The Village of Cedarhurst is planning to borrow $1.8 million and spend $200,000 more to purchase an 18,730-square-foot lot at 68 Washington Ave., where a 17-apartment development was proposed, and build a municipal parking lot instead.
The planned residential development has been a bone of contention in the village since a board meeting last November, when the project was unveiled. It elicited mixed reactions, especially from those who live near the property, which is also home to the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway’s Lower School and the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department.
The site is currently zoned for single-family homes, and the developer, Cedarhurst businessman Samuel Nahmias, was seeking a variance for a three-story apartment building with a lobby, a common room and 39 parking spaces. But the village Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously denied the application at a meeting in February.
“When the zoning board denied the application, (Nahmias) ap- proached us and asked if we had an interest in acquiring the property,” Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock said. “We had an interest in acquiring the property for a parking lot before he bought it.”
Many neighbors feared the apartments would be approved, after the village board’s unanimous approval last year of the Pearsall Project, which will comprise three four-story buildings with 98 apartments on 2.5 acres on Pearsall Avenue. Many Five Towns residents opposed the development, claiming that it would increase traffic in the area.
“If 68 Washington was developed as yet another commercial building, it would, in my opinion, make matters worse by generating more traffic and more cars on Central Avenue,” Lawrence resident Josh Justic, president of the Community Coalition of the Five Towns, said.
In January, Michael Hatten, a Washington Avenue resident and a Lawrence school district Board of Education trustee, created a petition on change.org titled, “Stop Over-Development In Cedarhurst,” which called for the rejection of the proposal, and collected more than 300 signees.
Nahmias’s attorney, William Bonesso, previously told the Herald that the public opposition clearly influenced the zoning board’s decision. Many residents instead suggested turning the parcel into additional parking for patrons of the stores and restaurants in the village’s business district.
“It shows that the board listens to the residents, and we pay close attention to what they have to say, and if we’re hoping to accommodate those wishes, we do it,” Weinstock said. “The residents spoke out clearly that they think that a parking lot really was a good use, and we are attempting to do that.”
“It was a big deal,” said John Erbits, a Washington Avenue resident who attended the February meeting. “It’s not just what’s happening on Washington Avenue but in the entire community. You can’t drive at certain times during the day, and you can’t drive 10 blocks without it taking you 20 minutes that normally takes you one minute.”
Justic said the parking lot would help reduce congestion. “Traffic has always been a challenge in the community, especially around Central Avenue,” he said. “Adding additional parking on Washington Avenue would hopefully alleviate the load on Central Avenue. When you consider all the possible uses for 68 Washington Avenue and accept the fact that something has to go there, I think a parking lot is probably the least impactful and most beneficial.”
Have an opinion on the Cedarhurst zoning board’s decision? Send a letter to jbessen @liherald.com.