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Surprises for the ENCA: ZBA Approvals, Denials

The May and June meetings of the East Norwich Civic Association were parts of the same story – but with surprise endings. With a concentrated effort the ENCA members are getting results on their agenda items.

Woodstock Zoning Issues

Terrance Kelly of East Norwich attended the May meeting of the ENCA. He was amazed to see that the same topic of the Woodstock zoning violations was still on the agenda. “In 2011, it was the same thing just seven years ago,” the last meeting he attended since opening his Northport business. He said he got involved with politics over the town tax increase of 3.5 percent. “It was unacceptable. I went to town hall and put them on the spot.”

The issue of Woodstock being in violation of zoning codes was unbelievable since it has been going on for about 17 years, he said. People at the meeting speculated on the reasons the town appeared to be “soft” on Andrew Woodstock, who leases the property from Terrance Force, owner of the East Norwich Inn, who currently lives in Florida.

The ENCA members discussed different approaches to finding a solution and finally decided to hire an attorney to help with the issue.

ENCA President Matt Meng said he was not trying to embarrass the town in regards to the Woodstock violations, and as an explanation, he said, “Someone sent him an email saying it was time to clean up East Norwich after Pine Hollow is looking so nice.”

Bob King suggested the owner of the Woodstock site on Route 106, Mr. Force, be fined for the violation, as well as the individual who is mis-using the property. That was finally the decision of TOB Commissioner of Planning and Development Fred Ippolito after meeting in June with ENCA President Matthew Meng and Vice President Sean Rainey.

Verizon’s “Stealth” Card

At the May meeting,the ENCA members continued to wonder why the Town of Oyster Bay ZBA denied the Verizon proposal to put antennas inside the steeple of the Community United Methodist Church of East Norwich. At the June 23 meeting President Meng said he had just received the report of the ZBA decision – which was originally announced on March 31. At that Town of Oyster Bay Zoning Board of Appeals meeting they denied the request that was made at their Dec. 2 meeting. The decision was explained in a nine page document denying a Special Use Permit to construct, operate and maintain a public wireless communication facility consisting of six wireless panel antennas behind new radio frequency transparent louvers within a steeple of an existing church building, an equipment area secured with an 8 ft. high chain link fence within the basement of the church building, emergency back up natural gas generator with sound enclosure on rooftop of church building, two global positioning satellite (GPS) units to generator support framing, along with all other related structures, equipment, devices and cables. That includes a shaft constructed on the exterior of the church for the routing of cables from the basement to the antennas in the steeple.

The ENCA had requested to see the plan for the proposal when church officials surprised the group by attending a meeting in which they sketched out the proposal. They however refused to show anyone the plans. Therefore it was a surprise to everyone as President Matt Meng read the decision to the group – that was filled with new information.

The ZBA wrote, “The Board finds that the facility is clearly not in harmony with the appropriate and orderly development of the area in which it is located and applicant is placing great emphasis on the fact that this is a “stealth design”. However, the fact remains that the proposed size of the rooftop generator does not lend itself to being “stealth’. They added “The rooftop generator is completely visible to the neighborhood and in fact it extends approximately five feet over the roof ridge line on which it sits. Furthermore, there is no practical way to buffer or screen it. Applicant’s answer is to paint it black.  The Board members have done site inspections and have noted that the roof in question is not black and that the rooftop generator is not something that will be ‘Stealth’ to the naked eye. New World’s Dictionar defines ‘stealth’ as secret, furtive, or artfully sly action or behavior.” Certainly, in this case the facility does not fit this definition. The Board also believes that it is preposterous to consider the installation of an eight foot high chain link fence in the basement of the church to encase applicant’s equipment cabinets. It begs the question as to why this fence is needed.”

It went on to say the applicant said the proposal would not have an impact on the neighborhood. The board decided differently. It wrote, “This board finds that there is no sufficient analysis to prove that the property values will not be impacted. The applicant’s expert relies on the fact that the ‘stealth’ design is virtually imperceptible and therefore if a prospective buyer has no idea it is there, then the values will not be impacted.” [So therefore if the buyer doesn’t notice the big box on the roof, the seller shouldn’t tell them it is part of a cellular communication system.]

The board also said their investigation shows that the neighborhood appears to have enough cell phone service, and therefore more is not needed. Furthermore the board said their investigation showed that “the gap in coverage becomes serious closer to the intersection of Jericho Oyster Bay Road and Muttontown Eastwoods Road which is 1.86 miles south of the site in question and therefore out of the area targeted by the Applicant which is .9 miles south of the proposed site.”

The board also commented on the impact of the proposal saying, “The Church has already added a pre-school which, of course, is a for profit use and currently generates additional traffic in the neighborhood due to the dropping off and picking up of children which attend this school. If the Board were to consider granting this application, then this Church would have an additional commercial use. The Board finds that this additional use will set an unwanted precedent in this neighborhood and in turn cause an adverse effect on the safety, health, welfare, comfort, convenience and order of the Town.”

Additionally, the applicant said there were no other suitable sites available. The report said they sent letters to Rothmann’s Steakhouse and the East Norwich Inn but did not meet or schedule an appointment with the owner, and the board believes that did not constitute a real attempt to find another site.

“The ball is in Verizon’s court,” said Rob Brusca.

Parking Issues on 25A

At the June meeting, Mr. Meng announced that the town had already granted a parking variance to two businesses located in East Norwich Commons and owned by the Messina family, although the association had questioned the ZBA about safety at the site. At the May meeting the new business item was the variance application for Messina Market and their new business, Red Tomato - which will sell piazza and offer upscale beers. The Messina family owns the market, La Bonne Boulangerie and the new Red Tomato located in East Norwich Commons, the shopping strip along Route 25A in East Norwich. The issue is that there is not sufficient parking for the restaurants. Town code says for each three seats there should be one parking space.

The town gave the Messina Market a violation for having added tables outside so they had to show cause for the variance needed for lack of parking. The two units need 14 more parking spaces. The civic association is concerned because of the parking issue. People have been seen by local residents parking on the eastbound side of 25A and crossing the highway to get to the shopping center, a journey they consider dangerous to encourage. The Messina Market is short eight parking spaces and the Red Tomato is short six parking spaces.

Another issue longtime residents recall is that when the East Norwich Commons was built there was a problem to find a location for their septic system since there is a clay shelf that runs underground, from the Muttontown Preserve through the residential area, across 25A and continues under the shopping center, blocking drainage. Residents believe the when the East Norwich Commons was originally built, it had covenants and restrictions that say there should be only retail use of the site and no restaurants. The Civic group had been monitoring Brown’s Pond, now a recharge basin, to see that there was no seepage of wastewater into it. It hasn’t been done since civic leader Bud Rappuhn died two years ago.

The three businesses are very successful, including that there are bar stools at the bakery for people to enjoy their coffee. At both meetings people commented on how much they enjoyed the bakery and the Messina Market.

Town Decides

At the June meeting, President Meng announced that the ZBA approved the application for a variance in spite of the lack of parking. It prompted a discussion of the members concerns: parking and the septic problem. They view the parking dangerous since the cars need to go out into 55 mph traffic and with poor sight lines. Although the town has approved the variance, the civic will contact the NYS DOT to get their opinion on safety. There might be a need for several parking spaces to be removed to allow better sight lines for safety’s sake.

Elections

Mel Warren, membership chair said he had talked to people in the group and all agreed to keep the existing board members: Matthew Meng, Sean Rainey, Joseph Boorstein, Laine Gunther, Rosemary Colvin, and Mel Warren. For directors the nominated include: Gil Colombo, Bob King, Rob Brusca, Eileen Aliani, Linda Stefanopolis, Ann Birch, Laura McCue and Dr. Scott Cavagnuolo.   

Post cards will go out the members. Board member Rosemary Colvin said she read the bylaws and the voting must take place at the meeting itself. They had been considering allowing voting by mail. If that were to be wanted, they would have to change the bylaws and wait one year for it to go into effect.

Traffic Issues

Over the last few years, the East Norwich Civic Association and the Oyster Bay Civic Association have been working on traffic safety in the area with committee members Bob Martin, Rob Brusca and Dr. Scott Cavagnuolo. In the fall Mr. Martin contacted the school district and asked them to join the effort, which they did. The result is a letter that Oyster Bay-East Norwich Assistant for Finance and Operations Christopher Van Cott received from the DOT approving two school-zone flashing beacon signs. The DOT will put in the signs but the district must maintain them. The school is asking the town to share the annual electrical and maintenance costs. One will be by Sugar Toms Lane and one north of the East Norwich Firehouse, just north of Whitney Lane.

Mr. Brusca credited Bob Martin and Dr. Scott for their work in the joint traffic committee and added that the school was the final link to getting the DOT to respond to their request.

“Good job guys,” said Sean Rainey.

Landmarking

At both meetings, Matt Meng talked about his efforts to landmark the Community United Methodist Church that is over 100 years old and had its cornerstone laid by Theodore Roosevelt; as well as the Maine Maid Inn which is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, and whose fate is up in the air. There will be a hearing by the Oyster Bay Landmarks Preservation Committee on July 27 [A new town press release states the hearing is on July 20. Please call the town for confirmation of the date at 624-6200.] and Mr. Meng has gotten an array of people who are interested in the case to attend and is preparing a great presentation.  Betsy Murphy, the Jericho Library historical librarian is preparing a power point demonstration on the Inn, and Mr. Meng will present copies of her book on Jericho to the committee and town board members to alert them to the importance of that site.

The ENCA members voted on the expenditure of $200 for the books to help demonstrate the need for landmarking for the Maine Maid Inn. Mr. Meng is hoping for a large crowd to attend the hearing since he has been getting many phone calls from people interested in seeing the Maine Maid Inn preserved. The county has been interested in purchasing it, said Mr. Rainey who had knowledge about the site since he was the Nassau County Deputy Commissioner in the Department of Real Estate. His job involved overseeing  the county’s historic sites under the Suozzi administration. He brought rents up to market values; and put not for profit groups in many of the sites.