Friday, 01 June 2012 00:00(Editor’s Note: This letter was sent to Supervisor Jon Kaiman and all town council members and to the Manhasset Press for publication.)
Our elected officials will probably be voting on May 29 whether to grant a change in zoning from “Residence A,” the highest level of zoning, to commercial parking for the vacant land south of and adjacent to the parking lot behind Apple and Daffy’s, formerly known as The Old Village Bath Club. More importantly, this property is bordered on three sides by other residential lots. After the developers presented this proposal to the Town of North Hempstead, a great deal of misinformation and rumors surfaced. When the communities at large became aware of the impending vote and after residents were properly educated as to the history, issues, pitfalls and alternatives, the overwhelming majority of adjacent property owners and many others along the residential roads leading from “The Gate” took a stance against this proposal. Many, have become so incensed as to what is happening that they began to become active, have signed petitions and sent emails expressing their opposition to the owner’s request for a change in zoning from residential to parking. Furthermore, the property owners adjacent to the property feel “sold out.” For instance, the new homes that were built when the tennis courts had been knocked down were sold to homeowners that were assured that the lot adjoining their backyards was zoned for residential building only. With that zoning put in place by a past town administration, they felt comfortable investing much of their life savings to purchase a home in Manhasset that would continue to have value. Now, to satisfy the continued greed and encroachment of the nearby commercial property interests along Northern Boulevard as well as the whims of a those enamored by an “Apple” store in our midst, some officials seem to be leaning toward the adoption of this ill-advised example of what is often considered illegal and is commonly known as “spot down zoning.”
The point of this letter is to inform our neighbors as to what is going on. It is almost unbelievable to those of us involved with the history of this property for so many years that, after past town administrations had stood up to the attempt of developers to eat away at our residential rights that all is on the verge of being undone. One might ruminate that this was all orchestrated since it is a self-created hardship. The commercial store owner’s property, that previously had more than adequate parking for more than five decades, was rented to a tenant that was obviously in need of greater parking than the property provided. In concert with the approach of the store’s landlord, the owner’s of the vacant residential lot for years kept the property in an abandoned state after knocking down mature trees that had adorned the property, absorbed runoff of water and soil while shielding it, to some degree, from the adjoining parking lot of the mall. Now, with the property over-utilized, the developers seek to ruin the property values and peaceful enjoyment of surrounding residential owners simply to cater to their self- created parking issues.
Our homeowners most directly affected are the majority stakeholders and a minority in need of support and protection by responsible town officials. We do not need more commercial development, especially at the expense of residential homeowners, with so many vacant stores and properties. The point is to warn our community as to the utter lack of support we, as the majority stakeholders, have received from our elected officials. When it became clear that the homeowners directly bordering said property were almost unanimously opposed to change in zoning, certain civic and elected leaders have appeared to ignore this fact. This is very disturbing on many levels. In last week’s Manhasset Press, there was a statement made by the editor that the town was looking for the feedback of the entire community despite the fact that the residents directly affected by this were overwhelming against it.
First and foremost, this is not an issue that should be decided by the Manhasset community at large. This is a very specific zoning issue applicable to residential property owners directly affected by this commercial encroachment. Even requests for variances place adjoining property owners to the application in the most considered position for how the change might affect them. This is beyond a mere zoning variance, making it all the more serious in the affect it has on the adjoining residential property owners. This is actually a proposal that would reverse a former town board and “spot down zone” a residential lot, three sides of which border upon other residential properties. Can any of you imagine if you bought a new house adjoining a lot that the town had previously determined required residential zoning only to be now told that it was up for a vote how the rest of the town felt about having the residential lot next to you house now rezoned from residential to parking? Further imagine if this proposal was now up for consideration to help out a developer that created a parking issue by renting to a tenant that needs more parking spots than were ever required before? How would it make you and your other neighbors similarly affected feel that in addition to this insult, the commercial interests were set to make more money than they ever made in the past on this expansion while your property values went down the drain. Most people would be up in arms if this were happening to them directly. But for people living crosstown, this issue will not likely have any significant impact on them.
When you drive through, notice how crazy the traffic is since the Apple store opened. Notice how unsafe it is to drive and walk given the volume of traffic along with the unsafe traffic pattern. Notice how Village Road, a neighborhood street with many young children now residing there, is a major cut through street with cars racing down it trying to circumvent the traffic immediately outside the neighborhood. Steps have to be taken, one at a time, to reverse this trend that is further urbanizing our neighborhood and taking away the reason why we moved here in the first place.
Even though we want the property to be used within its current residentially zoned status, selling out the residential property owners to meet the commercial interests will not solve this problem.
The more parking they have, the more the landlord will exploit his options to rent to still another tenant requiring even more parking, whether it is done immediately or sometime in the future. It is the nature of the beast. There are options that a town board can take to assist in supporting our community to find either a residential or a “green” option. Has anyone considered the building of townhouses for residents wishing to downsize on the Old Bath Club site (similar to Duke of Gloucester or Georgetown Commons)? Is it possible for our town officials to support a much-needed green space that Manhasset so sorely lacks? There is the option of a municipality taking the property under Eminent Domain and then selling it for private residential development even if a discount were offered to more quickly get the project underway, generating taxable income to the town.
Yes, there are many options that can be discussed to resolve this matter once and for all without abandoning the community’s residential rights. But the solution has to be one that preserves the original promise to the community made so long ago, when the area was first developed and this space was a trade-off to a larger green buffer to the adjoining neighborhood. Let’s not let that promise go by the wayside. Let’s help our officials by supporting them to do the right thing by protecting our residents from neverending commercial encroachment. We need to preserve our neighborhood, its beauty, its safety and our property values.
Accepting business as usual is not an option. Manhassetites pride themselves on being there for their neighbors in times of trouble. Well, we are in trouble, deep trouble, and we need your help.
Julian Bailey, past president and legal advisor to Strathmore Village Civic Association
Brenda Bailey, active in civic affairs and in maintaining the beauty of the island leading into the neighborhood from The Gate