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Opinion

This is in response to Steve Kaplan's misleading letter to the editor that appeared in the Port News on Jan. 18, 2001.

He stated that I made "willful and scandalous accusations that a gathering of petitions were shrouded in coercive horror stories." I did not make any statements regarding the petitions except for stating that signatures on a petition have to be weighed against the manner in which the solicitor of the signatures frames the question. I accused no one of coercing anyone to sign the petitions. Mr. Kaplan has a knack for twisting the facts to suit his agenda.

He falsely states that at the public hearings that were held I cut short responses because I didn't like what was being said. If he reads the transcripts of these hearings, he'd see that no one's statements were cut short and everyone who wanted to speak was given that opportunity fully. In fact, I was criticized for allowing residents to speak for more than the three minutes allotted, none of them were cut short, and Mr. Kaplan was one of many speakers who spoke for more than three minutes.

He states that the 327 senior housing units that were being proposed will be negotiated down to 167 units, which is the number proposed by a developer three years ago. What he purposely neglected to tell you was that the 167 unit proposal was for one-family detached homes and that the board of trustees and I rejected this proposal.

The board of trustees of the Village of Port Washington North is vitally concerned with the protection of the environment. The board is also fully aware of its obligations under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and its mandate to responsibly protect the environment. That "protection of the environment" has been determined by the courts of this state to require that a village, before taking any action that might have a significant adverse impact upon the environment, take a "hard look" at the environmental ramifications of its action. The board of trustees has taken that "hard look" in moving forward to see the ugly Lewis Oil tanks, which tower over our cherished village, replaced with a local shopping center in accordance with a comprehensive plan developed independently by the village with the help of a recognized independent professional planning group engaged by the Village JAC Planning Corp.

Public input is important to the Village's Board of Trustees, and the decision with regard to the Lewis Oil property gave full opportunity to the public for its comments and advice.

On May 6, 1998, at a regular monthly meeting of the Board of Trustees, Lewis Oil made an informal presentation of its plan to remove its tanks and construct a new shopping center (independent of the adjacent Delco Plaza shopping center) at which all of the residents present were given an opportunity to comment.

The village put that application on hold, and engaged JAC Planning to develop an overall plan for the Lewis Oil property and other properties within the village which might be coming up for re-development (including the vacant 41-acre parcel in the village's EDA zone).

On Jan. 27, 2000 a special meeting was held to have JAC Planning present its Planning and Zoning Study to the board of trustees and the village residents. Notice of the meeting was given in multiple forms to assure the greatest attendance and the meeting was held at the Sousa School to provide sufficient room for everyone who was interested to attend. Everyone present was given an opportunity to comment after the study was presented. The JAC Study indicated that the proposed shopping center would be in conformity with an appropriate master plan for the village.

At the request of the board of trustees, Lewis Oil worked with the owner of Delco Plaza to develop a plan for unifying Delco Plaza with the new shopping center on the Lewis Oil property, and, on May 3, 2000, at a special meeting, Lewis Oil and Delco presented their plans for a combined shopping center. Once again, multiple forms of notice were given to assure the greatest attendance, and this time the meeting was held at the Landmark on Main Street to provide sufficient room for everyone who was interested to attend.

Based upon Lewis Oil's proposal, the village presented a proposed local law changing the zoning of the Lewis Oil property to a business zone to enable the construction of the shopping center. Public hearings on that local law, which included the entire issue of the proposed development, were held on Sept. 11, 2000 and continued on Nov. 13, 2000 in order to give everyone an opportunity to be heard. Once again, multiple forms of notice were provided and the hearings were held at the Landmark on Main Street.

In addition to the foregoing, discussion with regard to the Lewis Oil property, including comments from the public, occurred at various board of trustees' meetings during that period. And, in addition to those oral presentations and comments, the board of trustees was provided with the following comprehensive documents for its review.

1. Planning and Zoning Study for the Incorporated Village of Port Washington North, December 1999, prepared by JAC Planning Corp., Eschbacher & Associates, and Planistics.

2. Supplemental Environmental Assessment Part 1.D - Information Details - For a Full Environmental Assessment Form for Port Plaza, prepared by Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP, dated July 2000.

3. Traffic Impact Study, Port Plaza, prepared by the Sear-Brown Group, Inc., dated January 2000.

4. Phase I Environmental Site Assessment, prepared by Triton Environmental, Inc., dated November 2000 (waterfront parcel).

5. Phase II Environmental Site Assessment, prepared by Triton Environmental, Inc., dated November 2000 (waterfront parcel).

Kaplan stated that the village did not require Lewis Oil to file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). An EIS is only required when it is deemed necessary by the village. SEQRA itself admonishes that, "Agencies must carry out the terms and requirements of (the SEQRA rules) with minimum procedural and administrative delay, must avoid unnecessary duplication of reporting and review requirements by providing, where feasible, for combined or consolidated proceedings, and must expedite all SEQRA proceedings in the interest of prompt review."

At the conclusion of all of the meetings, and after reviewing all of the documents, it was the board's belief, confirmed by its professional planners, that the board had taken all of the steps and received all of the information and public comments appropriate and necessary for it to take a hard look at the environmental issues, and that requiring an EIS and additional public comment would be an unnecessary duplication and a violation of the spirit of SEQRA, causing unnecessary damages to the property owner without any benefit to the village. Although it is easy to say that you never know what someone is going to tell you, after the public had more than two years to comment at no less than five specific occasions set aside for that purpose, there comes a time when a village board of trustees is required to end the public comment period and make a decision.

A decision has been made and the board is very happy with that decision. The tanks will be gone and a new shopping center will be developed together with the Delco Plaza. As a bonus to village residents, at the request of the board of trustees, Lewis Oil is contributing its waterfront parcel to the village. Lewis Oil at its own expense is going to clean it up and donate to the village $100,000 for additional improvements to the property. Engineering and environmental oversite on behalf of the village during the construction of the project will be provided by the village's professional engineers, Sidney B. Bowne & Son. The understanding between Lewis Oil and the village is set forth in an extensive and explicit declaration of covenants and restrictions, which has been filed in the Nassau County Clerk's Office and which is binding on Lewis Oil and all future owners of the Lewis Oil property that is to be developed as a shopping center.

As mayor of the Village of Port Washington North, I am very proud of what the board of trustees and I have accomplished on behalf of the residents of the village. I believe it is one of my finest accomplishments for you, the village residents, to whom I am ultimately responsible. The board of trustees and I will not allow Mr. Kaplan and some of his cohorts to polarize and divide this village.

Thomas J. Pellegrino, Mayor

Village of Port Washington North


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