, but are you going to build new roads to account for all of this traffic coming into the area?” Mineola resident Scott Fairgrieve said. He is a Nassau County District Court judge.
“One of the biggest frustrations in Mineola and Long Island is the constant increase in traffic,” he said.
Fairgrieve echoed the concerns of other residents citing the height of the building. The proposed building would be four stories, but the top floor would be set back at least 10 feet to maintain the existing street wall between the buildings immediately north and south on Main Street.
“I think you should keep it to three stories,” Fairgrieve said. “I really think it is a bad idea and we’re starting to tip this more to a city than a village.”
He is not against the development but believes it should be done within a suburban point of view, Fairgrieve said.
“I come down here because I’m getting very concerned about the future of our village,” he said. “I’m going to be here the rest of my life and I want to keep it a village.”
“We look at things not in a vacuum, but as they exist,” former state Sen. Jack Martins said. Martins’ family owns the building directly to the south of the proposed development lots.
“This particular location which is next door to our building has been empty for a while,” Martins said. “It’s an eyesore and I think if we are going to really realize the vision that is Main Street we want a building there.”
The current village code allows for a three-story office building to be erected in the proposed location but no one wants to see an office building there, Martins said.
Puccio would be willing to wait up to three years to begin the project if approved, considering the surrounding construction, Silva said.
“Even if we were trying to do it as quickly as possible, it would probably be about a year before we got started,” Silva said. “We were already willing to wait up to three years so that all these other developments, the construction is done and hopefully the parking garage is up and some of these issues are alleviated.”
“Maybe you guys should wait until that parking lot behind Fox’s is built,” Cusato said. “I am totally upset, no disrespect, but the place is mobbed as it is right and I can’t believe that you require, right now, 45 parking spots.”
Puccio purchased the property in 2015 and has been attempting to develop the lots since, he said.
“The existing building sits in a toothless gap between its two neighbors,” Silva said.
Prior plans submitted proposed a ground level restaurant with three floors of residential apartment units above.
The developers have adjusted the plans so that the ground floor is now a retail space, in part because of the parking variances required for a restaurant and because they are not sure what or who will be in that space, Silva said.
“The residential portion of the building is exclusively single-bedroom apartments,” Silva said. “As a transit-oriented development, it is within walking distance of the train station, intermodal center as well as the hospital, courts, government buildings and downtown shopping and dining.”
The smallest of the 11 units would be 548 square feet, with at least three others all below 700 square feet, principal architect Willy Zambrano said.
The size of the apartments proposed seemed too small, Trustee Dennis Walsh said.
“If 500 square feet for an apartment is too small, I would tell you that 700 is probably, historically, where the target has been … so there’s a range there that makes sense,” Martins said.
Before the storefront at 86 Main was Buccelli Uomo, it was a movie theater, dating back to 1914 when it opened as the Century Opera House. Though it does not have landmark status, Peter Burnside of the Mineola Historical Society expressed interest in getting inside to make a record of anything historically significant.
“There’s a good chance that Teddy Roosevelt snuck over to that theater to watch Charlie Chaplin films back in the day,” Burnside said.
The building has been gutted by previous owners, Puccio said, noting that not even the rumored “mezzanine level” is present anymore. He added that he also could not allow Burnside or the historical society inside the building because it is not insured.
Burnside asked the board to consider erecting a historical marker if the application is approved.
The building would pay full taxes “from the get-go,” Silva said.
The building application also goes before the Nassau County Planning Commission before it can be decided on by the board.