Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 30 July 2010 00:00
While the only thing stopping many small communities from becoming villages is lack of zoning powers - because Nassau County law has taken that authority away from any new village that wants to be incorporated – zoning powers are still of great interest to local communities as they stabilize a neighborhood – for the good. That is why the East Norwich Civic Association has taken the stand that they want current zoning laws upheld and that is why they were concerned with two recent issues in the hamlet that involved the TOB Zoning Board of Appeals requests for variances.
At the July 22 meeting, the board discussed the newest solution offered for the property owned by Andrew Woodstock on Route 106 opposite Christina’s Epicure. The site belongs to the owner of the East Norwich Inn, who rents it to Mr. Woodstock.
After a frank and open discussion in a meeting with Mr. Woodstock, Commissioner of Planning and Development Fred Ippolito, ENCA President Matthew Meng, Vice President Sean Rainey and board member Rob Brusca, the men were optimistic about improvements to the site. They said a new plan has developed. Mr. Woodstock said he will use the site for a nursery - a use that is within the town code, possibly with the need of a special use permit. [When the business first opened in East Norwich it was promoted as going to have an attractive landscape display with a waterfall in front – which would add to the ambiance of the area. That did not happen. Quonset huts for the sale of plants; Christmas tree sales; and storage of equipment was the use instead.]
The East Norwich Civic Association changed their opinion on another zoning case – this one at 1350 on Route 106. The issue involved an L shaped lot with an existing house on Route 106 and an empty lot on Walnut Avenue. The owner planned to build a house on the side street, Walnut Avenue, leaving the original house with less land than needed according to current zoning code. Instead of having the required 7,000 sq. ft. it would have under 5,000 sq. ft. Additionally if subdivided the original house would loose its previous approval – now on a smaller lot and therefore it would need several set back variances.
The ENCA was concerned and sent a letter asking that the variances be denied in Sept. 2009. They were concerned that if granted this would set a precedent for future down zoning.
Then representatives of the ENCA tried to contact people within proximity of the house to see what their views were of the project with little success. President Meng finally walked from house to house trying to get people’s views on the proposal. In the end, he said, those who would talk to him didn’t have a problem with the proposal. One neighbor wanted the owner, Sal Albanese, to cut down a large old tree in poor shape that is located between the properties. He said he would. Another neighbor was concerned about a retaining wall; another was concerned that his property would be shadowed by the new house.
Sean Rainey said the ENCA agreed on a Memorandum of Understanding that Mr. Albanese would cut down the tree and fix up the rental house on Route 106 by putting on new siding, doors and a roof on the colonial house. Mr. Rainey said the alternate was not a very attractive vacant lot and a house that is an eyesore. From his past experience working in real estate with Nassau County, he is the former Nassau County Real Estate Department deputy director, he said, “There was no other way to spend money on the rental house if he couldn’t build the other house.”
Mr. Meng summed up the issue saying, “Within a 300 feet radius no one cared what happened. You don’t want to fight a battle with no soldiers behind you. But you have to fight if it has an effect on the community overall.”
When the ENCA appeared before the ZBA to discuss the variance for the L shaped lot they were surprised to find that instead of appreciating how well the civic group worked with the owner, they were strongly reprimanded by board member Peter Guarino when they said they had changed their opinion on the case, said Mr. Meng and Mr. Rainey.
Mr. Brusca, who also attended the ZBA meeting and spoke before Mr. Meng and Mr. Rainey, in opposition to the requested variance out of concern that if they approve a new lot at 5,000 sq. ft. there can be someone else in the area that wants to do that too. There are homes there now that sit on lots in excess of 15,000 sq. ft. and they could decide to put three houses there creating a case of down zoning.
Caroline DuBois commented that neighbors don’t want to have problems with neighbors and so they don’t like to complain but it can result in the chipping away of standards.
Mr. Meng said the ZBA will have to make its decision on the case. “It is a very tricky situation. Two weeks prior to the meeting the ZBA wouldn’t postpone a TD Bank variance hearing so we could have our meeting with TD Bank first.” Then after the ENCA sent the letter to the ZBA complaining about the bank design they later partnered with them in a compromise before the board meeting.
“We also had to show up and retract the letter in opposition to the L shaped lot,” said Mr. Rainey. There were a lot of communications going on between the ZBA and the ENCA on the two issues.
ENCA member Rob Brusca questioned the decision to have a Memorandum of Understanding with the owner of the L shaped lot over things he should do anyway – fix up the existing house and take down the tree. He said he thought the board should have been polled and they shouldn’t have made a decision on their own. Mr. Rainey said the problem was there was no time before the meeting – it was all last minute. Mr. Brusca countered with – then the decision shouldn’t have been made.
Treasurer Liane Gunther said she approved of the men’s decision.
It was an interesting discussion – as they all are at the ENCA – with a wide range of comments being made by the group. The ball is in the ZBA’s court as to what will happen next in the two cases.
The ENCA is doing well financially. They and the Oyster Bay Civic Association each received $1,127.74 from the receipts from the Joint Civic party at the Sagamore Yacht Club.
In June the group voted to pay for a new printer for Mel Warren who sends out the meeting notices. The job wore out his old printer. The new one “Spits out the cards,” he said. Treasurer Liane Gunther said they paid $595 for insurance for the directors – something needed in this litigenious society.
In another issue, Mr. Meng said he was contacted by Jill DeMarco asking to do a presentation at the August meeting on the new Chevy Cruza coming out soon. The offer was declined as the meeting is not a forum for car sales. “They don’t belong here,” said Mr. Rainey, adding,” and I just bought a Chevy too.”
Bob King said, “Just tell them to send the key chains and pens.” The lady had promised the group would receive gifts. “Not a car,” complained someone, who would have preferred a bigger gift.
Election of officers was completed with no changes in the list proposed. The officers remain: Matt Meng, president; Sean Rainey, vice president; Mel Warren, recording secretary; Liane Gunther, treasurer.
There are 158 members in the ENCA. As the meeting wound down, Mr. Brusca suggested that in the fall they discuss people being allowed to vote by mail. A postcard is sent out informing people of who is running and they could return them with their choices.
The next meeting of the ENCA is on Aug. 26 at the Community United Methodist Church in East Norwich at 7:45 p.m. All are welcome to attend.