Some elected officials in Great Neck fear that residents against development could impede efforts to revitalize the peninsula, but expressed their desire to pitch in and help their neighbors who seek small-scale enhancements.
The Great Neck Village Officials Association held a meeting Wednesday which featured a presentation from Destination: Great Neck, a grassroots organization whose mission is to aid Great Neck’s business district. Destination: Great Neck co-founder and local attorney Janet Nina Esagoff discussed ways to transform Middle Neck Road and the entire business district, headlined by establishing an “anchor” business.
Esagoff noted the desire of the organization to utilize the Squire Cinemas building, which shut down permanently in September 2020. While the property itself is privately owned, she said the goal is to potentially utilize the space to provide live entertainment to Great Neck residents and outsiders.
Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said, in many cases, incentives are needed so that developers have the desire to open stores and try to provide some new life to the peninsula’s downtown. Bral warned instances where residents who claim to support development only to protest government tax breaks and claim that proposed structures will turn the peninsula into Queens impede villages’ efforts to revitalize the peninsula.
“The same people that want to have revitalization go to the [Nassau County Industrial Development Agency] and stomp their feet and say we don’t want the IDA to give this [developer] a tax break,” Bral said.
“There are people that want nothing built and don’t want any change,” Great Neck Estates Mayor William Warner said. “They want it to go back to the 1940s, but we’ve gone past that.”
Bral and other elected officials said they have heard concerns from residents about increased traffic as a result of increased residential or mixed-use development. Warner said residential units generate less traffic than retail.
“Every time we talk about anything, certain people come in droves saying they do not want traffic and that traffic is bad,” Bral said. “But they want [revitalization] as well.”
Bral said the residential buildings along Middle Neck Road produce roughly one student per 10 units, and not all of the students end up attending the Great Neck Public School District.
Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Ted Rosen said his community has faced opposition to a proposed 12-unit structure, not because of taxes, but the burden the building would present for the school district. Rosen said four or five of those units would be occupied by senior citizens.
Rosen said the idea of transit-oriented developments is something villages and residents need to adapt to so that retail developers want to set up shop in Great Neck and true downtown revitalization in a more technological shopping age can be achieved.
“We were probably one of the first villages in Nassau County to adopt transit-oriented development where you give incentives to landlords of retail buildings so they can build up,” Rosen said.
Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg suggested to Esagoff and the Destination: Great Neck team that they have residents who are pro-development attend meetings where proposed structures are being reviewed so that support for projects can be heard rather than just residents who are opposed to development as a whole.
“There will be plenty of people that will say no because the school taxes will go up,” Winberg said. “But there are other people that if they look at it can become educated and express the alternate view so that all sides are being presented.”
Esagoff lauded the work Destination: Great Neck does with local merchants in Great Neck, but said she has found cases where the owners don’t have social media or, in some cases, a website presence. Rosen said Great Neck Plaza has also seen a less-than-expected turnout for courses provided by the village and Hofstra University to aid local business owners in promoting their stores on a more modern platform.
Village officials did express support for helping Destination: Great Neck promote their small-scale beautification and revitalization efforts, with some saying they will allow banners or flags to be displayed throughout their municipalities. Esagoff said the organization would also help villages with code enforcement to ensure facades and signage of businesses are not an eyesore to the community.
Bral said he has heard concerns from business owners about the cost of enhancing and maintaining the exterior of their stores. Having local stores compete against Amazon while recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, he said, has resulted in even more businesses shuttering than before.
Esagoff also pitched ideas to visually enhance the peninsula by featuring more lights, constructing a mural and even having a tasteful version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame but with Great Neck’s notable residents.
“This is a town with a history of entertainment,” she said. “Very notable people used to live here and that’s another area we’d like to explore. We want to make Great Neck known for that, it’s a historical town.”