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Residents call for a village master plan in Rockville Centre

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Residents are calling on the Village of Rockville Centre to create a master plan and set clear goals for the village’s future.

A group of residents sent a letter to the village board of trustees asking it to reassemble the Master Plan Committee. Matt Cliszis and Faria Hassan are leading the campaign for a master plan, which is a comprehensive study of a community conducted by urban planners. They read the letter, which about 95 residents electronically signed via Google Forms, at the monthly board meeting on Monday.

“While our suburb is already ‘mature,’ meaning that we are essentially fully built-out,” Cliszis read from the letter, “we do not have a set standard that aligns with how the residents envision Rockville Centre looking in the future and how we can ensure [it] continues to be a desirable place to live, work and raise a family.”

Cliszis explained that a master plan could include ideas for improvement in the community, including walk-ability, beautification, parking, green space, retail diversification and the housing stock.

In response, Mayor Francis X. Murray outlined the infrastructure, roadway, park, transportation and building projects that his administration has undertaken since he took office in 2011. While he agreed that a “master plan is important and vital,” he argued that he and the trustees already had one.

“This board has worked tirelessly and passionately for all the residents of Rockville Centre since the moment we each took office,” Murray said.

Specifically, the village hired Buckhorst, Fish & Jacquemart, an urban planning consultant firm, to re-evaluate the downtown area last year, he said. The study is still underway, and will be available online when it is complete, the trustees noted.

The village has created master plans in the past — one in 1958 and another in 1978-79 — but there have been no updates in over 40 years. And Murray noted that the board did not adopt the most recent study.

“Now that it is January 2020, we hope the board sees the importance of a plan, and we ask the board to prioritize commissioning a study for a comprehensive master plan,” the letter concluded.

In October 2018, Murray appointed a committee of residents, including Cliszis, Hassan and Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley, to discuss developing a master plan and to advise him. However, that group stopped meeting severl monts later.

Hassan, who has a master’s in urban planning from New York University, had suggested that graduate students from the university might draw up a preliminary master plan at no cost to the village.

Murray declined the NYU project because Frank Fish, of BFJ, an urban planner for 40 years, was already compiling a study. In addition, Murray said, the master plan committee has not been disbanded, just put on hold until BFJ’s study is complete.

Now, residents are requesting that the village conduct a comprehensive study that would encompass all future initiatives. The idea has gained support from younger homeowners, about a dozen of whom attended the meeting. Hassan has lived in Rockville Centre for about two years and Cliszis for four years.

“I’ve chosen to live here because it’s a beautiful town and has a lot to offer,” said Christine Koehler, who grew up in the village and bought a house here six years ago. “But there’s an opportunity to further utilize the assets we have here.”

Koehler has a 2-year-old daughter. While the schools and community are great for raising a family, she noted, she would like to see more open walkways and green spaces. “Thinking about her growing up and riding a bike around here is scary,” she said of her daughter. “There are a lot of businesses in the village, and also busy streets. Safety is a big concern.”

“We have to think not just about families who currently live here, but also those who will 10, 20 and 30 years from now,” Koehler added. “There’s always room for improvement. As a taxpayer, we deserve to know where the potential lies.”

Jaime Jordan, a resident for five years and the mother of four children, ages 7 and younger, is among the voices calling for a master plan. “When you have little kids, you see all the things that need improvement,” she said. “We need to see more transparency from the village about the village’s vision.”

Residents agreed that a professional study would allow the village to make educated decisions about the future of its roadways, economy, aesthetics, and historic and environmental conservation.

“We have a unique village with a central business district and a direct, short commute to Manhattan,” Cliszis said. “It’s set up to be successful, and there are tweaks that having a plan would address.”

Cliszis, along with resident Liz Stack, noted that the call for a master plan was born out of residents’ disappointment with the decision to subdivide land at 220 Hempstead Ave. and build six homes. “There was a loss of historic resources and green space,” Cliszis said.

Murray and Trustee Mike Sepe disagreed with residents about the need for a master plan. Sepe argued that such a plan is only fitting for areas that are undeveloped or underdeveloped. “We have a super, highly developed and defined zoning code,” he said. “Frankly, superimposing a grid of a master plan over this village would be like ramming a square peg into a round hole.

“You can come to us with specific concerns, and I guarantee you there is already a code section,” he said.

The advocates who attended asserted that a master plan would be a non-binding study that realizes the village’s full potential. “We’re looking for that extra mile that leads us into the future,” Hassan said.

“I am so proud to live here,” said resident Deana Davoudiasl. “I look forward to many decades in this village. It seems to me that this plan is an overview of how all the plans can dynamically work together with future vision. It’s not a mandate, just a study, so I am in full support.”

Trustee Nancy Howard said that the term “master plan” could stymie the conversation because it feels “set in stone” but welcomed a community group that would offer input to future plans.

“Let’s call it a master study,” Davoudiasl said. “I want a study to provide us with some options that we as the residents can choose from potentially if they’re good, and not if they’re not.”

Howard noted that the village’s decisions are “not made in a vacuum” and do have “a long-range plan.”

Trustee Emilio Grillo commended the group for showing up and encouraged their involvement and collaboration in the future. “The last thing we want is any resident or group to feel that they’re left out when decisions are being made,” Grillo said.