The Village of Thomaston on Monday night unanimously repealed a local zoning law set in place earlier this year relating to a proposed five-story apartment complex, the application for which was recently withdrawn.
The Board of Trustees took the action during a special meeting.
The law was passed during a July meeting and, along with the proposal, has been heavily criticized by the public. The law allowed the Board of Trustees to have “sole and unfettered discretion” on what conditions and incentive use permit may be granted to certain applicants. The law applied to applicants that have a property located partially in the Apartment B and Residence 10 zoning districts, a total area of at least 0.75 acres but not exceeding one acre, a depth at its greatest point of at least 200 feet and street frontage on Middle Neck Road of at least 230 feet.
The property at 124 S. Middle Neck Road, the former site of Tower Ford and the previously proposed apartment complex, lies partly in the Apartment B and Residence 10 zoning districts, has a total area of 0.96 acres, and has a depth of 234 feet, according to village documents.
The law, which remained in effect for 150 days after it was enacted in July, expired on Dec. 11.
Before the unanimous repeal of the law, the village held a public hearing that featured heated criticism of Mayor Steven Weinberg over the handling of the strongly opposed project. Thomaston resident Wendy Halpern, who led efforts to oppose the project and overdevelopment, said it was baffling how the village is in this situation, claiming more transparency over the summer could have prevented problems.
“You claim that you didn’t know we were upset or said you didn’t care either way, so the argument fails,” Halpern told Weinberg. “I don’t understand why you can’t even address your constituents at this point.”
Halpern also criticized Weinberg for his decorum in public meetings over the past months and for not keeping the public informed in an effective manner when the local law was passed in July, with only one person in attendance. Weinberg defended his stance and said he has always put the village’s best interest first when making any decision.
“I have acted and cared solely for what is in the best interest of this village at all times and every single member of the board has acted this way,” Weinberg said. “No such time has anyone ever asked ‘who cares what they think’ or said ‘it doesn’t matter what they think.’”
Ronald Brinn, a peninsula resident, said Weinberg’s actions severely damaged his reputation and trust throughout the village.
“I think the people speaking to you are trying to get your attention and you haven’t shown any interest, you’ve just been denying and disputing,” Brinn said. “The community wants justice. They want integrity. They want transparency. They want good governance. They want honesty. And at this point, you blew it.”
Thomaston resident Ronald Krowne echoed concerns of distrust and not having a transparent government.
“There’s a great amount of distrust that your constituents have experienced,” Krowne told Weinberg. “I express the same sentiment concerning the distrust that we as residents have towards the workings of the village.”
Trustee To-On Pang said he hopes the village can learn from the experience and move forward, and Weinberg agreed.
“I think the village learned certain lessons from this process and will keep the communication clear in the future,” Pang said.
Ellen Mones, who serves on the village’s Landmark Preservation Commission, tasked with determining the property’s landmark status, said she was also in favor of repealing the law.
“I’m all for repealing this law as fast as possible and I hope to never have to go through this again. It’s unbelievable,” Mones said.
Residents also called for the commission’s Jan. 4 hearing on the property’s landmark status to either be postponed or confirm that multiple hearings will be conducted. So far, no such postponement or confirmation has been given.
Earlier this month, the village approved the hiring of a consultant to aid the commission in determining the historical significance of the Tower Ford building. Trustees unanimously approved the hiring of Archaeology Historic Resource Services for an amount not to exceed $6,000. The state’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation declared the site eligible to be considered as a historic place on Oct. 29.
Brompton Road resident Alka Jain read concerns about the previously proposed development submitted by various residents, including overpopulation, traffic and impact on residential life.
A lawsuit filed against the village by a group of residents identified as “The Galleria at Great Neck Condominium” is pending, according to court documents. The suit claims that negotiations on the project were conducted between the village and the project’s developer under inappropriate pretenses and the village did not properly evaluate the project’s environmental impact on the rest of the community.
Evidence provided by the petitioners who filed the complaint included email between Weinberg, the developer (124 Middle Neck Realty LLC) and the legal counsel to the owner of the property at 124 S. Middle Neck Road, Stephen Limmer, dating back to last year.
Limmer, in emails to Weinberg, asked what details would be sufficient for an initial presentation of the project, according to the court documents. The complaint calls for the village’s negative declaration for the environmental impact study to be declared null and void.
A June 9 email from Limmer to village Attorney A. Thomas Levin was provided to Blank Slate Media, discussing permissible workforce housing in the proposed project.
“The Mayor agreed to less than 10% workforce housing,” Limmer wrote in the email.
“The proposal, as agreed with the Mayor, is 9%,” he also wrote.
Weinberg, in a phone interview, referred to a statement sent in November regarding the village’s conduct during the project’s application process and declined to comment further due to the pending litigation.
“It saddens me to have to specifically address certain reckless falsehoods, especially for those of you who know me personally,” Weinberg said in the statement. “I and your entire Village Board of Trustees did not, have not and will not take anything of any value and did not, have not and will not make any deals with the applicant or any applicant.”