Though community members once again expressed concerns about traffic, parking and infrastructure, the Village of Great Neck Board of Trustees proceeded with architectural approval for the Mashadi Community Center on the two-acre parcel at 187–195 Steamboat Rd. at its meeting on Tuesday, July 16.
Streamed live for the first time on YouTube in an effort to increase transparency, according to third-term Mayor Pedram Bral, the meeting began on a warm note as trustees welcomed back Louis Massaro, superintendent of the Department of Public Works, after his recuperation from a heart attack.
What followed was frustration from residents, as their uneasiness about the nearly 75,000-square-foot “community center” was analyzed for architecture only, disregarding worries over the lack of parking, since only 77 spots will be provided; the “traffic nightmare” on the already overburdened two-lane street; the potential damage to the water supply; and its tax-exempt status, despite its purpose as a recreation center for a select group.
Representing the United Mashadi Jewish Congregation of America, attorney Paul Bloom originally filed the five required variances. However, following a recommendation from the Nassau County Planning Commission, the plan was modified. Though the maximum floor area ratio is still more than five times the allowable size, four variances were granted and the project was approved by the Board of Zoning Appeals on July 11.
The previous meeting on July 2 ended with the board unanimously granting the use, site plan approval and a parking waiver, subject to the applicant submitting a shuttle schedule and valet parking agreement, however the only item discussed at the July 16 meeting was architecture.
As a resident of the community, Mark Stumer, principal of Mojo Stumer Associates, the architect for the project, was particularly concerned about presenting a building he could be proud of, as he said he is of other building he’s designed on the peninsula, including the new Marie Blachère bakery, Everfresh and the original firehouse. He talked about designing the building with character, incorporating texture and movement with various building materials, including chiseled brick, wood and metal.
Architect Joe Yacobellis of Mojo Stumer Associates discussed the details and said he was proud of the scale, quality and texture.
“We want this to be a building that will make the community proud,” he noted.
“It’s great architecture, but the scale of this building is scary, and it’s the wrong location,” a local architect responded. He discussed the water table issue, saying that you can’t dig too deep, which is inevitable with the walk-out cellar and, with it, the building is really four stories. “It’s a huge footprint on a small site,” he said.
Community advocate Rebecca Rosenblatt Gilliar explained her concern was not with the lovely architecture, but the process.
“The agenda for the previous board of trustees meeting was posted in the late afternoon on the date of the meeting, and this is a violation of state law,” she pointed out. “You then conducted the public’s business and you voted on the community center, even though the public had no notification, so you compounded the violation of law. The application you voted on and approved was then entertained by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), whose deliberations were based on the illegal meeting and the illegal vote taken by the board of trustees. Process has to be absolutely adhered to, law has to be abided by.”
Rosenblatt Gilliar said there were additional offenses.
“When residents at the meeting asked this board about the particularities of the application, the mayor and the attorney for the applicant, you stamped your feet almost in unison,” she said. “You both claimed that this application had been under continuous discussion for a long time. In point of fact, the application in question had not come before this board since last year. So, your claim of ongoing discussion refers to private conversations, not public deliberations.”
She went on to say, “Last December, the Nassau County Planning Commission gave a sweeping denial to the application. In response, but unbeknownst to the residents, the applicant revised and then the board resubmitted to Nassau County Planning Commission, but none of us knew. So, you didn’t make this public knowledge and the revised plan, not any portion of the discussion between the board of trustees and the applicant leading to that revision, and not the Nassau County Planning Commission’s second response ever came to the public space until two weeks ago. And, then, it didn’t come to the public space. Then, it was referred to.”
Rosenblatt Gilliar has since FOILed the Nassau County Planning Commission’s second response and said, “It isn’t quite as sanguine as was presented, but, of course, if we had it to read at the time we would have known that and we would have been able to ask about it.”
The community advocate pleaded with the board to take another look at Steamboat Road. She said that summer camp at 54 Steamboat Rd., one of the applicant’s three properties from which the proposed shuttle bus will run, is already shutting down the road.
“In the mornings and in the afternoon, cars block both lanes and there are only two of them,” noted Rosenblatt Gilliar. “So, you already have a traffic problem at 54 Steamboat Rd. I can’t even imagine how the shuttle bus is going get through. And, of course, on Shabbos, there’s double parking, which blocks one of the two lanes on Steamboat Road. There’s been an ongoing non-addressed traffic issue on Steamboat Road that has never been discussed here or at the BZA. The traffic issue is crucial.”
Rosenblatt Gilliar also expressed concern for the swimming pool in relation to the report from Nassau County and the Federal government on salt water intrusion.
“Two of our wells, our potable drinking water, have been shut down so far,” she explained. “Obviously, a swimming pool will take a huge amount of water, but none of that was addressed before. Architecture is not the issue. All of these things should have been entertained on behalf of the community. And, it’s recreational and really shouldn’t be fully off the tax rolls.”
The longtime resident continued, “You can’t have an illegal vote. Anything you decide tonight can not supersede an illegal vote. You need to undo the illegal vote first. You don’t want this to become a conversation at the state level. This is a violation you don’t want to have on your record. I should remind you that at least two mayors of New York City who had a third term found themselves accused of corruption in that third term. This is your third term. You want to avoid the appearance of corruption. You want to undo the illegal vote and do the process properly and, then, you can’t be accused of anything.”
Bral responded that based on his understanding, this was not a public hearing, it was a work session and that no rules were broken.
The board unanimously approved the architectural design. The shuttle agreement was submitted just two hours before the meeting, so the board was not prepared to accept it. The board noted that the parking waiver is still conditioned on the execution of the shuttle agreement, which it said is close to being accepted, but has not been accepted yet.
After the board met privately with counsel, board attorney Peter Bee addressed the community.
“People can use their property for whatever the law permits,” he said. “The board has to answer, ‘Does the applicant meet the criteria spelled out in the law?’”
Community members are not opposed to a recreational facility being built, they are concerned that the scope, parking and infrastructure issues, along with the tax implications for a center most people will be unable to use, have never been properly addressed.
Read about the July 2 meeting here.