Willis Avenue development still under scrutiny

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New plans to develop a three-story mixed-use building on Willis Avenue including a parking lot in the back of the property were described on Sept. 17 at a Williston Park Civic Association forum.

Christopher Lazos of Albertson and chief architect Jared Mandel presented plans to develop 615 Willis Ave. into a commercial and residential space.

“I‘m from Albertson and I pass by this area everyday,” Lazos said. “I’m not some developer coming in from some neighborhood to build.”

The lot at 615 Willis Avenue has been empty since a fire in 2014 destroyed the properties there.

Lazos dispelled a rumor that the building was going to be four stories tall.

He is proposing two three-story buildings on the corner of Willis Avenue and Goodrich Street.

Lazos owns 615 and 617 Willis Ave., and Lazos’ partner Akbar Bhojani of New Hyde Park owns 619 and 621 Willis Ave. The first floor of the properties will be commercial storefronts, with two floors of eight residential apartment units above.

The proposed plans dedicate nine parking spaces in a designed parking lot in the back of the property.

“We pulled the building in. It was 60 feet deep prior. We made it 40 feet deep, so we made the whole building smaller so we can accommodate parking,” Lazos said. A public parking lot is across the intersection as well.

Residents said they doubt the lot will alleviate parking congestion, noting that the storefront as well as the potential tenants of an apartment will require parking space the new lot cannot fully accommodate.

Another concern of residents and civic association member Umberto Mignardi is the prospect of tenants coming into the area.

“I know that the tenants behind my house, same style as these, are the worst,” Mignardi said.

Lazos said there would be a vetting process for tenants. Some residents disagreed with the rise of the buildings, asking why solely commercial buildings are not a feasible project.

“It wouldn’t be economically feasible,” Lazos said. “No one is going to invest in a project unless there is a prospect of return.”

The 2014 fire also destroyed Joseph A. Locurto’s dental office next door. Locurto, in rebuilding, proposed a similar plan, a two-story mixed-use building. The plans were denied, mainly because Locurto’s property would offer little to no additional parking.

The Lazos project requires a variance on parking spaces from the village’s zoning board. The plans were already put before the board, but are being split into two separate submissions, one for Lazos’ property and one for Bhojani’s.  

Steve Mikhlin, a village resident who started a petition to oppose the building that amassed over 400 signatures, has previously said the building could “change the entire character of the neighborhood.”

“There’s a level of expectation that we live in a suburban or semi-suburban environment,” Mikhlin said.

There are no new zoning board meetings currently planned for the project.

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