The early months of 2019 once again welcomed to the peninsula the Great Neck Old Village Civic Association, Inc. Founded in 1986, the association is a self-help network by and for residents. Within months of its formation, 300 residents joined. Its more noticeable achievements were headlined regularly in the local press: “Appeals Board Nixes Elks Lodge,” and “Village OKs 120-Day Building Halt.”
In those formative years, the executive committee sent “communications to local boards when an issue affected an entire area of the community,” said Jean Neubert, a founder. The Great Neck business association invited the civic group to send a representative to their monthly luncheon meetings, and residents of the unincorporated area of Great Neck Gardens asked for support at a Town of North Hempstead hearing about a proposed subdivision.
On its anniversaries, the association held a celebration to reflect on achievements and future goals. At one such event, the featured speaker was Howard Miskin, a village mayor who was a founder and first chair of the Great Neck Water Authority.
In a history marked by successful advocacy, civic advocates joined with mayors of the Village of Great Neck and supervisors of the Town of North Hempstead, helping to guarantee responsive local government.
“We worked with an impressive crop of public officials,” said Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar, a founder of the civic association.
“In times past, the people we elected to have temporary stewardship of our community treated residents as an invaluable partner” she added.
Members have continued to monitor town, village, and special district meetings and to request information under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In 2005 and 2007, the civic association members responded to widespread concerns expressed by residents, and the membership was a resource for reports on the Great Neck Park District, a United States Congressman’s interest in the East Shore Road corridor and the Great Neck Water Authority.
Starting in 2006 and 2007, Great Neck residents opposed to the devastation and development of the 3.2-acre woodland and watershed between Old Mill Road and Clover Drive asked for civic association help. Members throughout the community gathered by hand 1,000 signatures on a petition in support of preservation of untouched land on our peninsula and united against burying our community in concrete and urbanization.
The opposition to the development of the woodland continued in hearings before several boards in two villages until 2018 and included a lawsuit brought by residents. The developer prevailed, though it seems a pyrrhic victory in light of the project’s lasting reputation as a wanton and rapacious invasion of unspoiled land.
“Some of the founding families are no longer here,” Sam Yellis observed, “but residents are still taking up the challenge.”
“It is our belief,” said long-time resident Ofra Panzer, “that the zoning code acts as a minimum standard to safeguard our suburb.”
In recent months, the civic association members stood firm against the rezoning of Middle Neck Road. The Great Neck Old Village Civic Association was joined by members of the Arrandale Civic Group. At the village hearing this past spring, residents were vocal in their opposition to a plan that included giving special approvals for ever-higher, ever-denser apartment buildings that would cause an unmanageable increase in the population of children in the public schools, would intensify the congestion of traffic on the main roadways of our peninsula, and would jeopardize our supply of fresh drinking water.
Members of the civic association, including residents Kelly Cunningham and Alissa Desmarais, researched the ownership of the properties along Middle Neck Road in the “corridor” scheduled for rezoning. They identified clusters of properties that had come under single, invisible ownership.
Interested partied asked the mayor to hand over two village public parking lots, as well as the entire operations site of the Department of Public Works, in addition to Village Hall, the seat of village government. Were it not for the dedicated opposition articulated by residents, the mayor was positioned to move ahead to strip the village of much of its real estate wealth.
Some of these findings were published in a 12-page paper that was distributed at the village hall hearing in March 2019. The overall rezoning plan was discredited.
“The current mayor of the Village of Great Neck has set aside a hallmark of our democratic way of life, the separations between the branches of government,” Gilliar said. “The Board of Trustees has taken over the roles of the Board of Zoning Appeals and of the Planning Board. It makes the laws. It sets laws aside under ‘special conditions.’ It approves developers’ environmental assessments that are inaccurate. It deliberates out of sight. Without a clean process, each decision is sullied and unsafe.”
Rob Campbell, a third generation resident, describes the civic association this way: “The organization’s ongoing role has been to support good government in some places and uncover failure of the public trust in others.”
Newcomer Chen Li joined the civic association because “Those of us who are new here are energized and want to get involved.”
To join, lend a hand, ask for help and be kept in touch, write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your contact information (name, address, phone, e-mail).
—Submitted by Great Neck Old Village Civic Association