October 5, 2014 (updated with corrections on August 5, 2015) --With more than 200 residents and business owners from Glen Cove and nearby communities in attendance, the Glen Cove City Council and Planning Board held a joint meeting this past Tuesday evening at which stakeholders were given an opportunity to weigh in on The Villa Project - a 194 unit condominium complex that the Queens-based Livingston Development Company has proposed to build on a 4 acre site it owns on the east side of Glen Cove Avenue just south of the Glen Cove Boys and Girls Club.
At the start, Glen Cove Mayor Reginald Spinello made it clear that no decision regarding approval of the density bonuses (allowances for more units based on provisions for a defined public benefit) for which the developer had applied would be made that night. The Planning Board did, however, announce its decision to recommend two of three of the bonuses for the project. One for on-site recreational amenities and another for underground parking that would accommodate two cars per unit. The board recommended that the street-scape improvement bonus be denied.
Dan Livingston, the development company's CEO, and his attorney were then given the opportunity to offer an overview of their proposal. The attorney, showing power point slides and a brief animated film, explained that the project's size had been reduced and altered in ways to address concerns of the community. Initially the project, he said, would have had 280 units in two large buildings - one seven stories high, and the other five. It was redesigned to have six smaller buildings ranging in size from four stories to two. He presented a video with peppy inspirational music in the background that allowed the viewer to move through an animated depiction of the complex and see the various amenities, landscaping, and other aspects of the project.
Holding up pictures showing a portion of the property with dilapidated buildings, Mr. Livingston argued that the Villa project was an opportunity to revitalize a blighted area of Glen Cove that serves as a gateway to the City. "This does not help Glen Cove; it does not help the community; it does not help home values," he said referring to the images. "What you have is an embarrassment to the City. [The Villa Project] will create jobs - lift up an area that has been blighted all these years."
Mr. Livingston requested that the city council reject the Planning Board's recommendation to deny the street-scape density bonus arguing that the particular improvements he was proposing along Glen Cove Avenue entitled him to more than the 21 units he was requesting.
The developer framed the debate between those who resist change and those who embrace it. "We have a divide," he said, "Between people who want to hold onto the past and people who want to progress forward."
It appeared, however, from the comments made following Mr. Livingston's remarks, that the divide was between residents concerned about the size of the development and the resulting negative externalities, and local businessmen and women who believe the Villa project would bring in an influx of new customers and improve business conditions by revitalizing a distressed area of the city.
Melville based attorney Joseph Buzzell, representing homeowners Ronnie Epstein and Marsha Silverman whose property on Rooney Court abuts the project site, said that the project would irrevocably harm the quality of life of his clients, and asserted that there were "numerous alternatives that will not have the negative impact this project will have." "There are less intrusive options," he said. He questioned the extent to which the property was blighted, saying that the shopping center there is occupied and that there is a fairly extensive wooded area behind the Boys and Girls club that would disappear as result of the development.
"This project will destroy the quality of my life, and decimate the value of my home," said Ms. Silverman. She asserted that construction would necessitate the removal of two hundred trees from the site, compromising the integrity of the slope above which her home and other homes on Rooney Court sit. She pointed out that recent mudslides in Port Washington and Sea Cliff should give pause to replacing the current retaining wall and removing the trees. Additionally, she said that the lighting and large windows would undermine the privacy of homeowners in the neighborhood.
Another Rooney Court resident came to the microphone and said simply "stop the Queensification of Glen Cove!"
Grace Slezak, of Glen Cove Citizens for Balanced Development said that everyone in Glen Cove and surrounding communities would be negatively impacted by the development. The land, she said had been used as a drop off for hazardous materials, and that construction would disturb it. "It will destroy our home values and the quality of life in Glen Cove and neighboring communities." "It will be another Lefrak City," she said. She asserted that the process by which the project has moved through the city planning board was flawed saying, "Our rights have been violated - its unconstitutional."
A tenant of an apartment building owned by Mr. Livingston on the site of the proposed development spoke out against the project citing the poor conditions in which he and his family lived. "How can you trust him to do what is right for the City of Glen Cove?" He asked.
Two Glen Cove residents questioned whether the underground parking proposal would be workable, arguing that the valet parking system in which cars would be stacked in an underground garage would be cost prohibitive and inconvenient for residents of the condos causing them to seek parking on neighborhood streets.
Glen Cove resident Paul Sweeney said that he would support the project if the developer withdrew, or the city council rejected, his application for an affordable housing waver. "We need next generation housing. There's an overwhelming demand for affordable housing," he said. "He should not be granted a waiver."
Several Sea Cliff residents also spoke- all in opposition to the project.
Joe Krupinsky said he never saw Glen Cove Avenue as a gateway to Glen Cove, and argued that the project, despite the changes made by the developer was still too dense.
Don Kavanaugh said that he was initially excited about the project when it had first been proposed several years ago, but now realizes its "too big, too dense, and will create too much traffic." He argued that all three density bonuses were undeserved. Three of the buildings, he said, were massive structures that "would loom over Glen Cove Avenue" and that the valet parking plans were not feasible and would cause residents of the Villa to seek parking on neighborhood streets. The recreational amenities, which would not be open to the public, would be included in the project even without the bonus, he asserted. Additionally, the disturbance of the steep slope, he said was a "recipe for disaster" citing a landslide at the Chalet project in Roslyn during the 1980s and the more recent Sea Cliff slide.
Amy Shiff and Stephanie Lipsey expressed concerns about the pressure the project would put on the Glen Cove School System and that the project would create "a traffic nightmare."
While based on the volume of the cheers and the number of speakers, it appeared that opponents of the project outnumbered supporters in Tuesday nights audience, several speakers, almost all from the local business community, did speak in favor of the development.
An 18 year resident of Glen Cove and a local business owner defended the size of the project, saying that a certain density was required for the project to be financially viable for the developer. He said he believed the project would bring long term tax benefits to the community, and that the Avalon project had given local businesses "a shot in the arm."
The owner of Martino Auto Concepts, said he believed the project was "a step in the right direction" as it would bring in more residents to patronize local businesses. Local businesses he said were hurting and cited one example of a long-time business owner who was considering closing shop after having had a very slow year.
A representative of Maccarone Plumbing said that he believed that the project would give a boost to the economy creating jobs while also providing needed housing.
Phyllis Gorhman, Executive Director of the Glen Cove Chamber of Commerce, and Mary Stanco, the organization's President, both expressed strong support for the project. Ms. Gorhman said that local businesses and restaurants need more "people coming in and spending money" and that the Villa Project would help the local economy. "It's an investment in Glen Cove," she said. Ms. Stanco, said that the current condition of the proposed Villa site discouraged investment in the city and that the project would benefit all of Glen Cove. "We must support smart development, - our city's future depends on it," she concluded.
After residents and business owners had had the opportunity to speak, Mr. Livingston rose once again to respond to the issues that had been raised during previous two and half hours. "Some of the passion is misguided and wrong, and some of it may have some legitimacy," he said, But with his four minutes having expired, and it now being 11 pm, Mayor Spinello cut him off and said that the meeting would adjourn for that evening, and pick up at a another time yet to be scheduled.
CORRECTION - An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the street abutting the proposed development as Rini Court and the post date as October 5, 3014. The street is Rooney Court and the post date was October 5, 2014.