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Main Street 'Visioning' Meeting Draws Concerns in Port Washington

Many express concerns about density.

About 150 people attended “Main Street Visioning” public meeting hosted by North Hempstead's Supervisor Jon Kaiman and Councilwoman Dina De Giorgio at Schreiber High School Thursday evening. They were there to discuss the latest proposed zoning changes and streetscape enhancements for Port Washington’s Main Street. 

Many audience members, expecting a presentation on the latest thinking about Main Street improvements, expressed surprise that there was no such presentation.

However, two of the distributed handouts at the meeting included proposed overlay district maps for Main Street. One map, “Section 1” represented the area from Port Washington Blvd to Herbert Ave, and a newly considered area, “Section 2,” highlighted Lower Main Street between Jackson and Covert Streets.

Some struggled with deciphering the most recent proposal. But De Giorgio said the proposal is in the “conceptual stage” and that “no decisions” have been made. She added that there would be public hearings before a plan could move forward, and that information would be posted on her portal on the town’s website.

Currently, the proposal has evolved from encompassing four blocks on Upper Main Street to now encompassing three. As for zoning, the building height would remain three stories, not four as originally proposed. The Business B designation, which includes office and retail, would remain, though building owners could apply via the Town Board for a special permit, allowing for mixed-use to accommodate one story for business and two for residential.

Applicants who can supply on-site parking for residential units and who meet the design standards, likely those based on the ones recommended by BJF Consulting that was presented to the Port Washington Public Library in November, would then be considered on a case by case basis. Underground and tiered parking is not under consideration, the panel said.

Some raised concerns about increased density and traffic, pointing out that residents living in newly built apartments would have cars, and their visitors would also have cars. But De Giorgio noted that the requirement to accommodate parking would be a high hurdle for owners who wanted to add apartments on their property.

Still, others worried that trees might get cut down and that people and businesses might be displaced, triggering a loss of ethnic diversity in town. Others worried about public school enrollment increasing, and about a consolidation of property owners knocking down buildings, replacing them with large monolithic structures.

“I think it’s better to do nothing,” Port Washington resident Jim Ansel said, adding that there would be a “huge change of character” to Main Street. He worried too about taxing the infrastructure, including sewage, water, and more.

Kaiman noted that the impact on aspects such as sewage lines would have to be addressed by the applicant.

Questions too were raised about whether anyone on the town board owned property in the overlay districts, and stood to gain from proposed changes. One community member even referred to a time when De Giorgio's family owned property with plans to build a hotel.

Kaiman noted that board members disclose conflicts, and that the town also has an ethics panel. And De Giorgio said that “neither myself, husband or immediately family” own property in the overlay districts and stressed the board’s commitment to transparency. 

The panel and some residents maintained that the proposed changes would bring more foot traffic to Main Street, and provide housing for young professionals and boost local businesses.

Still, Laura Shabe who lives on North Maryland Ave said she has yet to find anyone living “1,000 feet of Main Street that is for this proposal,” though she added that it was “getting better.”

Michael Zenobio, a developer who serves on the Village of Sands Point’s Board of Zoning Appeals, said that in listening to the comments he felt “people are not fully informed.”

“This is Step 1 of a multistep plan that will bring Main Street to what the community wants,” he said.

At the meeting's conclusion, Fred Blumlein, former president of Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society, asked "What happens if you do not take the lead and don't use this information?"

"Main Street will deteriorate," De Giorgio replied, adding that it would be difficult to then attract quality businesses.

"This reverse fear should be communicated," he said. 

Couldn't attend Thursday's meeting? A recording will be available for review on the town's website in about a week. De Giorgio asks that residents send suggestions or comments to degiorgiod@northhempsteadny.gov.

Local Resident September 27, 2012 at 03:51 PM
@ Nassau Taxpayer Good point, and while I was being sarcastic with my post above, there is nothing more effective than being lied to by your elected officials or being duped by a local civic group to encourage citizens to become the aforementioned " activist-oriented citizens".
Local Resident September 27, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Some say it is "easy" to say we don't want change and to criticize the proposed rezoning changes to Main Street. Some go as far as to say we "fear" change or don't fully understand what Main Street Visioning is about. However, it is just as "easy" for the ToNH, RFMBPW and supporters to say these are our ideas, this is what we propose, or "what would you do, what are your ideas for Main Street"? The ToNH and RFMBPW have been working on this proposal for many, many years. Not only do they have advantage of time, they have had the advantage of Long Island Visioning and Smart Growth proposals, hired professional planners, and in some cases been subsidized by ToNH For some of us, we saw the original proposal last November. And for others in the audience it was their first time hearing (not seeing), and possibly not even understanding, what Main Street Visioning and Model Blocks proposes. In my view, it is more condescending, judgemental and patronizing for those who support rezoning to sit there and ask us for our ideas when you have had years to develop this poorly planned proposal. Many years have been spent to come up with burying utility lines, plant new trees, redo sidewalks, develop some generic design guidelines that include window boxes and minimizing how much a business owner can display in his storefront, and oh, by the way, the rezoning of Main Street...all under the guise of having community support. Time well spent? I don't think so.
Laura Johnson September 27, 2012 at 04:50 PM
Richard, there is another thread specially devoted to your questions - http://portwashington.patch.com/articles/tell-us-improving-main-street It is completely appropriate for us to talk about our disappointment with the public process in a thread about the public meeting. Further - you are doing a great disservice to the 150 who took the time from their families and lives to express their views, and the 80 before them who came to a meeting earlier this year when you say that their opinion doesn't matter. Unbelievable. Are you trying to discourage public discourse by saying that a public meeting doesn't count?
Laura Johnson September 27, 2012 at 05:04 PM
The Port Washington Voice submitted a well-reasoned response in May to the ToNH outlining what we saw as flaws in the plan. We are not screaming "no change". Much of the plan just doesn't make sense and does not in several cases serve to support the goals that the ToNH says that it should. We are architects, lawyers, planners, moms, dads, engineers, inspectors, contractors. Please don't try to dismiss us as activist citizens. We are not out looking for a cause. This issue was forced on us.
Love My Town September 28, 2012 at 02:53 AM
One of the last speakers at the High School meeting hit a home run with one of his questions. The answer given shows the major flaw in the Town's plan to ensure that all of the special design guidelines are followed. Should Town Board reject your plan, you get to take it back to the Town BZA to grieve your hardship. Write your check and there's your balance. Wake up!
Local Resident September 28, 2012 at 01:18 PM
So Jon Kaiman is the top candidate to head LIPA? http://www.newsday.com/long-island/politics/sources-jon-kaiman-top-candidate-to-head-lipa-1.4049856 That explains his disinterest during last week's meeting and probably the decision to not do any presentation to the audience.
Local Resident September 28, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Being that he is so concerned about the vitality and beautification of Main Street, I am sure one of his first goals at LIPA will be to bury utility lines as proposed by RFMBPW.
Richard Brody September 28, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Why are so many defensive about being called "activists?" It is NOT an insult, BUT just an acknowledgment that MOST people DO NOT get involved and appear apathetic. Every community needs individuals that take an active concern and get involved. However, simply because people do NOT go to a meeting (after all, 150 is NOT a huge percentage of population) does not mean that they either support or oppose the opinions expressed by attendees. Reading PATCH comments, for example, are NOT automatically representative of community sentiment at large. Those calling in to talk shows are not necessarily agreeing with the majority. In addition, while burying electric cables, etc. would probably have many benefits, I am certain that many of those stating it should be done by LIPA, phone company, etc., would oppose the surcharges that would probably be imposed to cover the huge expense of doing so. It appears that about the only thing most would agree upon is that Main St is not as attractive, clean or welcoming as it could be.
Local Resident September 28, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I wouldn't call it defensive as I have much thicker skin than to get defensive after someone I have never met labeled me as a "activist-oriented citizen". However, it is ironic that you called to end the name calling and accusations then proceed to label us and tell us that the views expressed in the meeting don't necessarily reflect the views of the majority. Also, in the posts above I can't find an example of name calling other than yours. At last Thursday's meeting and in every public meeting since RFMBPW's original presentation, the majority of public responses have been extremely, overwhelmingly negative with regards to rezoning. And although it is informal and not scientific, I think its a pretty good starting point for public sentiment. But if that is your stance, similarly, the ToNH and RFMBPW should not present Model Blocks and Main Street Visioning as having been developed by the community and as having community support. I doubt neither group collected the opinions of the majority to make such claims. Prior to last November, neither group asked what I or my neighbors thought. Regarding the burying of utility lines, I apologize, my sarcastic tone did not come through on the above post. Due to the expense, I have absolutely no expectation that any utility lines will ever buried. However, it should be noted that the burying of utility lines was the main beautification point outlined by RFMBPW's Model Blocks proposal. More smoke and mirrors?
Donna Rice September 28, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Mr. Brody - I wonder if you have attended any or all of the three public meetings? If you have, what have you taken away from those meetings? I have attended all three and agree with Local Resident that the response at all of these meetings were negative to the rezoning issue and positive to the beautification issues. They do not and should not go hand in hand
Richard Brody September 28, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Although, Local Resident, I cannot understand how activist- oriented in a label (but rather simply explaining the difference between those who get involved and the masses who generally do not), I do agree with you that the TONH is certainly not without fault in this discussion either. I agree that neither side knows what the majority wants, nor truly are making the efforts to open discussions transparently and openly to discuss alternatives, and explain each point of view, calmly and in detail. But being an activist, if any type of label at all, should rather be considered a badge of honor.
Laura Johnson September 28, 2012 at 04:13 PM
If as is suggested by Mr. Brody, public meetings don't count because the majority of citizens don't attend, how should our public officials ascertain the views of the public. I am confident the rezoning would be defeated in a referendum. Or would you say that only activists turn out to vote, so votes are overrated too?
Local Resident September 28, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Thanks, although I dislike labels I guess I'll take it. But to correct you on one thing, we are transparent. Beautify, don't rezone. We have no ownership or political interest on Main Street, we are residents with an interest on how Main Street is developed. Nothing can be more transparent. We HAVE reached out and offered to meet with ToNH and RFMBPW to discuss Model Blocks. At no point have either taken us up on the offer and still both present the idea as having community support. Finally, in March, we sent a 6-page document to ToNH with our concerns and thoughts. No response. Often, trying to open up a conversation with groups that have spent many years on a plan is an excercise in futility...yet, we continue. Following last week's meeting, a number of emails were sent to Councilwoman DeGiorgio. Some got a response, others did not. For those she responded to, she wrote that she is aware of our concerns and there is no reason to meet until they make a decision whether or not to rezone. So, in times like this, the only way to make your opininion heard is to write letters / emails, speak at meetings, or post your view on a website such as this. It is clear that it is the intention of ToNH and RFMBPW to have Main Street rezoned...this will more than likely go to a town hearing and then a vote by the town board. We will have to fight again (similar to the Roslyn Country Club). So, if you are "for" or "against" rezoning, make your feelings heard.
Stephanie Hall September 28, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I would like to point out again the conflicts with the meeting on Sept 20th. A parent of a child in Daly school and Manorhaven School as well as a parent of a child interested in the athlete's program in Weber had a conflict. I had the difficult choice to decide between my child's open house or going to the meeting. While I believe that conflicts are inevitable, an open house at Daly school seems to be a major conflict. So, please understand that there were definitely those who wanted to attend but couldn't. I have tried to view the taping and find it poor quality and difficult to view. In any case I have read everything I can on the subject and I state here and over and over again that I oppose re-zoning Main Street. If you think Main Street in Port Washington is dead or dying, please look at Farmindale. The mayor of Farmingdale would gladly trade any part of Port's Main Street for the 80% vacancy rate of storefronts on Main Street in Farmingdale. I aruge that Port Washington is surving the recession very, very well.... Just my opinion.
Local Resident September 28, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Not only is the recording of poor quality, it has been significantly cut down. The meeting ran 2.5 - 3 hours, however the posted recording is only 1.5 hours in length. Comments at the start and end of the meeting are not included.
Laura Johnson September 28, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Yet Farmingdale was cited by proposal proponents as one of the Main Street examples that we should follow.
Stephanie Hall September 30, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Farmingdale's Main Street is a ghost town. It is truly frightening that they want to model PW's Main Street after Farmingdale's. I have just moved from there and speak with first hand knowledge. Shops on Main Streets cannot stay in business and there is an approximate 80 % vacancy rate.
Nassau Taxpayer September 30, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Maybe that's what happens after a BJF Consulting makeover?
Love My Town September 30, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Why do you think the meeting was edited like that? Was it the poor opening comments from the town in place of their presentation? Was it the remarks and pointed questions from the first few and last few questioners? I think so. The stated goals for the change to mixed use doesn't align with what is going to happen. A very few developers will make their money, and we and Main Street will be the worse off for it. The vast majority of businesses in the area don't want this change. The overwhelming populace near and around Main Street don't want this either. Is there anyone at the Town Hall listening to the people?
Local Resident October 01, 2012 at 12:28 AM
Here is how I see it: 1) Last November, RFMBPW proposes Model Blocks that focused on a number of beautification ideas (the "fluff") and then at some point gets around to saying they are proposing to rezone (the "meat") Main Street. 2) RFMBPW takes a lot of heat from local residents for their involvement in the rezoning proposal, and then one of their directors is appointed to the water commissioners position recently vacated by the retired commissioner. 3) ToNH takes over the Model Blocks proposal, renames it "Main Street Visioning" and schedules a town meeting. 4) ToNH decides to not present a thing at the meeting, and decides to leave it to residents to ask the right questions in order to figure out what "Main Street Visioning" actually includes. 5) ToNH decides to post a link to an incomplete recording of the meeting so residents who could not attend due to scheduling conflicts could not view the entire meeting. and, 6) At no point over the past year, has either RFMBPW nor the ToNH responded to the negative feedback they have received regarding the rezoning proposals. It has taken some time, but after being accused of being "scared and fearful of change" so many times in this process, I think it has become quite clear who the "scared" and "fearful" parties actually are: RFMBPW and ToNH. Otherwise why not give us, the residents of Port Washington, all the information regarding these proposals.
Local Taxpayer October 01, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Your analysis sounds pretty sound. It may boil down to classic cronyism which has plagued Long Island politics forever. I, for one, am getting pretty sick and tired of this kind of political behavior and am beginning to advocate for protests and civil disobedience as a more effective methodology to engage more of the public in issues like this.
Love My Town October 01, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Both Councilwoman Dina & Town Supervisor Jon have both said that when the proposals have been FINALIZED AND READY FOR A VOTE, that is when we will get to know exactly what it is they want to do. Sounds like it is a little late for input at that point doesn't it? The parking requirement as put forth at the meeting at the H.S. will not allow a small property to be developed because they will not be able to meet the parking requirement (not enough room for parking and no access). Therefor this change to Main Street will happen only for the owners of multiple lots, with the need to build the largest building to make it worth the effort. Adjoining building owners will be offered premiums to sell to facilitate larger structures and have parking exits to the side streets. Big new buildings dwarfing the remaining stores on the block, that is not the look RFMBPW wants to talk about. The BID ( business improvement district) doesn't want to talk about the existing businesses "forced" to relocate so that the lots can be leveled for new construction, or for the empty storefronts from owners waiting for the new regulations to take place, and get right to building. The vast majority of businesses on Main Street surveyed, DO NOT WANT THE NEW USE PROPOSAL! It IS about the Property Owners and Developers making money.
Local Taxpayer October 01, 2012 at 02:05 PM
So, in order to bring the issue out into the light and away from the dark recesses of institutionalized county cronyism, IMHO there should be a public protest organized targeting ToNH, the Property Owners involved, and the Developers they are likely to use. And don't forget to invite as much media to the party as possible. Does anybody else agree with this kind of approach?
Richard Brody October 01, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Ms. Rice: I have been to 2 of the 3,+felt that little constructive occurred.Those opposed were still opposed-Those want it still wanted it. Like many things in govt., especially local govt.,there is far more rhetoric than thorough analysis+planning.I believe that the threads of a plan proposed are ill-conceived,but I don't blame govt dishonesty--rather ineptness.I understand opposition to what has been hinted at as the plan.However,I also feel that it is possible to make Main St look far better (other areas have done so) without "urbanizing" it. Clean sidewalk+street code enforcement,snow removal code enforcement MUST be enforced,so people know they are important.PW will always face challenges because of geography,etc.,that no plan can erase.However,with the exception of a few store owners,the Main St shopping/retail area is neither attractive or welcoming or convenient.These things can and should be addressed,as the top priority for that area.
Local Taxpayer October 01, 2012 at 03:04 PM
And is that acceptable? I realize my suggestion may be a bit too "radical" for some; but (cliche to follow) insanity can be defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Cronyism has been institutionalized in Town/County politics. The damage it has done cannot be reversed, but the damage it will do needs to be addressed. IMO These developers and property owners need to be exposed to the light of public opinion. Otherwise, we risk having the rezoning passed, if not now, then at some politically convenient time in the future, and Main Street will become the 3-story canyon as described. And the infrastructure costs, mistakes and the aesthetic changes will become part of the legacy we leave by our neglect, by our unwillingness to take a less comfortable, more risky path towards satisfaction. Moreover, it is the logical ethical choice when proper channels of conduct are frustrated deliberately by stall tactics, inaction and avoidance.
Local Resident October 24, 2012 at 01:43 PM
At last night's board meeting, a resolution was passed to hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 20 regarding the proposals set forth in Main Street Visioning and the Overlay Districts. There is going to be a vote by the Town Board. Once again, scheduling is very questionable...the week of Thanksgiving?
Donna Rice November 07, 2012 at 04:05 AM
The Town of North Hempstead will be having a public hearing on this issue on November 20th. I urge Councilwoman DeGiorgio to postpone this hearing. Recovering from hurricane Sandy is now everyone's priority and it would be beneficial to her constituents to reschedule. This issue is too important to push through while no one is looking.
Love My Town November 07, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Did the Town ever have a Public Meeting Presentation of their proposal? NO! Did the Town think through their own plan before posting it on their website? NO! The blocks they want to include continue to change. How can we consider the implications when the Town hasn't a clue as to what they want or where. WHY ARE THEY RUSHING TO A VOTE. SO MUCH FOR A TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT! Has the Town come up with a comprehensive plan to address concerns? NO! Has the Town been open and inclusive with known concerned parties who want to work with the town? NO! Are the goals for the rezoning/overlay districts being met? NO! The requirements tend to allow only larger buildings to meet minimal parking needs of the structure. Individual property owners would not be able to comply. Consolidation of lots would still be needed for any rebuilding in case of fire or calamity. The Council Woman and the Town tell us not to worry, Don't be scared. They are working on some ideas but won't discuss them. We do not have faith that they have our best interests in mind when they play their cards so close to the vest. Have they forgotten that it is our cards that they are playing? They need to lay out a plan that addresses all the issues that surround rezoning before VOTING.
Mary November 07, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Where has our Councilwoman been during this "storm" Has anyone seen her??
Local Resident November 13, 2012 at 04:19 PM
I have not seen her, although there has been numerous sightings of Supervisor Kaimain in his bright yellow jacket (at least on video). I agree with the comment above, the Town Hearing regarding Main Street Revisioning currently scheduled for next Tuesday, November 20 should be rescheduled to a later date.

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