Following a fourth public hearing last week where opinions seemed mixed on a proposed eight-story building in downtown Mineola, the village board passed a motion to close the hearings and set a March 25 deadline for residents to submit written testimony.
The hearing came in the wake of two village-funded studies, both of which played a prominent role in Wednesday’s testimony: an engineering analysis that concluded the project’s traffic impacts would be minimal and a housing report that said transit-oriented growth would benefit Mineola.
Just less than half of Wednesday’s speakers, including a number of local business owners, spoke in support of the proposal, known as the Village Green, while slightly more than half maintained that the building would be too large, a recurring criticism at a February hearing.
The 266-apartment, U-shaped building by developer Lalezarian Properties would be located on Second Street bordered by Mineola Boulevard and Station Plaza North. It would include restaurants and retail space on the ground floor and a pool and green space on the roof.
The proposal also includes plans for a three-tiered, 478-space parking garage with 399 spots reserved for residents.
A number of residents questioned the findings of both the developer- and village-funded studies, and Trustee Paul Cusato in particular questioned how the elimination of eight on-street parking spaces required by the project would have no significant impact on parking, as the traffic studies conclude.
“How can you lose six spaces (on Station Plaza North) and make a comment that it would have no bearing?” Cusato asked of the study.
Many residents also continued to doubt whether studies could accurately forecast the Village Green’s impacts prior to evaluating the impact of two other large apartment buildings currently under construction near the Mineola train station, including a 315-unit complex also developed by Lalezarian.
“As one resident said, we can slow this down,” resident Sebastian Alia said. “At some point those projections won’t be projections anymore – they’ll be facts. And with those facts, I think we’ll be able to make a more informed and intelligent decision about this.”
Kevin Walsh, the attorney representing Lalezarian, responded that waiting for the other projects to be completed would upset the “momentum” required for a growth spurt in the village.
He added that the developer depends on studies because it is “very difficult to prove something before you experience it.”
“It’s almost like [people] are saying I want to see it work here before I’m willing to take the leap,” Walsh said. But “if you find no studies opposing it – if you find no contrary information — the studies are usually a pretty good indication of what’s going to happen.”
The developer’s argument for much of the hearing centered on comparing the Village Green proposal to the forecasted impacts of an “as-of-right” commercial building the developer could construct without requiring variances from the village.
“I think it’s clear from the data that was submitted that the build of a commercial building would not be the favored development here,” Walsh said.
A traffic engineer at the hearing hired by the developer reiterated the findings of the traffic studies, saying that a commercial building would lead to increased congestion during the morning and evening rush hours when compared to the Village Green.
He also said that under current zoning, Lalezarian could construct a three-story, 125,000-square-foot commercial building without requiring any variances.
But the building’s proposed height and aesthetic remained a concern of the residents opposed to the project.
“The term Village Green is really an oxymoron,” resident Kathy Novak said. “By allowing all of these new high-rise apartments, we are opening the door to urban blight.”
And once again Cusato echoed his call from past hearings to reduce the height of the building, something Walsh said would limit the ability of the developer to turn a profit.
“I’m going to say for the fourth time that I want the building the same height as the Winthrop center,” Cusato said.
Mayor Scott Strauss began the hearing by saying that legally the board could not base its decision on whether the developer receives tax breaks from the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, a suggestion by a resident at the February hearing.
The board could also not put land-use decisions, such as the Village Green, to a referendum, Strauss said.
Strauss concluded the hearing by acknowledging the tough awaiting the board.
“We’ve heard a tremendous, tremendous amount of testimony,” he said. “This is a tough spot we’re in…I can’t speak enough when I say thank you for your passion; thank you for your insight; thank you for your input; thank you for your voice – I ask for your prayers.”