The Rockville Centre Planning Board recently removed itself as the village's environmental lead agency for a proposed 177-unit private housing project on 2 acres, ceding that responsibility to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

"Since the BZA has asked to be the lead agency, and the [three-story] project will need several variances around height, density and substantial occupancy . . . the BZA should be the lead," said Charles Casolaro, the deputy village attorney for the planning board.

He later said such action is unprecedented "to the best of my knowledge." He said he has been board lawyer for two years.

He noted that the board, along with other village agencies and the county and the state, still can have input into the final decision on the project proposed by AvalonBay Communities LLC., which has an office in Melville. The company already has a smaller, completed housing project in the village.

The state requires an assessment from sponsoring or approving governmental bodies to identify and offer mitigation for significant environmental impacts of the proposed or permitted activity.

"The size and scope of this [North Village Avenue] project is very large and could take eight months or longer" for approval, said Casolaro in explaining why the BZA will have lead agency status.

Although the public was not allowed to speak at the board's Tuesday meeting, a work session, one resident was critical afterward.

"By doing this, it allows the BZA to grant AvalonBay a variance and ignore the village zoning code restrictions of 18 units per acre," Joseph Thrapp said. "BZA members have stated at several of their meetings that their job is to grant variances. We need new apartments that meet code, not those that change the code."

Thrapp also noted that AvalonBay two years ago donated $100,000 to the village for "improvements to Smith's Pond Park, including renovation of the existing walkway and the dock" near AvalonBay's existing apartment complex and continuing to Smith's Pond, as well as seating and lighting in the park, according to the village's official statement at the time.

Village officials said the donations were unrelated to any applications.

"Any donation made to the village . . . has nothing to do with any pending application," said village spokeswoman Julie Scully.

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