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Great Neck votes to give board zoning review for houses of worship

Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral listens during a

Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral listens during a public hearing, Tuesday evening, Dec. 1, 2015, regarding changing the way special use permits, including for houses of worship, are handled. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Applications from houses of worship in some parts of Great Neck Village will now be handled by the board of trustees, rather than the zoning board, after religious leaders criticized the zoning board process.

The board of trustees approved the change during a second public hearing on the proposal on Dec. 15. The new law lets the trustees approve special and conditional use permits for house of worship applications as well as minor variance requests.

Some village residents — including the mayor’s campaign manager — during an earlier public hearing on Dec. 1 said the zoning board was best-equipped to consider those requests and called the proposal a power grab by the trustees.

The law came six months after an election in which the new mayor, Pedram Bral, and two trustees unseated incumbents to claim a majority on the board. Bral said in an interview Monday that he wants to meet with the chairs of all village boards soon to discuss everyone’s responsibilities.

“We want to make sure that people know exactly what their role is in the village,” Bral said. “We want to make sure everybody knows what their responsibilities are” and that appointed board members are “not stepping over the boundaries.”

He did not point to any examples of that having happened in the past.

Some members of the village’s religious community have said the zoning board process was slow and expensive. Some at the first public hearing said that, to save time and money, their organizations abandoned plans for adding religious structures, such as a sukkah, the hut used to celebrate the fall harvest, and a mikvah, a bath used for an immersion ritual.

Zoning board member Steven Markowitz said in an interview that “for many years, the board of zoning appeals has dealt with these cases and dealt with them very fairly; we don’t understand why this change was necessary, what was the impetus for it, and we’re disappointed there was no effort to discuss it with us and get our point of view.”

Zoning board chairman Dennis Grossman declined to comment Monday but said at the earlier hearing that the proposal would have “serious impacts for further development in the village.”

The board of trustees talked in executive session near the end of the Dec. 1 public hearing, and Bral announced then that he would postpone a vote on the proposal. The bill was approved, unchanged, at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.

“I don’t think there’s ever going to be a law where everyone is on board,” Bral said Monday.

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