The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency’s Board of Directors postponed its decision on whether to approve tax breaks for a Great Neck apartment complex Tuesday amid intense opposition from locals.
The IDA board unanimously tabled its vote on three resolutions related to the project at 733-41 Middle Neck Road after attending a Sept. 13 public hearing at Great Neck Village Hall and receiving substantial negative feedback from residents.
“There seems to be a significant concern about this project and I am not satisfied that we have heard from the village about their position on their project and answering questions that the residents brought up, which I think are legitimate concerns,” IDA Chairman Richard Kessel said during a Tuesday night meeting, noting that the agency received “a number of emails about the project, all in opposition and none supporting it.”
IDA officials did not say when they would next entertain or vote on the resolutions, which include approval for a 22-year tax-break package, approval for the project under state environmental law and an overall approving resolution.
Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said he has not spoken with Kessel or an IDA representative yet, but intends to “have a discussion and see what their concerns are.”
John Farrell, a lawyer for the project’s developer, Gesher Center LLC, said he and the developer were aware of the residents’ concerns but added that the project was something that the village wanted to incorporate into its community.
“I’m familiar with the residents’ comments and concerns,” said Farrell, who works with the law firm of Sahn, Ward, Braff, Koblenz PLLC. “This is something that the village wants. We would not be here right now if the village wasn’t supportive of this project.”
Efforts to reach a representative from Gesher Center LLC for comment were unavailing.
The project is a proposed four-story, mixed-use building that would stand 44 feet high and contain 60 homes — including 56 two-bedroom apartments and four one-bedroom apartments — along with 93 below-grade parking spaces, a recreation center and a public art gallery. Five buildings riddled with chipped and faded paint currently occupy the space that the plans encompass.
In December 2019, the project started out as a 25-unit complex with 12 incentives later granted by the Board of Trustees in February 2020.
Village officials later said that the original proposal was ultimately withdrawn by the developer, and plans for the 60-unit complex were taken directly to the village’s Board of Zoning Appeals later that year.
With the expansion of the proposal, the project overlapped with the village’s Residence C and Residence E, or apartment, zones.
According to Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral, the project was resubmitted to the zoning board rather than the Board of Trustees due to the zoning approvals that the Board of Trustees could not grant the developer.
“Changing zones is not within the scope of the Board of Trustees and only the Zoning Board of Appeals is able to make those changes,” Bral said in a phone interview with Blank Slate Media.
Because the plans were changed, the incentives initially granted by the Board of Trustees became null and void, Bral said.
In March 2021, the village’s Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously approved the site plan for the updated proposal, which also included a meeting room, two recreation rooms and a storage unit on the sub-level floors. The Board of Trustees approved updated architectural and facade plans for the proposed complex in May. Updates featured French balconies, a more compartmentalized appearance and ornamental lighting on the building’s exterior.
Residents made their strong opposition to the project heard at various public hearings and board meetings. Their concerns centered around the structure’s height, traffic, environmental impact, quality of life and the impact on the local school district.
Village resident and architect Ken Lee claimed the 5,000-square-foot easement for dry wells on 7 Hicks Lane was taken into consideration improperly. And another resident, Sam Yellis, wrote a letter to Blank Slate Media expressing concerns about the environmental ripple effects that the village would face if the project is constructed.
“With the recent flooding in Great Neck due to Hurricane Ida, we see locally the need for green space and open ground to absorb rain and runoff,” Yellis wrote. “As this project has increased in size, the amount of cement and steel-covered ground has grown, the amount of open space has been reduced — to zero.”
Concerns of similar nature poured over at the IDA’s public hearing at village hall on Sept. 13. A handful of residents expressed their displeasure with the project and advocated that the developer not be granted any tax breaks in the form of payments in lieu of taxes, also known as PILOT relief.
“I really don’t see what the public benefit would be,” village resident David Zielenziger said. “The art gallery, I think, is sort of a sham, the building is much too big and there’s going to be environmental consequences.”
“Simply put, we cannot afford to further excuse developers from contributing to that which makes any town viable and attractive,” village resident Karen Bardash said. “We need to have money coming in, we need money in the way of taxes. If builders cannot afford to build without incentives, they should not build.”
“At some point I want to know why the rest of us, who own private homes, have to take up the slack for the reductions in taxes to people who are only making a profit,” village resident Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar said. “Either you want to put up a 60-unit building and you’re willing to pay for it, or you’re not.”
On Tuesday, Farrell, the developer’s lawyer, acknowledged concerns about the proposed first-floor art gallery and assured members of the IDA board that it would not be used for any religious services or alternative operations. Farrell said this project has the ability to “kickstart the redevelopment along Middle Neck Road.”
Carrie-Anne Tondo of Ingerman Smith LLP, representing the Great Neck School District, spoke at Tuesday’s meeting about the lack of concrete information that was presented by the developer in terms of how schools throughout the area would be affected by the building.
“The payments to the district from the applicant are significantly less than if that property were put onto the tax roll as an approved project,” Tondo said. “Additional analysis concerning costs for projected school-age children was also absent in any of the documents that were submitted.”
Farrell told the IDA board that the project does not anticipate more than seven children living in the building. Tondo said that if the building had 10 school-age children, the annual PILOT payments would not cover the cost of those students until 14 years into the PILOT relief the developer seeks.
“We share this information not because the district doesn’t welcome new students, that’s not what this is about,” Tondo said. “The district welcomes each and every student that comes through its doors and resides in its community. It must, however, appropriately prepare and plan for when that happens.”
Gilliar, who resides within 200 feet of the proposed project, said the developer did not properly notify her of the project. She said the developer mailed notifications addressed only to her husband in June, September and December 2020 even though she co-owns the property with him.
A village resident provided a list claiming that seven households on North Road as well as two households and eight apartment tenants on Hicks Lane did not receive notifications of hearing dates of the project.
Kenneth Grey, legal counsel to the zoning board, said during a meeting earlier this year that there is no 200-foot notification requirement under the site plan review portion of the village code.
However, under the Board of Appeals section of the code, section 575-193 says, “Before an application for a variance or a conditional, special or other use permit may be heard by the Board of Appeals or the Board of Trustees, a complete and accurate list of the names and addresses of the owners of all the lands within a radius of 200 feet of the property affected by such application shall be submitted simultaneously with the application.”
Efforts to reach a member of the zoning board for further comment on the matter were unavailing.