Plans to revitalize business and housing options on Middle Neck and East Shore roads in Great Neck have divided residents in the area, leading to month after month of standing-room-only village meetings and shouting matches between Mayor Pedram Bral and residents.
The discord centers on a study from Hauppauge-based consulting firm VHB, which suggests that Great Neck consider giving developers a break on certain village codes when applying to build an assisted living facility or an affordable housing complex.
Opponents said doing so would result in overpopulation, more congested roads, a school district overburdened with too many students and no guarantee that additional residents will ensure more business activity downtown.
Both sides agree there should be a plan to make Great Neck a shopping and tourism destination for the region, but they disagree on the best way to make that happen:
Pedram Bral, Great Neck mayor, said residents falsely assume scores of new residents will flood Great Neck under VHB's study recommendations. The study's main take-away is about adding 25,500 extra square feet for businesses to occupy. More businesses filling those spaces could generate $300,000 in annual revenue, he said.
"We're not changing the zoning because we want to get another 500 [apartment] units; that's not it," Bral said. "It [the VHB study] significantly increases the amount of commercial square feet to what currently exists."
Kris Torkan, president of Villadom Corp., a development company, said the village might want to focus on Middle Neck Road first, and then East Shore Road. He said overall the VHB plan is needed because "nobody wants to come and do business here."
"The stores and the main street is dilapidated," Torkan said. "We need this change. We need the zone changes. The VHB plan is very comprehensive . . . but it needs a lot of fine-tuning."
Simon Aghalarian, of Great Neck, said fellow residents should not look at VHB's plan as a way to overcrowd the village with newcomers. More residents means Great Neck prospers, he said.
"There's nothing wrong with bringing more people into Great Neck," he said. "Should we just close down Great Neck and not let anyone else in? Just lock it down? We need to attract people."
Susan Lopatkin, mayor of neighboring Kensington, said the proposal would likely mean more traffic in the village, which is just south of Great Neck.
"I don't think I've ever seen a traffic study in my 11 years as the mayor where there isn't an adverse affect on traffic," she said. "Our village and the Village of Thomaston do not support the East Shore Road piece of this because of the traffic."
James Wu, a Great Neck resident, said village officials assume more commercial space will bring companies to Great Neck. He said more should be done to make the current spaces more attractive to residents.
"Putting in more housing, more assisted living, and putting in more store space is just going to be more empty stores," Wu said. "It's not going to solve the problem, and it's just going to make us more miserable."
Barbara Berkowitz, Great Neck school board president, said the village implementing VHB's study recommendations would eventually overburden the school district.
"The plans that VHB presented were ill-conceived, naive, created without an understanding of the problems they would be creating, vastly incomplete, and quite honestly, the presentation itself was an insult," she said.
PROPERTIES OF INTEREST
In their study of how to revitalize Great Neck's two main business corridors, VHB officials identified locations across the village that they believe are prime for development:
EAST SHORE ROAD
1. 310 East Shore Rd.
2. 300 East Shore Rd.
3. 280 East Shore Rd.
4. 266 East Shore Rd.
5. 240 East Shore Rd.
6. 236 East Shore Rd.
7. 265 East Shore Rd.
MIDDLE NECK ROAD
1. 794-802 Middle Neck Rd.
2. 804-812 Middle Neck Rd.
3. 765 Middle Neck Rd.
4. 777 and 781 Middle Neck Rd.
5. 778 Middle Neck Rd.
6. 756 Middle Neck Rd.
7. 733 Middle Neck Rd.
8. 720 Middle Neck Rd.
9. 700 Middle Neck Rd.
10. 697-705 Middle Neck Rd.
11. Everfresh Parking Lot at 533 Middle Neck Rd.
12. 540 Middle Neck Rd.
13. 435-451 Middle Neck Rd.
14. 429 Middle Neck Rd.
15. 240-250 Middle Neck Rd.
16. Old Mill II, at the corner of Stony Run and Old Mill roads
Dan Levy, mayor of neighboring village Saddle Rock, called plans to revitalize Great Neck's business corridor "a long time coming." He also noted VHB's study calls for adding more commercial space to Middle Neck and East Shore roads and that more commercial space is "desperately needed."
"Increasing commercial space in your village will bring, not just revenue, but bring foot traffic," he said.
Fei-Yong Long, a Great Neck mother with two sons in the school district, said she was shocked to read VHB's study, particularly the section that outlined what changes residents could expect in 10 years under the study recommendations. If Middle Neck Road is developed to its maximum capacity by 2029, the population on that street would grow from 638 today to 1,399, the study shows. Students in the Great Neck school district on Middle Neck Road would grow from 36 to 82, the study shows.
Long said she doesn't believe those projections.
"So instead of 82 students, we're probably talking about 400 or 500 new students," Long said. "A dramatic increase in the student population will lead to overcrowding [and] a shift in the student-teacher ratio."