Buckley School a ‘bad neighbor’: N. Hills residents

Buckley School a ‘bad neighbor’: N. Hills residents
Attorney Bruce Migatz presents a plan for Buckley Country Day School's proposed additions at meeting of the Village of North Hills' Board of Trustees. The next public hearing, first rescheduled due to coronavirus concerns, is taking place July 15. (Photo by Rose Weldon)

The Buckley Country Day School is a ‘bad neighbor’, according to a group of North Hills residents.

The comments were made at a Jan. 15 public hearing during a North Hills Board of Trustees meeting on an application from the school that would include, among other elements, the addition of 197 parking spots to the existing 120, resulting in a total of 317.

Attorney Bruce Migatz of the Garden City firm Albanese and Albanese, representing Buckley in the matter, presented the application, the result of a $5 million capital campaign.

“The proposal was based upon what the school feels they require,” Migatz said. “If the board has concerns about the size of the parking lot, we can certainly look at that and see if we can’t make that a little bit smaller and still accommodate special events, by all means. Buckley wants to be a good neighbor. The school wants to work with the neighborhood.”

Migatz’s presentation was preceded by Buckley’s head of security, John Drago, who said that the need for more spaces was based on safety concerns following a 2018 Nassau County Police Department security survey of the campus and a 2019 U.S. Department of Homeland Security self-assessment survey of the school.

Drago also said the school recognized “the concerns of our neighbors.”

“We are therefore balancing the need of security measures against the impact of the community,” Drago said.  “In regards to the parking plan, the proposed designated visitor parking lot is a second layer of security. The Nassau County P.D. and Department of Homeland Security surveys recommend that vehicle access to the athletic fields should be restricted, also recommend that we should explore ways to prevent any vehicle from parking within 70 feet of the school building, and that we should designate a separate visitor parking area.”

Drago said the school’s current parking plan was an “ad hoc” setup wherever the school could find space for parents and visitors, also mentioning that “more spots were needed for arrival and dismissal, game days twice a week, and about 20 large special events per year.”

Following the presentation, over 10 residents whose homes bordered the school spoke in objection to the proposed developments, including from the Acorn Ponds Condominiums and neighboring streets Bonny Lynn Court and Fox Ridge.

Sharon Struminger, a member of the Acorn Ponds Homeowners Association’s board, said that the community feared car pollutants, light pollution and noise as a result of the proposed addition, referencing Buckley’s yearly summer camp and that while calls had been made, nothing was done about the noise.

“During the summer camp season, we already experience loud camp noise that begins around 9 in the morning from the kids, counselors and music,” Struminger said. “Now we can expect noise all year, day and night since the parking lot will be lit. There will be noise from car engines, loud talking, horns, and so on.”

Maureen Rothschild DiTata, an attorney and resident of Acorn Ponds, presented photographs of a clearing in a trail on Buckley property where POD storage containers, go-karts and gasoline containers were present in the area. A series of extension cords were also pictured, leading to and ending at a post near a sports field at Buckley.

“We have no idea what is being powered by that power cord at the end of Buckley’s property, but the mere presence of the cord fuels Acorn Ponders’ complaints,” DiTata said. “Buckley is a bad neighbor. Buckley is either unconcerned or totally oblivious to the hazard of running a series of electrical cords over brush and debris a distance of thirty yards, or the risk attendant to leaving go-karts, oil containers and gasoline cans together in an open and unsupervised area on a school ground.”

Harry Ornstein, secretary of the Acorn Ponds Condo II’s board of managers, discussed the drainage issues that often resulted in flooding, and requested that Buckley post a bond to act as a guarantee against possible damage.

“In the past, there have been instances of severe flooding due to drainage from Buckley that resulted in extensive water damage to Acorn Ponds condo units in buildings that border the Buckley property,” Ornstein said. “While we appreciate Buckley’s consideration of the impact the construction will have on future stormwater runoff from their property, we feel that this approach is insufficient. Our primary and shorter-term concern is that simply retaining any stormwater runoff due to the new construction does not address the existing drainage issues that are currently being experienced by Acorn Ponds residents.”

Acorn Ponds HOA Vice President Steve Duch told the board that while the school had “a right to expand,” the village should still take its residents’ concerns seriously. He also mentioned that the association had secured a legal team and attorney to represent them “if necessary.”

“With that expansion the village must ensure that there will be no negative impact on our community, our property values and our quality of life,” Duch said. “We ask you, how can we trust Buckley to be a good neighbor in their expansion?”

Once the public comment session had ended, Migatz rose to speak once again, and referenced DiTata’s photographs.

“I saw those pictures for the first time, shame on Buckley,” Migatz said. “I’m flabbergasted myself at what is back there, and by all means they have to clean it up and you should give violations if they have violations there. But that is no basis for denying a project going forward.”

Near the end of the hearing, Mayor Marvin Natiss asked Migatz if the surveys had recommended 265 additional parking spaces.

“Of course not,” Migatz responded.

The North Hills Board of Trustees will be discussing the matter again at an as-yet-unnamed upcoming meeting. The board will be meeting again on Wednesday, Feb. 19 at 7:30 p.m.

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