Numerous residents of Great Neck added their voices to those of the Academy Gardens Apartments' tenants to plead with the Village of Great Neck's Board of Zoning and Appeals to reject the application that would result in razing the 40-unit building to make way for 68 luxury condominium units. The apartment complex is located on the northwest corner of Middle Neck Road and Steamboat Road.
Academy Gardens used to be admired for its flowerbeds planted by residents, which they say the current management ripped out.
At last month's zoning board meeting, attorney Paul Bloom representing owner David Adelipour of Kings Point Gates, LLC requested that the board grant a height variance of 9'4" above the allowable 31 vertical feet.
The March meeting focused on and yet skirted the issue of whether the board should only look at a narrow, discrete issue of a 9-foot variance or the overarching mega-issue of the destruction of existing workforce housing. "What is the purview of the zoning board?" was the question hanging over the proceedings.
Julia Shields, president of the Academy Gardens Tenants Association, recounted that the decline in maintenance and services since the current owner and management company took over in 1995 has been worse than the tenants could have imagined. She said, "We haven't had a full-time super in years, although the (Rent Stabilization) law requires it...People have been forced out... We have 20 empty units at a time when people are looking for affordable housing." She publicly thanked Town Councilman Fred Pollack, who has been doing pro bono work for the association for the last 20 years. Councilman Pollack confirmed with the Record, several months ago, that the charges against the residents have "consistently constituted harassment." Ms. Shields has urged all residents to send in rent checks using registered mail so that they would have proof of their payments. She concluded, "They (the management company and owner) have totally ignored us...after living here for 40 years, I heard about their plans when it hit the newspapers."
Elizabeth Allen stated, "These conditions are no accident. It is an intentional decline to benefit the owner...approving this application will take away the life-blood of the community...our community is being destroyed bit by bit for the benefit of developers."
Tenant Mildred Higgins, who has worked at the Great Neck library since 1973 and has lived in the building since 1966 spoke of the sense of family in the complex saying, "To be uprooted is mind-boggling."
Resident Ruth Tamarin said, "Many of these residents have been the backbone of the best parts of our community... Let's not give up this building and these people."
Jane Tuturo, who served on the workforce housing committee for the village, said, "It's time for the people of Great Neck to take a stand...don't make us an uncaring community."
Nathan Silver quoted from an interview with Lee Koppelmann, who served for many years on the Nassau County Planning Commission. He told the group that Mr. Koppelmann had said that if a community does not provide legal housing for moderate-income groups, "you will end up with illegal housing."
Jean Pierce, noting the paucity of affordable housing asked the question, "Where would these people be moved?"
Carolyn Marino raised legal questions about whether the village would have to opt out of the stabilized rent program if the board grants a variance.
Sitting in for Steve Limmer was his partner, Andrew Luskin, who stated that he could not answer legal questions from the audience. He explained that his function would be to advise the board on legal matters.
A number of other residents in deference to the hour and the full agenda made very brief statements in opposition. No one from the public spoke in favor of the application.
Mayor Ralph Kreitzman stood up last to say, "The trustees and myself are very much against this application. I could speak for an hour about why we are opposed, but I'll be brief... You, the zoning board, must balance the benefit to the applicant against the detriment to the community."
Board chairman Dennis Gross said, "We will continue this deliberation and review of the issues...if we don't do our job properly, it will be overturned by the judges." The other zoning board members are Victor Habib, Nick Nabavian, Steven Markowitz and Norman Namdar.
The public hearing will continue on April 3, 7:30 at village hall, 61 Baker Hill Road.
(Editor's note: For more background on this issue, please see online archives for the dates of Feb. 15, 2008 and Oct. 18, 2007 at www.antonnews.com/greatneckrecord.)