By Michael Scro
The Village of Great Neck Plaza Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) recently unanimously voted to adopt a drafted decision by the BZA regarding an application for a multi-story mixed-use building at 16 Maple Drive, Great Neck Plaza after a discussion related to off-site parking spaces and an amendment was made to remove a sentence addressing affordable housing units.
The application is being made by 87 Middle Neck Road LLC. Attending the BZA meeting was Jeffrey Wilks, principal and representative of the applicant, and their Garden City based attorney Christopher Prior.
Held on a virtual Zoom meeting on Wednesday, September 23, Village of Great Neck Plaza Attorney Richard Gabriele said the BZA had previously voted to grant requested variances for the application with certain conditions, and that he was directed to draft a fact-finding document.
According to the proposed BZA decision posted on the Village’s website, the property consists of approximately 0.167 acres and it is currently improved with a commercial building having primarily one level at grade. It formerly contained several small retail uses, is now unoccupied except for one tenant, and is in a state of disrepair.
The applicant is proposing to demolish the existing structure on the property and construct a five-story mixed-use building having 2,936 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, and four residential floors above the ground floor, containing thirteen residential units – two which would be affordable housing units.
The application was first made in late 2018, and was denied by the Village Commissioner of Public Services on the grounds of it requiring numerous variances from code. The applicant then subsequently applied to the BZA for the variances in March 2019, revising its initial application, and it was again denied by the Village Building Department. These variances included height limitation, parking extending beyond the site footprint, and the number of off-street parking space requirements.
The Village Board of Trustees served as lead agency for the project’s review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), and they issued a conditional use permit and site plan approval on June 3, 2020, however these did not eliminate the need for the variances.
Further hearings before the BZA took place in July and August of this year, and the applicant’s variances were granted. The application has also been reviewed by the Nassau County Planning Commission.
At the September 23 BZA meeting, Gabriele said he provided a copy of the proposed decision to BZA members as well as the applicant’s attorney. He said they received very few comments in response, however there was some concern that the necessity of obtaining four offsite parking spaces for the applicant to obtain a Certificate of Final Occupancy (CFO) was not clear enough. In response, Gabriele added language in the final page of the drafted decision, circulated it again, and stated he believes it “reflects what the board wanted and what the conditions were.”
As stated in the BZA decision, the applicant must provide at least one space for each non-commercial unit in the proposed building. There are nine on-site parking spaces at the proposed building’s underground parking garage, and since there are thirteen non-commercial units in the building, the applicant must arrange for at least four parking spaces off-site for the use of non-commercial tenants.
It further states that the applicant must obtain the requisite number of off-site parking spaces by either entering into a lease agreement with Bond Parc Condominium, located at 12 Bond Street at the lower level of the municipal garage next to the building location, for up to four spaces; or obtaining and paying the village each quarter for up to four permits to park in the plaza garage, or if Bond Parc no longer leases to the lower level of the garage.
There is a municipal garage next door to the proposed mixed-use site, Maple Drive Parking Garage, which the Village entered into a long-term lease with Bond Parc back in the late 1970s to let them use the lower level of Maple Drive’s garage. According to Gabriele, that lease has approximately 21 more years left.
Prior addressed conditions concerning the four parking spaces, as well as apparent penalties the applicant would incur for not having four off-site spaces. As per the BZA decision, if the applicant at any time fails to obtain use of the requisite number of off-site spaces, then all variances granted shall be null and void unless the applicant pays the Village $75 per space, per day for each requisite off-site parking space which it has failed to obtain during any period of time.
Prior said it is the desire of the applicant to secure the required parking spaces, and they had received an informal commitment from the property manager at Bond Parc that two off-site spaces would be available and two more would be identified. Prior then said since the previous BZA meeting, they are having difficulty finalizing an agreement with Bond Parc.
BZA member David Kirschenbaum said he would make a phone call the next day to help facilitate a meeting between the applicant and Bond Parc.
Prior further said it’s conceivable that failing to secure a deal with Bond Parc on the off-site spaces could have the applicant turn to the Village, who could then turn down the applicant as well. Prior argued this puts the applicant in a position where if they were to spend money on this project before being locked into a solution on the four off-site spaces with Bond Parc or the Village, they face approximately $110,000 in annual costs with the $75 penalty.
BZA Chairman Michael DeLuccia praised the project, saying “we all agree this is going to be a nice addition to the village,” however noted the four off-site parking spaces are “a rather large compromise that we made, and this decision was made to put the onus on the applicant to get it done.”
Wilks explained his concern that he’s not certain of the logistics and costs with the four off-site spaces between the Village and Bond Parc before signing an agreement and moving forward, however said this project is a group effort and he wants to work alongside everyone involved.
“I think the input we’ve taken in and the changes we’ve made have made it a better project,” Wilks said. “We’re in this for the long haul – my kids and their kids will be there for generations to come”
Gabriele said that if the applicant is unable to make a deal with Bond Parc for parking spaces, and he presents those facts to the Village, he can try to work out a deal with the Village.
On the two affordable housing units in the proposed building, Prior said his applicant would prefer to not have language in the agreement that expressly address work-force housing in a particular context. Gabriele said the village has affordable housing in three of its districts, and said it would create an issue if the off-site parking spaces were automatically given to the affordable housing units, and onsite spaces were given to other tenants.
As a result, Wilks said he’s being put in a position where if he were to give someone a space in the garage five cars away from the door, they could argue they’re being discriminated against because he didn’t give them a spot close enough to the door.
“I don’t think it was intentional, but these tweaks in the agreement create problems for me and set me up for lawsuits,” Wilks said.
Prior argued that they are obligated by law to comply with the Long Island Workforce Housing Act, and asked if the language is necessary in a BZA decision.
During the meeting, Gabriele re-wrote the sentence in question regarding the affordable housing units in an attempt to make it more generic. Gabriele said it is “probably not” necessary for it to be in the BZA decision, however said it functions as a protection for the Village.
At the end of the meeting, the BZA decided to remove one sentence regarding the affordable housing units because, among other reasons, the Board of Trustees addressed issues relating to the affordable housing units in its conditional use permit and these issues would again be addressed in the regulatory agreement to be entered into between the developer and the Village regarding those units.
BZA members Eileen Falk, Richard Shapiro and David Kirschenbaum agreed that the sentence should come out, however Marleen Gerber disagreed and Chairman DeLuccia deferred to Gabriele.
Going forward, Gabriele said there are a number of other agreements that need to be worked out between the Village and the applicant, and depending on if there are delays due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, demolishment of the existing structure and completion of the new building could be completed by mid-2022.