Prospect Avenue's Alison Metzler is challenging her Eastern Property Owners' Association's unanimous decision to bring forth Dennis Donnelly as nominee for village board trustee. The position holds a two-year term and would fill current Mayor Peter Bee's seat at the end of his mayoral term in April.
As is village custom, a runoff election will now take place Tuesday, Feb. 3 from 4:30 to 9 p.m. in the East at Stewart School. Those wishing to vote must be a resident of the East over 18 years of age; picture ID such as a driver's license or passport is required.
"I have lived in Garden City for 40 years and I have seen many changes to our town but I have also seen great stability and faithfulness to our traditions and heritage," Dennis Donnelly states on his newly launched website, www.donnellyfortrustee.com.
Donnelly, the Eastern Property Owners' Association's (EPOA) current president, said the village is very near and dear to his heart and retiring from his 35-year career with Verizon Communications allowed him the opportunity to give an even greater amount of time to the village he loves.
Donnelly earned the Garden City Chamber of Commerce's Community Achievement Award in 2008 recognizing his "outstanding professionalism and major contributions to the village and beyond through one's profession." He is current chair of the Joint Conference Committee of Garden City's four property owners' associations, served as a member of the St. Paul's Survey Committee, was a Centennial soccer coach and is an active member of St. Joseph's Church. He also serves on the executive committee of the Chamber of Commerce.
"I believe that if I am lucky enough to be elected to trustee of our village, I can bring some of my years of experience in business and government to bear," Donnelly states on his website. "We must evaluate each segment of services our village provides to tighten budgets and reduce costs wherever possible."
He believes the Citizen's Budget Committee has proven to be very helpful in this regard. "When we look at the tax structure of the village, it is apparent that new sources of revenue are not available; therefore, we must seek savings from the expense side of the budget. No one wants tax increases, especially in these economic times," he said.
Donnelly continued, adding, "Taxes in general have been held in check by the current trustees with a zero percent increase last year and a minimal increase in 2007-2008. There are really no one-shot saviors to use this year so we must squeeze every dollar we can out of our expenses."
He suggests a re-engineering approach to review each aspect of services Garden City provides to its public. "How can we reduce our costs, should we outsource, should we consolidate, should we eliminate any functions?" he asked.
Donnelly admits the controversy over what to do with the St. Paul's property has consumed the village dialogue for many years.
"I believe since AvalonBay was the only developer chosen by the Mayor's Committee on St. Paul's and the public so overwhelmingly rejected AvalonBay, we should no longer consider private development as an option for the property now or in the future," he said.
However, Donnelly believes the vote of the residents favoring demolition over preservation was "sufficiently narrow enough to leave doubt about what would be the best outcome for this property."
He continued, "If an adaptive re-use for restoration can be creatively arrived at, and funding for the project can realistically be achieved, I am all for saving the buildings. But to burden our taxpayers with restoration costs and continued ongoing maintenance expenses would be unfair to the residents who voted for demolition."
Donnelly admits the current economic downturn is putting more pressure on the issue. "The clock is ticking on St. Paul's in that doing nothing is the only option, which will result in failure," he said. "We should make sure the building is secure, and where possible, fenced off for the protection of the public."
Donnelly hopes to secure federal government funding and suggests Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy could help garner the federal dollars needed to complete a restoration of the historic building rather than "funds to run a railroad through the middle of our village." This, Donnelly assured, is something he would explore further if elected.
He said he understands the passion exhibited by the proponents of preserving St. Paul's but believes residents who see a draining of their tax dollars with no results must be responded to.
Donnelly wants the process to run its course and urges that the name-calling and bitter rhetoric stop. "If a solution of reasonable use at affordable cost can be achieved, it would be great but if none exists then at some point we may have to 'pave' the way for a better use of the property or clear the way for an alternative use that would be more fitting for a new generation," he added.
With regard to the Hub project, which incorporates a "light rail" system, Donnelly believes the results would be devastating to the people in the East of Garden City. "Our community would be split by railroad tracks. This Balkanization of Garden City would create four quadrants, all east of Franklin Avenue. We cannot sit by and let this happen," he said.
Donnelly wants the tracks to continue into Carle Place to a new station behind Stop & Shop in the Country Glen Shopping Center, then run down the Meadowbrook Parkway to the Coliseum and the HUB.
"No neighborhood would be affected. No community would be divided. It is imperative that we work tirelessly to convince the county and our congresswoman," Donnelly said.
As far as the P-Zone issue is concerned, Donnelly is refraining from taking any position on this issue until a court ruling is rendered. ACORN is currently seeking to overturn zoning in this area to allow for affordable housing on the site, which is located between the Supreme Court and the old Social Services building. The village is a defendant in the ACORN litigation.
Donnelly and his wife, Nancy, have three children: Tara, Erin and Brian, who all attended Garden City schools.
"I truly believe that the residents of the village need someone to represent them who is willing to listen to the residents and protect the quality of life of the residents, not just promote big business development," Alison Metzler said of her intention to run for village trustee, to represent Garden City's Eastern section.
Metzler said she and many of her friends and neighbors have become "disenfranchised" with the EPOA leadership of late. "The EPOA was not acting in the best interests of the village, especially in their support of the AvalonBay deal," Metzler said. "There is clearly a need and desire for more transparency in our village government."
As an attendee of village board meetings, Metzler said she is frustrated by the limited agenda handouts and thinks better communication is a step in the right direction of improving transparency.
Currently a partner in a general practice law firm located in New York City specializing in civil defense litigation, Metzler believes her 20 years as a litigator only enhances her qualifications to serve as trustee.
"Any decisions I am asked to make in the capacity of trustee will be made on an unbiased objective test ... what is best for the village as a whole, not just now, but for generations to come," she said.
She vehemently opposes any kind of urbanization and commercial development that would lead to what she described as an erosion of the suburban way of life. This, Metzler said, is why she opposed the AvalonBay proposal for luxury apartments at St. Paul's.
Although not a member of the Committee To Save St. Paul's, Metzler favors preservation, not just for St. Paul's but for all of Garden City. "I am interested in seeing Garden City keep its special character, history and traditions with the hopes that the children of the village will want to return after college like my husband and raise their families here," Metzler said.
Metzler understands there are many other poignant issues facing the village, including what she describes as "massive development projects" outside Garden City's boundaries: the Hub, the "light rail" proposal, the LIRR Main Line/third track project, the Coliseum/Lighthouse project and the Winston condominium project slated for Mineola, to name a few.
Living in the East, the HUB, as well as the possibility of a light rail to the HUB and development on the eastern border near Roosevelt Field are of particular interest and great concern to her.
She believes a light rail system would have disastrous effects on Garden City if it were to dissect the village, forever changing its character. Similarly, Metzler said, the Lighthouse project and the overall Nassau Hub project would also have disastrous effects on the village, in particular Garden City's business district, which Metzler said has been revived in recent years after a devastating downturn caused by another massive project many years ago... Roosevelt Field.
As a taxpayer, Metzler is concerned about the village budget. "When the tax portion of your mortgage bill exceeds your P&I portion, you know there is trouble," she said.
She was disappointed by the Dec. 18 debate concerning work on one of Garden City's water wells. "I would not have hesitated to authorize the relatively small amount of money to ensure better water quality for the residents," she said. "What I would have done instead, to save money, is defer any action or expenditure on the demolition of St. Paul's... The authorization of payment of legal fees to various law firms appear often as agenda items. Perhaps something could be done to lessen these expenditures in the future."
Metzler and her husband, Bill, both grew up in the Eastern section of Garden City and live in the East now with their four children, Colleen (14), Jack (13), Kerri (10) and Kara (7). A partner in the firm of Downing & Peck, P.C., NYC, the Prospect Avenue resident has been active in the recreational programs in town and has coached various teams over the years, now and while attending Garden City High School.
Living in the village since she was 4 years old, Metzler said she could bring particular insight to the issues currently facing the village, having grown up here, attended public schools here and now raising her own children here.
"I have no alterior motives, no pre-conceived agenda or conflicts that would affect my objective decision-making process with these or any other issues I might face, just a simple desire to serve the village and I am asking for your support," she said.