Public comments dominate Village of Great Neck meeting; residents vocal on two proposals

Village of Great Neck resident Ken Lee presented a new rendering of a proposed multi-family dwelling unit at 777 Middle Neck Road on Tuesday night. (Rendering by Ken Lee)

A majority of the Village of Great Neck’s Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday was spent discussing the development of a multifamily dwelling unit at 777 Middle Neck Road and resolutions that allowed Mayor Pedram Bral to authorize the sale of property at 263-267 East Shore Road to Villadom On the Bay LLC.

Plans for a multifamily dwelling unit on the location have been presented to the board and the public for nearly a year. The most recent proposal from the developer, Lions Group NYC, along with Newman Design and a traffic study conducted by Cameron Engineering, would feature nine one-bedroom apartments, 31 two-bedroom apartments, four three-bedroom units, and 79 parking spaces on the first floor.

The agenda item in the discussion during the meeting, held via Zoom, was to declare the Village of Great Neck as the lead agency for the tentative development, not approving the plans presented by attorney Paul Bloom of Harras, Bloom and Archer LLP.

Declaring the village as the lead agency would allow the plans to be submitted to the Nassau County Planning Commission for any potential comments, modifications and approval before they are sent back to the village for final approval.

Village Attorney Peter Bee made it clear that the agenda item was solely to declare the village as the project’s lead agency and it would not be a vote on the finalized plans.

Gutheil Lane resident and architect Ken Lee has been adamant about prioritizing the well-being and safety of fellow Gutheil residents for almost a year. On Tuesday night, Lee presented a proposal that caught the attention of Bral and the board.

Lee said one of the main concerns Gutheil residents have is the potential influx of traffic and parked cars that would be unsafe and congest an already narrow road, which eventually turns into a cul de sac, with an entrance on Gutheil.

Lee’s proposal uses a curb cut off Middle Neck Road directly next to the Department of Public Works building which leads to a ramp down to the parking garage. Lee also proposed a traffic light on Middle Neck Road that would be shared by the tentative dwelling and the Department of Public Works to alleviate traffic flow for Gutheil residents to exit as well.

Rebecca Goldberg, transportation director at Cameron Engineering, said that access to the site is required by the Nassau County Department of Public Works to be on the residential road rather than Middle Neck Road.

Bral, however, commended Lee on his proposal and decided to table the resolution for another meeting and said he was encouraged by the great progress being made on the project.

“I thank you for this concept,” Bral said to Lee. “I apologize to the applicant and Mr. Bloom for the delay, but I think we are making headways here and I don’t want to waste the opportunity to improve this project.”

“I like the idea,” Trustee Annie Mendelson said. “I think in some ways it can benefit the [Department of Public Works] since they can share that light. I see it as something positive, and I see it as less of a traffic issue.”

Trustees Bart Sobel and Steven Hope also said they appreciated Lee’s proposal and agreed with Bral’s decision to table the discussion to a later date.

Members of the public also commended Lee’s proposal, and some said they appreciated the tabling of the discussion to take into account how residents can be adversely affected by the proposal.

The meeting then shifted to a resolution that allowed Bral to authorize the sale of 263-267 East Shore Road by the village to Villadom On the Bay for $9 million.

Bral said the property was presented to more than one group and said only Villadom was interested in purchasing it for $9 million.

Villadom, under the contract, is anticipating building senior housing (55+) on the property, according to Bee.

Bee clarified that the agenda item was solely giving the mayor authority to authorize the sale of the property to Villadom, not approving any potential plans for senior living or any other structure. Bee also said that according to the contract, if a potential project was ultimately not constructed by the buyer, the sale of the property would be nullified.

Residents expressed concern about having a senior living facility with potential ambulances, trucks and residential traffic.

Nina Gordon, a 60-year resident of the Great Neck peninsula, said she was concerned about the quality of life and traffic on East Shore Road for the villages of Great Neck and Kings Point. Gordon said she has spent 20 to 30 years working in the field of independent living and nursing homes and said the term “independent living” is a misnomer.

“As people age, they are less independent, and a building such as this is going to be a drain on the ambulances,” Gordon said. “I just feel like the idea of independent living is going to bring increased traffic. Most people that move into these places are not cooking for themselves, they have a dining room and a clubhouse.”

Gordon referred to North Shore Towers, which is not classified as 55+ living, but has a fair amount of seniors living there, she said.

“I’m worried about noise, density, tall building which interfere with the sightlines,” Leslie Feldman, a village resident, said. “These are very important considerations. You can’t just mine East Shore Road … There’s still a quality of life for people who live in the neighborhood.”

Feldman referred to a Waldbaum’s that was across the street from the East Shore Road property “years ago.”  The property, according to village resident David Zielenziger, was the site of the now-demolished Village of Great Neck sewer plant along with an adjacent swimming pool property.

Sobel disagreed with the idea that a supermarket would make less noise than residential living, citing the amount of traffic from delivery trucks, garbage trucks and patrons that would potentially have an adverse impact on neighboring roads and properties.

“The same people are hitting the chat button saying this is going to add to traffic and noise. Residential living is the least impactful to traffic and noise and that has been proven over and over,” Sobel said. “I think what people would prefer is that we leave this property fallow.”

Village resident Judy Shore Rosenthal acknowledged some people may not be aware of Villadom, but rather its president, Kris Torkan, and wanted Bral to clarify who specifically would be purchasing the property.

“I’ll tell you why we can’t,” Bral said. “It may be Kris Torkan, it may be Kris Torkan with 10 other partners. I don’t know, and that’s why I don’t want to say the names because I don’t know who everyone in that group is if there are other people.”

Bral was accused in the chat of not providing other potential buyers, such as the Great Neck Park District, a chance to submit a bid for the property.

According to the state’s village law, real property can be sold for fair value if the Board of Trustees declares the property to be a “surplus.”  The village is not required to offer its property for sale in any competitive process, and can choose whom it wishes to sell to, according to the law.

“In the current situation, the Board of Trustees determined the property to be surplus, the sale price has been determined to be fair, and the Purchaser’s intended purpose of independent senior housing development is one which we believe is in the interests of the village,” Bral said in a statement.

Great Neck Parks Commissioner Robert Lincoln said he was not aware of any contact between the two parties, but said, “We would explore any property which might be useful to us.”

Bral said one of the advantages of the proposed property is that it would be a taxable property, as opposed to something purchased by the park district, which would not be on the tax roll. He also said he was open to ideas for nontaxable development, but was frank about his fiduciary responsibilities as mayor.

“I have no problem with projects being tax-exempt,” Bral said. “But [as mayor], I don’t like anything off the tax roll. When I have an opportunity to bring in tax revenue so it does not go on to negatively impact the taxpayers in the Village of Great Neck, that’s my fiduciary responsibility to look into it.”

Village resident Andrea Katz spoke on the importance of having something that enhances the community whether it is on the tax roll or not.

“I think we have to have, as a village, a very solid idea of where we’re going and what we’re doing,” Katz said. “When it benefits some people it’s OK if it’s not taxable property. I agree, we want to get the tax benefits, but we’re not very consistent in this village.”

Katz, who said her family has owned the West Terrace Road property since 1958, also said in the past several years she has been “embarrassed” to live in the village.

“There’s not enough transparency [in this village],” Katz said. “You may not be aware of this mayor, or you may be, but many people in this village believe you may have relationships with these developers. Things feel shady whether they are or not.”

“For the record, I have no relationship with any developers financially, emotionally or any other way,” Bral said. “I do believe, and I feel my board and I would like to do the right thing, and do the best thing for the community, the village and surrounding villages.”

Bral said he was “offended” by the suggestion of “shady dealings” in regard to development throughout the village over the past few years.

“The way we listened to 777 [Middle Neck Road] we are going to listen to this,” Bral said. “How can you say things are shady when we have listened to the neighborhood of Gutheil [regarding 777 Middle Neck Road] for a long time.”

“The collective fear for the destruction of the Great Neck community – as a whole – is why 60 residents – an unheard of number for a Zoom BOT meeting – united on line to listen, question and oppose at Public Comment,” Rosenthal said in a statement.

The board unanimously approved a motion to declare the execution of the purchase and sale of the property is an unlisted action through the State Environmental Quality Review Act and approved a motion to declare the property a surplus, and authorized Bral to sign the purchase agreement.

“I just want to assure the community on West Terrace Road that when the project comes to the floor to be discussed, you will all be heard,” Bral said.

West Terrace lies behind the proposed structure.

“That was a hefty agenda,” Bral said as he concluded the meeting just after 11 p.m.

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Robert Pelaez

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