Glen Cove officials who support proposed zoning changes in the majority-Latino Orchard neighborhood say they need to spur development in an area that Mayor Timothy Tenke said “is in need of a facelift.”
Some of the hundreds of people who live in the apartment buildings, houses and townhomes of the Orchard are wary, saying changes to make it easier for developers could force residents out.
“This will displace a large amount of people," said Nelson Melgar, president of the North Shore Hispanic Civic Association and an Orchard resident. "This community is being targeted because they think people who live here are not going to put up a fight.” Most Orchard residents rent, so development decisions are out of their control, he added.
“We’re not saying or encouraging that the existing housing stock in the neighborhood be turned over," said Ann Fangmann, executive director of the Glen Cove Community Development Agency, which commissioned a report that recommended zoning changes. "We’re not looking to displace people.”
The proposed zoning changes are intended to spur redevelopment of land with vacant buildings, she said. The changes would reduce the minimum size of a townhome and the amount of land on which townhomes can be built. The city will not buy or use eminent domain to take over properties; decisions would be made by property owners, she said.
City officials and Melville-based consultant Nelson, Pope & Voorhis LLC have been working for years on a plan to redevelop the Orchard, which is made up of several residential blocks southeast of downtown, and unused industrial sites to the south and west. Plans for the industrial area include stores and a self-storage facility.
Land adjoining the Glen Street Long Island Rail Road station just north of the Orchard that includes parking lots and a fitness center would be zoned to allow up to 40 housing units per acre.
The Orchard includes buildings more than a century old in a streetscape where many houses abut the sidewalk instead of the more typically Long Island front yard. In the early and mid-1900s, most Orchard residents were Italian immigrants, said Joan Harrison, author of three history books on the city. Today, most are immigrants from Latin America.
“The reason some of the people live here is it’s a rather affordable area” compared with most of Glen Cove, Melgar said.
Abel Villalobos, 26, a landscaper, pays $800 a month for a room in an Orchard house and said he couldn't afford much more.
“There are a lot of people here who make very little money,” he said in Spanish.
Councilwoman Marsha Silverman echoed the community's concerns, saying the zoning changes would make it more lucrative to replace existing housing with pricier townhomes.
“Even though we say we don’t want to displace people, I believe people will get displaced,” she said. “And it’s very sad to me.”
Resident Kenneth Stedman, 48, who said his only income is about $1,000 a month in Social Security disability payments, lives in subsidized Section 8 housing. He said he’d be homeless without it.
“The city sees this as an eyesore,” Stedman said of the Orchard. “I believe they will find some way to knock all this down.”
A public open house on the proposal is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at city hall. The city is distributing bilingual leaflets on the event to Orchard residents and will provide Spanish-language interpreters, Fangmann said.