Readers Write: Roslyn School District’s bizarre opposition to development

For over a decade I have read and subscribed to your paper because I greatly value the informative journalism that keeps North Shore residents abreast of local news and concerns on a level that other publications do not provide, which is an invaluable tool in particular for holding our village, town, county, and state officials to account, especially since their impact on our daily lives is so great and, sadly, their competence and integrity is so often questionable.  

I also generally agree with your editorial stance on most issues, and I am especially supportive of your position on new development in particular and adapting to change more broadly.  

I have read with increasing dismay over the years the views of many of your readers and the positions of our local community members on this topic, but my incredulousness at the article on the front page of the Nov. 29 issue of the Roslyn Times has finally compelled me to write.

In “Warner Ave. Project Said to Add 6 Students,” J.K Equities’ impact statement on behalf of the developer indicates that only 6 new students would be anticipated to live at the proposed complex, which is supported by a Stony Book University study of the 14 multi-family developments that have been completed on Long Island in the past 16 years.  

The position of Roslyn School Board President Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy and the rest of the board is that their high-quality school district simply cannot accommodate any additional students, thus the project should be blocked.  

This position brought to mind the following questions, which would also pertain to the several other communicates that oppose new development on the same grounds:  

How good can any organization be if an increase in demand of such a small magnitude would jeopardize the function of the entire system?  How can they know with certainty that every new student who moved to the district would choose public school given that many families who live in high-quality public districts still choose to send their children to private schools because there is a fundamental feature, such as religion or educational philosophy (e.g. Montessori), they seek which outweighs the academic quality of their public schools? Would current residents have chosen to move to their existing localities if their children would have been barred from attending public schools there?  

Is this “no new entrants” stance to apply to existing families who may have children that reach schooling age in the future or only potential new-comers?  Would sales of single-family homes from existing residents to families who would cause a net increase in the public school attendance be blocked by local officials as well?  And finally, who exactly appointed the school board to be the gatekeeper of all new development and community change in these municipalities?

The untenability of this position becomes even starker when contrasted against the article on the front page of sister publication the Williston Times on the same date (“Modera Metro Mineola Open for Business”).  

In this article, Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss indicates that new apartment complexes such as the Modera Metro have played an integral role in the village’s downtown revitalization efforts because they not only attract the young professional residents that are the lifeblood of healthy communities but because they appeal to people without cars, they help stimulate local businesses through foot traffic.  

Any drive through the heart of Mineola these days clearly demonstrates that the village is thriving commercially.  Similar bustling local business can be found in Westbury, which also has at least two multi-floor apartment/condo buildings among its housing stock.  Meanwhile, more than one recent story in the Roslyn Times indicates that small business owners there are not in such bullish shape, which offers the potential for lessons to be learned from neighboring villages.

Yes, of course, I am aware that the Mineola public school district does not score nearly as high as Roslyn and the Great Necks’ districts do, but it has made great strides over the decade I have observed it as a resident and reader.  

This has been made possible by growing the tax base through these development efforts and the resulting growth in local commercial activity.  Which is what demonstrates the fundamental point about sustainability – without creating the kinds of communities that appeal to the tastes and preferences of today’s young professionals and families, Long Island will decline in its quality of life on all measures as the population becomes older and less economically vibrant, thus starving remaining residents of the tax revenue so vital to providing the services that have made this area so valuable to those who claim to be trying to preserve it.  

It’s a downward spiral and recent demographic data from Nassau County Comptroller Schnirman’s office indicate it is already underway.  

I do not advocate unquestioning acceptance of every project that some developers and local politicians propose as beneficial to their communities, and in fact, this is one of the most important reasons that high-quality journalism at the super-local level is crucial for residents.  

People absolutely should demand thorough and diligent impact studies and hold their local officials accountable not to give away sweetheart PILOT deals that allow developers to profit handsomely without paying their fair share in taxes to mitigate the impact of their projects on the existing community.  

Leaders owe it to their residents to genuinely listen to their input on development matters and maintain open communications with all interested parties to ensure that change is actively managed to the benefit of all concerned.  

But simple, automatic resistance to any and all ideas that do not mimic the existing nature of our communities perfectly is myopic at best and selfish at worst.

After climate change, it is my sincere belief that resistance to change and shutting the doors to newcomers is the greatest threat to Long Island’s future.  And, by insisting that only single-family tract homes and sprawling strip malls are welcome here, we in fact also contribute to climate-based risks by discouraging the use of public transportation and reducing natural space.  

To those who find themselves most deeply attached to preserving the exact nature of American suburbia that grew here during the second half of the 20th century, I would merely point out that if the residents of the rural and agricultural communities that existed here prior to suburbanization had resisted change so vehemently it would have been a grave mistake, and all those upset would in fact never have been able to live here in the first place.  

By embracing change and ensuring that the most fundamental values and features of our beloved communities are preserved while accepting the newness that is part and parcel of evolution, we can continue to make Long Island a thriving and dynamic place worth the high cost of living we shoulder.  

Or, we can treat our area like a museum to post-war suburbia and watch as attendance dwindles over time; it’s our collective choice.

Gina D’Addario

Old Westbury

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The Island Now

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