Editorial: Status quo for development no longer acceptable

The Island Now

During the spring, 7-Eleven applied to the Town of North Hempstead for a variance to open a store at the site of a long-vacant mechanic’s shop at 260 Plandome Road in Manhasset whose parking had been converted into a commuter parking lot by the site’s owner.

The application was immediately opposed by the Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations, a highly influential umbrella organization for 18 civic groups serving the unincorporated portions of Manhasset.

The council said it objected to the store selling vaping products and criticized 7-Eleven’s policy of staying open 24 hours.

Jennifer DeSena, executive director of the Manhasset Coalition Against Substance Abuse, said a 24-hour store selling alcohol, tobacco and vape products in the center of Manhasset would negatively affect “our health and safety in many ways.”

A petition opposing 7-Eleven’s application to permit retail sales and food use has received more than 1,200 signatures.

“A 7-Eleven will negatively impact our Manhasset quality of life and character of our downtown neighborhood,” the petition reads. It goes on to cite an increase in cars on Plandome Road “ALL HOURS of the day and night … including many that will make a LEFT turn entering and exiting from Plandome Road.”

Andrea Curto, a lawyer for 7-Eleven, said the store intended “to hire local staff and participate in donating to local organizations, athletic organizations. They want to be part of this community and be a good neighbor.”

Curto added that the location was attractive due to pedestrian traffic off of Plandome Road and its proximity to the LIRR train station.

It is worth noting that as of July 2020 7-Eleven operated, franchised and licensed 71,100 stores in 17 countries. The proposed Plandome Road location would be a corporate store.

But if the town does not approve the store’s application, there would be no lease and without a lease there would be no store.

This is not the first time that residents and civic groups have opposed applications for stores or development in Manhasset. In fact, it is a somewhat frequent occurrence.

In 2019, they opposed a proposal by Macy’s and Brookfield Properties for a mixed-used development on the department store’s Manhasset property that would include three apartment complexes, a full-service hotel, an office building and additional retail and dining space.

They expressed concerns about a potential increase in traffic, school overcrowding and quality-of-life issues.

More than 1,100 residents of Manhasset and nearby Great Neck signed a petition calling on the town not to rezone the Manhasset property.

“This is another horrible step towards turning our area into Queens,” wrote Leslie Hirschhorn of Great Neck in the petition’s comment section. “We don’t need more people AND we don’t need more business buildings. We can’t fill the storefronts we have now. Enough Urban spread.”

Some elected officials also expressed concern that the village-like, mixed-use development would hurt their already shaky downtown districts.

Macy’s and Brookfield have yet to file an application for the variances that would be required for the project as proposed then.

In 2018, a medical marijuana company seeking to relocate a dispensary from an office building in North New Hyde Park to a retail location on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset withdrew its application in the face of heated opposition by residents, civic groups and town officials.

The company, MedMen, said the facility would provide medical marijuana to very sick individuals under tight state regulations in a comfortable atmosphere.

In that case, more than 3,200 people signed a petition against the retail-style medical marijuana facility.

Opponents also objected to locating the facility in a prominent retail spot and the possibility that the site would add the sale of recreational marijuana if the state legalized marijuana.

North Hempstead went a step further by capping the number of dispensaries that could be opened in the town and restricting them to out-of-the-way areas.

For good measure, Nassau and other municipalities barred the sale of marijuana in the county – in the event its sale was approved by the state as expected.

In all three cases, residents and civic groups were well within their rights to object to the projects – even though we believe they were wrong on the facts.

Elected officials were also within their rights to listen to the concerns of their constituents – even though we were disappointed that they did not do enough to at least counter the misinformation and overstated concerns presented by opponents.

This is all part of the democratic process.

But in the era of COVID-19 we need to hear something more from residents and elected officials about what is acceptable development.

Mixed-use development that combines apartments above retail had long been cited by planners as being needed in downtown business districts well before COVID-19.

But local governments have been adamant in refusing to rezone business districts to permit mixed-used developments. Instead, they say they would only consider mixed-use developments on a case-by-case basis – a lengthy and expensive process that has led all but the most determined developers to avoid the North Shore.

Likewise, many local villages remain financially dependent on parking meters and parking tickets in their downtown districts.

This places businesses in downtown districts at a major disadvantage since you do not find parking meters anywhere else on the North Shore, including retail strip centers and shopping centers such as proposed by Macy’s.

Local officials have good reason to fear the proposed Macy’s development based at least in part on its offering free parking. The officials would have less to fear if they made their downtown districts more attractive to shoppers by eliminating parking meters and parking tickets.

The routine objections to retail projects and developments have cost landlords tenants who provide jobs to local residents and take part in community activities.

Downtown business districts serve as the center of local communities but have been under increasing pressure in recent years with the advent of the internet and shopping malls.

Now, what happens in the wake of COVD-19?

The least local governments can do is offer a greater sense to developers and people seeking to open a new business just what they will accept.

And perhaps some second thoughts on decisions that have made in the past.

Consider where we are.

“The coronavirus pandemic has forced scores of small Long Island businesses to close permanently and left many others on the verge of shutting down,” data compiled by a downtown planning group showed, according to a Newsday report.

The pandemic had resulted in at least 128 Main Street business storefronts shuttering their doors by early November, “upending livelihoods and reshaping landscapes,” the story went on to say.

Eric Alexander, the director of Vision Long Island, added that the number of vacancies could grow significantly if a New York state moratorium on commercial evictions and foreclosures is allowed to expire.

In Manhasset, the pandemic has already cost a Lord & Taylor store on Northern Boulevard, which closed recently despite spending tens of millions of dollars to make it a flagship location.

Do residents and officials now look differently at the proposed Macy’s development or the 7-Eleven down the road?

Based on some residents’ responses, the answer would seem to be no. Perhaps they prefer online shopping and think the problems associated with downtown districts outweigh the benefits.

Others may disagree.

But make no mistake, what elected officials do – or don’t do – now could change the face of downtowns and major shopping areas in Manhasset and the rest of North Hempstead for decades to come.  


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