As more apartment buildings pop up all over Great Neck, with more being proposed (e.g., 777, 523 Middle Neck) and with the associated requests from developers to build out above existing laws, it’s a good time to consider certain points.
First, no one in Great Neck is against revitalizing our downtown.
However, Great Neck families don’t want to harm our successful public institutions (e.g., schools, parks, programs) in a misguided attempt to eliminate some empty storefronts. And, let’s face it, adding apartment complexes and therefore scores of people to our community creates overcrowding risks across schools, roads, parking lots peninsula-wide. (E.g., the school district is spending millions on construction to accommodate increases in the student population — that money could go to education programs). So let’s talk about other ways to fill vacant stores that all can rally around. This involves taking stock of certain realities:
- Great Neckers are protective of their top-rated public schools and don’t wish to overcrowd them. They realize as class size goes up, the quality of education goes down.
- Great Neck home values are high because of Great Neck’s stupendous public schools and proximity to the city. Those stating Great Neck must develop its downtown at all costs to keep home values up and that the school district’s excellence is less important, should note, a home listing on Zillow includes the rating of nearby public schools, not the number of nearby salons.
- Great Neck is not short on people. Port Washington, Roslyn, Garden City have less people than Great Neck and more successful commercial districts. Great Neck doesn’t need more people, it needs the right businesses.
- Many opposed a rezoning initiative by the Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees that could have led to massive apartment development along Middle Neck. If that board now approves requests (they’re coming in quick) to build beyond current laws – on a building by building basis — we will end up with the result the community so ardently opposed. But this is not the end of the conversation. It’s the beginning! Residents have ideas on revitalizing our downtown without aggressive apartment development. Ideas: a farmer’s market every Sunday with organic produce.
This would bring shoppers in from neighboring towns and bring residents and their wallets out and about.
Our Chamber of Commerce could partner with PTOs to survey families on businesses they would frequent. Perhaps a wine bar, foreign language center where children get instruction in new languages, batting range with mini-golf and ski ball, Kids Gap, French bistro, a bookstore with coffee and storytimes for children, bar and grill with karaoke?
Another idea: enhance walkability via a plan to decongest Middle Neck and promote pedestrian safety with better crosswalks and signage. Walkability helps because the more people struggle with parking, the less they stop for shopping.
Plus, think of a Great Neck where children can safely walk to town; moms could easily take strollers to meet for coffee. This could provide a strong influx for local shops. Also, how about shopping and docks along Manhasset Bay instead of blocking water access and views with apartment buildings?
Roslyn’s restaurants and shops on its harbor are wonderful.
Finally, don’t rush. Developing healthily takes time and planning. Certain communities have put a moratorium on waterfront development to allow for long term thinking and dialogue with the community on it. See https://portwashington-news.com/public-hearing-set-to-extend-waterfront-moratorium/.
At Minimum, Balance the Interests
If adding apartments, at least do it responsibly. Developers adding apartments (and profiting) could be required to contribute (financially) to expand infrastructure and school resources to accommodate population growth flowing from their projects. E.g., if adding apartments, also provide for added parking by the train, park benches, lifeguards at public pools, classrooms.
Current incentive zoning policies and local government action appear inadequate to achieve such balance. (E.g., we haven’t heard of developers funding school building expansion but have heard of new buildings getting school tax exemptions).
This isn’t easy, but important. The school district is spending millions expanding e.g., E.M Baker. This is smart. But what about the Middle/High School? Such things should be considered when deciding if developers can obtain the variances, etc. needed to make building here maximally profitable/desirable to them.
Right now, we’re worried. To prevent the hasty proliferation of apartment complexes, like-minded residents are forming a group, Great Neck Forward, to organize and have a voice. Interested citizens can email [email protected].
Jenni Spiritis Lurman,