A Letter Submitted by Hooshang Nematzadeh, President of the Great Neck Chamber of Commerce
The headlines of our local newspapers’ cover pages last Friday showed gleefully and gladly that the Shop Delight’s application for a permit to occupy and conduct business in the 14,000 square feet of the former Rite Aid store on Middle Neck Road had been rejected. Now, is that such good news?
Our business district segment on Middle Neck Road, from the intersection of Steamboat Road in the Old Village to the edge of the Cedar Drive in Great Neck Estates, suffers from severe underdevelopment, vacancy and lack of business activity. Instead of promoting businesses and developments, and making an attempt to recruit business operators, the local governments with jurisdiction over the areas subject the applications to a lengthy and costly approval process. There is no doubt that the legitimate public input and concerns should be a factor, as well as the potential adverse impact on traffic, noise and environment, which should be debated and addressed, but to what degree?
How many business operators can be found to be able to successfully occupy the largest vacant space of approximately 14,000 square feet with a tax bill of almost $9 per square foot with basically no car traffic flow? With all due respect to the neighboring co-op board that ecstatically rejoiced in the demise of the Shop Delight application, who do they think and expect to be a better potential applicant, maybe another nail or hair salon? Is it better to stare at a string of vacancies? The co-op board knew that a building so close to a large commercial stretch would always encounter business traffic.
According to a rough rule of thumb by shopping center operators, the traffic requirements for any type of retail business to financially survive, operating a 14,000-square-foot store, would be a minimum of approximately 800 auto visits during a 12 hour span of operation. Shop Delight is a proven operator that can draw and maintain such traffic. There is no doubt that it impacts the immediate area, but the alternative of a vacant store is far worse especially considering that Shop Delight offered to mitigate the impact by providing valet parking. Currently, the Village of Great Neck Plaza has the lowest vacancy among all villages and in fact, it is a model in Nassau County in this regard. The main reason is that the plaza goes out of its way to recruit, encourage and assist the applicants through a speedy approval process.
The plaza demonstrated that by assisting a business like Shop Delight to mitigate its adverse impact on the area while promoting its business. I have been at the hearings for Planet Fitness where every seat of the Village Hall was occupied by vocal opponents of the application. The village ultimately, wisely and courageously granted the permit and chose not to have a huge vacancy. A year later we don’t see that doomsday scenario of traffic jams predicted by the public.
We can’t continue to have such a huge number of vacancies. They will have an impact on our property values. Five years ago, we at the Chamber of Commerce recommended a plan to the villages and county government to provide zoning and development incentive, or tax abatement similar to New York City, to spur development or fill vacancies. The Villages of Great Neck and Great Neck Plaza adopted a modified form of our recommendations, and the Village of Great Neck Plaza won an award for its vision. The zoning incentive may insure Plaza’s continued success. We need bold vision and courage, as well as a proactive and speedy review process by our local government to fill out the vacant stores. Rejecting the applicants with such enthusiasm results in vacancies we all now stare at and discourages new applications.