Mineola Mayor Jack M. Martins stood in the parking lot on the south side of the Nassau County Supreme Court building in the County Seat on the south side of Old Country Road and asked a simple question - where will all the vehicles park?
Mayor Martins is flanked by John DaVanzo and Carmela Bernacchio on his left and Deputy Mayor Larry Werther and Mineola Civic Association President Bill Urianek on his right in the parking lot on the south side of the Supreme Court building, which is part of the county's sale to a developer.
The parking lot along with the social services building is expected to be part of the sale of county land to a developer. The main concern for the mayor is where the vehicles for the courts will park once the land is sold and Martins fears it will be on the streets of the Village of Mineola.
On Thursday, Mayor Martins filed a lawsuit against Nassau County, the Nassau County Legislator, the Nassau County Planning Commission and the Nassau County Office of Real Estate and Development.
At a press conference held on Thursday in the parking lot south of the Supreme Court building, Mayor Martins said that there has been no parking plan for vehicles of drivers who need access to the court. "In the absence of that plan, these cars are going to end up in our downtown," the mayor said in expressing his concern that there will be additional cars parking in the downtown and residential areas. "There are all kinds of pressures on our business community, all kinds of pressures on our residential community. The most pressing is parking."
Mayor Martins said that village officials are addressing the parking problem through the village's Master Plan, through grants from the state and by working with the MTA to build a 1,000-car parking garage, known as the intermodal center on the north side of Old Country Road. "We're taking care of our parking needs as they stand right now and in one step, the county is going to leave us and all of our plans to waste," he said. "We've worked over the last two or three months to try to get simple answers to what their plan is."
Mineola Chamber of Commerce President Carmela Bernacchio shares Mayor Martins' concerns. "For the first time in our history, we have a long term parking plan and suddenly out of the blue from outside the community comes a situation that's going to knock our plan over and hurt the residents and hurt the business community," she said.
In June of last year, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi announced that the county-owned 25 acres of land including the Nassau County Social Services building was for sale as part of the real estate consolidation plan, which also calls for the department of social services to move to Uniondale.
The Village of Garden City has rezoned the property for residential use, allowing up to 90 single-family homes or 150 townhouses, or a mix of both on the site. An additional 36 multi-family units can be built on an adjacent property across County Seat Drive.
According to Mayor Martins, he met with Sheldon Cohen, director of real estate planning and development for the county, five weeks ago and was advised that the county had entered into an agreement to sell the property and would be closing on the contract in March 2005.
Mayor Martins, however, was unsuccessful in obtaining an assurance in writing that the county would not allow the lot to be closed until such time as there was an adequate, on-site parking alternative to accommodate the 1,500 vehicles once the lot was closed. Mayor Martins said he was only told verbally by Mr. Cohen that there was an agreement to keep the lot opened for one year after the sale.
What further concerns Mayor Martins is the Nassau County Planning Commission's State Environmental Quality Review Act Findings Statement, which indicates that the Nassau County Family Court would be relocated from 1200 Old Country Road in Westbury to the County Seat.
"Where are these cars going to park? I've got images of cars circling the blocks. I have images of people double-parked. The reality is although you may take the spots away, that's not going to stop the jurors, the attorneys and people who need the courts from continuing to come to this area. They can't decide not to come to the court complex," Mayor Martins said.
Mayor Martins fears that since the Village of Garden City prohibits on-street parking, the cars will end up in Mineola. The mayor and the Village of Mineola Board of Trustees voted unanimously to commence a lawsuit against the county. The lawsuit seeks to stop the sale of the parking lot until the county provides adequate on-site parking to accommodate the cars that park in the lot.
Mr. Cohen said the county hasn't even brought the sale of the property before the county legislature, which would have to approve it. Cohen said the courts have said that approximately 750 spots are used in the lot for the Supreme Court and the county is evaluating options for moving the parking somewhere else on the court complex. "We know what the issues are and we're working through the issues. We know what the issue is. We're working to get a resolution. Once we go to the legislature and have the property approved, we have one year or longer from the time we close on the property to stay in possession and during that time, we'll be able to implement a parking solution. It's a very important concern and we're addressing it in a systematic and effective way," he said.
Mr. Cohen said that the county has a primary and secondary buyer for the property that it is in negotiation with but there is no contract yet. "Why would the county executive proceed with something that is going to be so problematic? We're not. We're going to resolve it," he said.
Mr. Cohen estimates going to the legislature in the early spring for approval on the sale. He said he was shocked and taken aback that the mayor filed a lawsuit and believes the motive may be political.
Mayor Martins believes the action is being done to protect the Village of Mineola. He pointed out that the village board, which is comprised of both Republicans and Democrats, voted unanimously to commence the lawsuit. "The one goal is to prevent these cars from coming into Mineola and devastating our business community and residential community. That's my obligation. That's the obligation of our village board," he said.