When I was exiting from the Cross Bronx Expressway into the Bronx, I saw a sign on the wire fence guarding the rear of an apartment building. The sign had this information: 4-bedroom house for $94,000, 2-bedroom house for $43,000, and it included a phone number.
As the line of cars on the exit ramp moved forward away from the sign, I thought it must be a mistake. The asking prices seemed absurd to my Long Island mind. Yet as I navigated another block and two and three in the Bronx, I began to fathom the low cost of buying a house there. Buildings tall and taller and even taller than that are lined up like a 3-D animation with no breathing space between them until sometimes, sandwiched between, are the remnants of a suburb, a house or two made smaller by their giant neighbors, a house hard to sell.
What is it real estate brokers say? Location, location, location.
The Village of Great Neck where I live has 10,000 residents, as compared with the other eight villages, whose populations are, for example, 800, 1,000 and 2,500. As a consequence, bad decisions in my village have a ripple effect, an outsized sway on the others. My village spreads the irreparable consequences of its decisions. It promotes traffic congestion, triggers overcrowding in school classrooms and threatens the source of our supply of fresh drinking water.
At one time this entire peninsula was a pasture for grazing cattle, and for much of the time since then it was an enclave, a sanctuary, a place protected by its zoning codes and the wisdom that put those codes in place.
Recent decision-making by boards in the Village of Great Neck, however, are destined to doom the quality of life here on our peninsula, but the effects for now are hidden. Each time the board of trustees and zoning board approve outsized construction that downgrades the residential zoning of the side streets off Middle Neck Road (and Steamboat Road and East Shore Road), all those feeder streets are impacted, and in years to come Great Neck will be not just crowded, it will be the Bronx.
To see the future of the Great Neck peninsula you have only to look at Great Neck Plaza, where private homes used to be the rule, not the exception. Today the village of Great Neck Plaza consists almost exclusively of apartment buildings, co-ops and condominiums, 90 of them, with private homes like lone outposts of the past.
Our fresh drinking water, which comes from the wells in the aquifers beneath us, is as endangered as our living space and our property values. My village board has loosened the code on pools and has been approving swimming pools in private yards and in apartment buildings—in addition to approving all the new apartment dwellings and their faucets.
The result of development beyond the capacity of the wells causes over-pumping and that, in turn, causes saltwater intrusion, which causes wells to be closed and sealed. The big question is this: How long will it take for the loss of wells to force Great Neck to appeal to New York City to sell water from its upstate reservoir and bail out a thirsty peninsula (at a high price).
Our peninsula community already has, for almost 60 years, the Parkwood Sports Complex with its series of spectacular pools administered by our Great Neck Park District, which is one of only two free-standing park districts in New York State and an enviable asset to life here. Yet the Village of Great Neck trustees seem intent on privatizing swimming.
The Village of Great Neck’s profligacy with our water, our schools and our roads does not stand alone. Great Neck Plaza’s hi-rises are complicit in draining the peninsula’s resources and clogging the infrastructure.
By the time you awaken to the future, my children will have sold my house at a handy profit, whereas many of you and your children will be selling your homes for $94,000.
Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar