Residents and neighbors of Port North gathered at the Jeanne Rimsky Theater on May 3 to hear Lewis Oil present its proposal to rezone its property from industrial to business district status. Many of those in attendance - village officials and residents and neighbors alike - were pleased with the prospect of removing the oil tanks. However, some did express concern about the necessary environmental cleanup around the tanks and the possible increase in traffic. Others were curious about Lewis Oil's plans for its property on the westerly side of Shore Road where there is currently a building moratorium.
At the meeting, attorney Peter Mineo, representing Lewis Oil, announced its intentions to create Port Plaza, a consolidated shopping plaza with Delco Plaza. Mr. Mineo also stated that Lewis Oil had been in touch with Grand Union, which, serving as an anchor, would relocate within the plaza and increase in size from 24,000 square feet to 69,000 square feet. In addition to the new Grand Union and the businesses at Delco, Port Plaza would feature other stores and two family-style restaurants. Before Lewis Oil can move ahead with its plans, it must first obtain a change of zone from the village, get approval of its site plan from the Planning Board, and receive site permits for the restaurants by the board of appeals.
Site planner Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering said that this proposal is in keeping with the JAC Planning Study, which found commercial retail a viable use for the Lewis Oil property and most favorable for economic benefit to the village; merging with Delco also minimizes any traffic increase on Shore Road and unifies the two developments. Mr. McAndrew stated the new plaza would feature 547 parking spots, exceeding the zoning requirements of 512.
According to architect Bob Tast, of the Sear-Brown Group, Port Plaza would have a nautical motif and would unify with Delco Plaza architecturally, and with parking and landscaping. Mr. Tast called the project an "attractive improvement" with adequate buffering of the adjacent residential pockets, namely Smull Place and Morgan Place. The architect and his team enhanced the plan after meeting with residents on those streets who had concerns with traffic and lights from the loading bays shining on their homes. The enhanced plan consolidates loading areas, moves the bays back 100 feet, and hides the service area. In fact, the new plan sets buildings further away from residents than where the oil tanks are currently situated. The team is working with residents to refine the plan. Traffic Engineer Charles Hufflein, also of the Sear-Brown Group, stated that the results of his traffic study of Shore Road coincided with that of the JAC study. His study indicated that the roads and intersections could handle the proposed plaza. He stated that the existing traffic light could be cued to handle any traffic increase.
Real Estate Appraiser John Breslin, of Timberpoint Realty, said that Port Plaza would have a positive effect on the values of the residences abutting Lewis Oil property because of the "upzoning" from industrial to commercial status, which is more desirable.
Trustee Ross Altman asked if there were two corporations operating the plaza, who would have responsibility for the overall shopping center. Mr. Mineo replied that Lewis Oil and Delco Plaza made an agreement in perpetuity in which each corporation would be responsible for its own stores and the parking lot would be available to anyone using any part of the plaza.
Trustee Bert Goodstadt asked how fast Lewis Oil could remove those tanks if the board granted approval tomorrow. Mr. Mineo stated that it would take four weeks to remove the tanks. However, pending on the timing of approvals, Lewis Oil may need to leave the tanks in place to serve customers for another winter season.
Mr. Goodstadt stated that the village was hoping to work out with Lewis Oil an agreement in which the village could create a walkway on the westerly side of Shore Road so that the residents could enjoy the waterfront. Mr. Altman asked what Lewis Oil was planning to do with the waterside property. Mr. Mineo replied that Lewis Oil wants to stay here in Port and was considering building a small office building on that property. Mr. Altman then spoke of the current building moratorium on that property, adding that the village had hoped that it could convert the old oil dock into a town dock or fishing dock.
Tom Imperatore of the Planning Board stated that the village was planning a bay walk and wants no construction at all on the waterfront side. Mr. Imperatore hoped that the land would be turned over to the village so that it could have a village dock and make use of the waterfront. He suggested that Lewis Oil use current building on Shore Road across from the waterside, adding that the moratorium prevents any building. He said that if Lewis Oil removed the piping, thus enabling the village to make the waterfront more of a beach, the proposal would be more appealing to the village. He also stated that to reduce noise, the plan would need a sound barrier.
Mr. Mineo stated later in the meeting that since Lewis Oil was not asking to rezone the waterside, the property was not part of the rezoning request.
Ken Robinson, representing Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, stated that he had no comment on the proposal. However, he did state the village should consider the impact rezoning would have to the community and not to the applicant. Mr. Robinson also suggested that the team reconfigure the layout of the plaza, putting the buildings up front and the parking behind it, much like the Greenvale Shopping Center, so as not to disturb nearby neighbors. He urged Lewis Oil to make its plans known for the waterfront, adding that Residents would like to see it for public use and suggesting that the corporation perhaps deed the property to the village. He stated that the traffic study should look at the other plans for surrounding properties. He said that Residents was pleased with the remediation, adding that the village should have plans for handling storm water and how it will impact the bay.
Phyllis Reiff asked if there would be an independent study of the grounds contamination. Environmental engineer Chris Marchesi, of Triton Environmental Services, said that Lewis Oil had to comply with the Department of Environmental Conservation regulations. In an environmental survey, Mr. Marchesi found some contamination, the most serious dating back 30 or 40 years from kerosene from a previous owner. Mr. Marchesi stated that the site was not largely impacted and would be easy to clean up and would take about 15 months to do so. Ms. Reiff asked that the environmental study be made available to the public; Mr. Marchesi will submit a copy to the village.
Mr. Altman asked if Mr. Marchesi could tell from the current studies if there might be other contaminants. Mr. Marchesi said that from the studies he could tell that there would be no big surprises and also said that the cleanup would be independent of the project.
Concerned about pockets of high cancer rates and mindful of the families that live right behind the oil tanks, Bob O'Brian asked if there would be vapors in the air from the tank removal and cleanup. He also expressed concern over the waterfront's ecosystem. Hank Ratner asked if the panel had factored in the traffic impact of upcoming developments; namely, the doubling in size of Sousa if the school bond passes, the new condos being built on Shore Road, development of the 41 acres, the speculated 88 condos on the Typin Steel property, and Harbor Ridge. Mr. Hufflein stated that each new development should do its own study. He said that Sousa's peak hours would differ from the shopping center. He also stated that he could only take into account those projects that are actually in progress. Mr. Ratner then added that traffic would increase because of the new Grand Union.
Eric Zausner asked that the new Grand Union not be open 24 hours because of the noise. Perri Zausner asked if Triton had tested for toxic waste and NTB levels. Mr. Marchesi stated that results would be in the report submitted to the village.
Janet Orloff said she was disappointed that the environmental report wasn't shared with the board as yet and expressed concern over the traffic that the restaurants would incur, and how that might affect the Montessori School on Pleasant Avenue.
Rabbi Shalom Paltiel of Chabad thought the proposal was good for the community and was glad that the panel was working with people's concerns, adding he was grateful to get rid of the tanks.
Eric Pick suggested studying the truck routes and finding alternatives. He also wanted more detail on real possibilities for the 41 acres.
Steve Kaplan wanted a master plan for the whole area from the village. He hoped that Lewis Oil would donate the waterfront property to the village. He asked if Lewis Oil would provide private security or would the village need to add another patrol car. He hoped that Port Plaza would maintain the quality of Delco. Mr. Ratner added that the village should look at the totality of the project before making a decision.
Trustee Gary Levi said that Lewis Oil has been a very good corporate neighbor and was pleased that the tanks would be going. He predicted that traffic would increase with the new plaza and was curious about the new retail mix. Mr. Levi advocated rebuilding the waterfront. He sized the proposal as follows: "Get rid of the tanks in exchange for a bigger Grand Union and a clean waterfront."
Richard Milane asked what would Lewis Oil plan if the village does not grant the rezoning. Mr. Mineo replied it would continue its business as it exists.
Mr. Altman concluded that he agrees with Residents: any changes of zoning should be a benefit to the community, not just the applicant.