RESIDENTS DEBATE VILLA PROJECT AT GLEN COVE PLANNING BOARD HEARING
March 3, 2016 --With competing signs lining the walls of the City Council Chamber - some declaring “Stop the Queens-ification of Glen Cove” and others “We Support the Villa" - nearly 100 residents and business owners from Glen Cove and nearby communities turned out for a public hearing this past Tuesday evening at which the Glen Cove Planning Board took community input regarding a site-plan and subdivision application for the Villa Project - a 176 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 of hearing, the attorney for the developer stated that the company’s owner, Dan Livingston, had decided to scale down the tallest building in the proposed complex from four to three stories in an effort to address concerns expressed by residents on nearby Rooney Court, which sits atop a hill just to the east of the proposed development. Nonetheless, he said, the owners of a home there had filed an article 78 lawsuit earlier that day in an effort to block the project from moving closer toward final approval.
Mr. Livingston then narrated a computer animated simulation that offered a view of the proposed development as if one were driving through its streets, and as it would appear from a backyard on Rooney Court. According to the simulation, the buildings were hardly visible from the backyard even with foliage removed from the trees. He also spoke of efforts he would make to beautify the streetscape on both sides of Glen Cove Avenue with shrubbery and trees.
“Enough is enough," Mr. Livingston said, speaking of the vocal opposition he has faced from many in the community as he has navigated the approval process. "We’ve done everything we can to appease people. We’ve done everything that has been required of us.”
More than a dozen residents on both sides of the issue then addressed the board.
Some opponents of the development raised concerns about the displacement of lower income tenants currently living in apartments on the property, while others were concerned about property values across the city and the quality of life of residents owning homes in the adjacent neighborhood. Still others asserted that the Planning Board was allowing for haphazard and inappropriate over-development that would destroy the suburban character of the community leading to overcrowding on the peninsula and traffic nightmares - especially with the recent approval of the 1100 unit Garvies Point Waterfront project.
Proponents argued that the development would greatly improve a blighted section of Glen Cove that serves as a gateway to the city, raise property values, and help local businesses.
“My concern is what is going to happen to the 31 families that live there.” said resident Bertha Adams.
“The Livingston Company has a big heart,” responded Mr. Livingston who then explained that he had raised rent only $50 a month in 13 years and that he would institute a relocation program and provide financial assistance for displaced tenants.
“I respect that the people call it home,” he continued describing the apartments currently there, “But it is not a quality of life. We want to help people find a better quality of life.”
Glen Cove Resident Michael Banks, addressing Mr. Livingston’s remarks a few minutes later said, “the poor have a hardship finding a place to live.” He questioned the affordability of what is often described as “affordable housing.”
“The poor, especially Blacks and Hispanics, are being pushed out.”
Addressing the Board once again after other residents had spoken, Mr. Banks said, “The way you clean up a poor neighborhood is not by throwing out the poor people.”
Resident Lisa Cohen said she believed the development would greatly improve that section of Glen Cove Avenue. “It’s time to clean it up. If someone wants to clean it up, let him clean it up.”
“It looks like East New York,” said another resident. “It’s needed.”
“Rehabilitating a run down area will bring up property values, this will expand our tax base,” said still another resident. “Enhancing the gateway will be good for business.”
Frances Kohler, Executive Director of the Glen Cove Downtown Business Improvement District, said that she believed that the development would be good for the community.
Others disagreed, and asserted that a glut of condos on the market, especially with the other proposed developments, would greatly lower property values and negatively impact their quality of life.
John Wyatt of Craft Avenue said that the addition of 176 housing units would greatly increase traffic, and the rooftop terraces would likely be loud on weekends during warm weather months.
Rooney Court resident Grace Slezak, said that increasingly the supply of housing would deflate home values while increasing traffic. Additionally she expressed concerns about the slope behind the proposed development that supports her neighborhood, and the potential threat that the new construction would pose to the stability of the hill.
Gordon Park, another Rooney Court resident, said that the underground stacked parking that has been approved would be an inconvenience for residents of the condos who might have to wait half an hour to retrieve their cars. They would thus be much more likely to park on the streets.
Roni Epstein, also of Rooney Court, who along with Marsha Silverman, is a petitioner in the Article 78 lawsuit, said that it was unnecessary to have a project of this magnitude and that her opposition to the proposal was to try to “preserve the nature we have here.” The view from her backyard, she asserted, would be greatly spoiled by the development.
Several opponents of the development urged the Board to consider this development in the context of other residential projects that have been approved.
One resident estimated that new development in the city would bring in as many as 10,000 people in upcoming years. “Every place you look - It’s apartments,” she said, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” As for traffic, she continued, “you won’t be able to get out of here.”
“It’s not that we don’t want to see change - we want smart change,” she asserted.
“We aren’t against development - we’re against over development,” said Annie Phillips in a similar vein. “People do not want to live in high density housing - people are not going to come. We need other development.”
Earlier, another resident argued that this is the sort of development that is needed. "This is not an experiment," said Greg Barton, a 26 year resident of Glen Cove. "This is based on success elsewhere. This is what the markets are dictating."
Resident Amy Peters agreed with those who argued that the development is inappropriate. She said that the City’s Master Plan recommends that “development be taken into account holistically.”
“We need smart growth,” she asserted and explained that the luxury condos being built in this particular case and elsewhere in the city seem to be intended to attract wealthy empty-nesters and young professionals from Brooklyn and Manhattan. What is needed, she said, is housing that is more affordable for people who live in the area.
As for the Article 78 litigation, Attorney Amy Marion, who is representing Ms. Epstein and Ms. Silverman, said in her comments to the board that her clients were bringing the suit in part because "procedural errors had occurred with prior approvals issued by the [Planning] Board. “This plan is not right for this board and not right for your review,” she said. Additionally, she maintained that an environmental impact statement had not been issued since 2009, and that such a study is needed that considers the Villa development in relation to other projects that have been approved in the city.
Planning Board Chairman Thomas Scott said at the end of the hearing that a vote on the application would not take place until the board had issued its environmental impact findings. The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 15.
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