Mineola board approves controversial Village Green

James Galloway

The Mineola Board of Trustees voted 4-1 last Wednesday to approve a contentious high-rise planned for Second Street, calling it an important step toward revitalizing the village’s downtown.

The project, an eight-story mixed use building referred to as the Village Green, had been the subject of a series of heated public hearings at which many residents opposed the project, raising concerns about traffic, building size, aesthetics and the impact tax breaks could have on Mineola school district.

Four board members, including Mayor Scott Strauss, voted to approve the project at the village’s Board of Trustees meeting, citing studies that suggested the Village Green would benefit local businesses and have minimal impact on traffic and school enrollment.

The four board members called it an important step toward realizing the Master Plan, which the village enacted a decade ago as a roadmap to revitalizing the downtown.

“I think we have done our due diligence in following and implementing the Master Plan,” Deputy Mayor Paul Periera said at the board meeting. “I believed in that vision of 10, 15 years ago. And I think [the Village Green] is part of that, and I think it’s an important component of that.”

Trustee Paul Cusato, the most outspoken trustee at the public hearings, voted no, saying developer Lalezarian Properties’ amended plan to reduce the building by one floor and 30 apartments did not go far enough.

“For me, this building is too big in size and mass, and I am voting no,” Cusato said.

He said that he supported residential development of the property but hoped it would be no higher than the nearby Winthrop-University Hospital research center.

Mineola Board of Education President Artie Barnett criticized the village for approving the project without alerting the public or including it in the meeting agenda.

“How they can do that without it being on the agenda, while totally legal, is completely unethical,” Barnett said.

The village’s approval of the Village Green included a number of stipulations, including $2 million in payments to the village in two lump sums: One $1 million payment by Sept. 1, 2016 and a second by Sept. 1, 2017.

Lalezarian would also need to pay $175,0000 as compensation for the elimination of eight on-street parking spaces recommended by traffic engineers and maintain the public green space in the center of the horseshoe-shaped building.

The approval requires 27 of the 266 apartments be designated as affordable housing for workforce and first responders making up to 80 percent of the median Nassau County income.

The Village Green, which would be located at the site of the Citi Bank on Second Street, represents the third large apartment building green-lighted by the village in recent years, including another Lalezarian Properties development at 250 Old Country Road.

Residents at the hearings encouraged the village to hold off deciding on the Village Green until the other two buildings were completed to avoid oversaturating the market and potential vacancies if the developers struggled to fill apartments.

Strauss attempted to assuage those concerns by saying that the Village Green will not be built unless preleasing goes well at the 250 Old Country Road project, also called One Third Avenue.

“The developer of the Village Green is also the developer of One Third Avenue,” Strauss said. “If the rate of rental experience at One Third lags behind set targets, there will be no ground breaking for the Village Green. That’s a pretty good insurance policy against over-saturation.”

He also referenced the traffic engineer’s report that said traffic increases from a residential development would be far less than traffic from an office building the developer could construct as-of-right on the property.

Prior to the vote Wednesday, Strauss directed many of his comments directly to the Mineola school board, with whom the village has clashed repeatedly over tax breaks sought by the developer from the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency accompanied by a payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

Projects granted PILOTs lessen the revenue a school district is able to raise under the state’s property tax cap, and school officials said they worried that the Village Green could lead to an influx of students without a commensurate increase in revenue.

Strauss referred to a study that suggested the 266 apartments at the Village Green would add only a few students to the district.

“Additionally, the un-contradicted testimony at the hearing by a local real estate practitioner is to the effect that Mineola has some 22 apartment buildings and the total number of school children produced by them is approximately 40,” Strauss said. “The president of Birchwood Court testified that his complex of 444 units produces nine students in the school district.”

Mineola Superintendent Michael Nagler and Barnett have said that their concern is not with the number of students but with their inability to raise revenue to accommodate them.

“What if the studies are wrong,” Nagler said in a previous interview.

Barnett said the district would only raise taxes if the buildings added students.

Projects with PILOTs do not impact a district’s growth factor, a component of the tax cap formula intended to reflect new development in a jurisdiction.

“All we’re saying is that if you give us an influx of students you need to give us an ability to pay for it,” Barnett said. “If there’s no new students, we’re not going to raise taxes. But if we get no revenue, we’re screwed. And it’s either going to equate to larger class sizes or more classes, which means more teachers.”

Any revenue received under PILOT agreements is subtracted from the tax levy a district can raise.

In his comments, Strauss said that the district would receive more than $25.1 million in PILOTs over the next 20 years from three other developments in the village, an average of about $1.25 million per year.

Strauss said the PILOTs should more than cover the students the developments add to the district.

School officials have said that under the tax cap formula a district’s allowable tax levy and revenues actually go down as it receives more money in PILOTs.

“It just shows he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he just wants to tell the public what they want to believe,” Barnett said.

Lalezarian has said he would not build the Village Green if it were not granted tax breaks from the county IDA.

Reach reporter James Galloway by e-mail at jgalloway@theislandnow.com or by phone at 516.307.1045 x204. Also follow us on Twitter @theislandnow and Facebook at facebook.com/theislandnow.

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James Galloway

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