The Valley Stream Board of Zoning Appeals approved on Oct. 15 two controversial projects in the village: One, for a 17-unit apartment complex slated for the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and Cochran Place, and the other for a gas station on West Sunrise Highway.
The decision means construction can commence in the coming months for the Roosevelt apartments, while for the gas station, construction can resume after it appeared that the village had illegally issued a building permit without first receiving approval from county and village planning agencies.
In a unanimous decision on the Roosevelt apartments, which was seeking seven variances, including for parking, density and front, side and rear-yard setbacks, zoning board members said they hoped it would be a boon to millenials, which housing experts have said prefer to rent instead of buy.
The project was brought before the board by Manhattan-based Kay Development, LLC and its founder and principal Vassilios Kefalas and William Florio, acting as a facilitator for the company.
“This village has fought against [rentals] for the last 60 years, so I was really not in favor of pushing builders into doing this, so I voted against this the last time,” zoning board Trustee Salvatore Pizzolo, said. “[Florio] has done the concessions, we have enough parking, we spoke to the people, he satisfied the American Legion Hall because they were one of our biggest concerns . . . I’m satisfied [Florio] has done what he needed to do . . . and I am in favor of this now.”
The proposal, with small modifications, had come before the zoning board twice, and the Nassau County Planning Commission three times. County planners had strongly criticized the project for a lack of an affordable housing component in exchange for its excessive density as well as deep parking and yard setback deficits, and decided against the project. As a result, not wishing to override the county, the village zoning board in July denied the application for variances.
It then returned before the board in late September, with one less apartment unit (as opposed to its previous 18 units) resulting in slight changes to the parking and density variances it was seeking. Residents and neighbors had come out in force to complain before the board.
To alleviate their concerns, Florio and Kefalas reportedly held an informal meeting on the Saturday before the board was schedule to vote on the modified proposal, and listened to their concerns regarding the project in an attempt to reassure them that the apartment complex would not affect them negatively.
Kefalas said that while at least some of the residents’ concerns were addressed, eight other residents were still against the project. He added, however, that he understood their opposition, particularly in regards to traffic, which he said would not be a problem because the renters would be unlikely to own cars.
Additionally, he said, parking for the American Legion, which is directly across the street, would not likely be affected because village spots adjacent to the legion were usually empty.
“Florio and I took photographs of the village parking at all different hours that designated that it’s not over utilized,” Kefalas said. “The only time [parking] becomes a concern is if there is a very large party at the legion.”
Michael Belfiore, a Valley Stream resident who has voiced concerns over the Roosevelt apartments, said he was disappointed by the zoning board’s decision, adding that the project’s approval is an insult to everyone living in the area who had let their opposition be known. Additionally, he asserted, the theory that millenials do not use cars is not grounds for zoning boards to ignore parking requirements as set by village code.
“The [zoning] board thinks they have a right to rewrite our zoning code, they don’t,” Belfiore said. “That’s the responsibility of the mayor and Board of Trustees.”
Still, despite the opposition, the zoning board trustees decided to move ahead.
“No matter what you build, no matter what you do, there’s always a handful that are going to object to it,” Pizzolo said, citing the Merrick Road King Kullen as an example. “All the people that use King Kullen right now are probably the same people who were objecting to it being there, so there’s never been a project here that people did not object to it. It’s not uncommon.”
The gas station
Also approved on Oct. 15, was a gas station on West Sunrise Highway that was seeking canopy height and lot-size variances.
The station, by 38 W. Sunrise Highway LLC., is slated to be a self- and full-service hybrid, with one full-service pump and two self-service pumps. The attendant for the full-service pump would be available from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., which served as a point of contention between board members over safety.
“At night you self-service and during the day there’s got to be an attendant,” Pizzolo said. “I’m concerned that [having an attendant late] at night is a safety issue because at night, if there’s one guy there he will have to go out to service people and leave the shop unattended.”
Despite the concerns, he still voted to approve the project along with the remaining board members, except for Gerald Frusci, who voted no.
Additionally, concerns were raised by Lisa Cairo, attorney for the zoning board, over the lot’s legal non-conforming status. Legal nonconformity is a situation in which properties fall out of compliance with village code as it changes over the years, but are allowed to remain so to lesson the burden on property owners. The property has existed as a gas station since 1929, she said. In order for it to remain legally non-conforming, it must continue serving as a gas station continuously, with gaps in active service no longer than a year.
Cairo maintained that any period during which the gas station was not active for more than a year was due to soil cleanup operations to maintain compliance with state Department of Environmental Conservation and federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements, and in her legal opinion upheld the property’s legal nonconformity.