A public hearing grew contentious last week at the Rockville Centre Planning Board’s first meeting since a Nassau County State Supreme Court judge ordered the board to reverse its decision and preliminarily approve a subdivision at 220 Hempstead Ave.
Last November, after several hearings, Planning Board member Andrew Cameron made a motion to reject Jim and Brett O’Reilly’s proposal to split their 1.75-acre property into six single-family plots, citing the character of the village. The vote carried, 3-1. Attorney Christian Browne, who represents the O’Reillys, questioned at the time how single-family homes would not fit the character of the area. Five days later, the O’Reillys filed an Article 78 proceeding, used to appeal the decision of a state or local agency.
Moments after starting the June 19 meeting, Rockville Centre Planning Board members voted to receive legal advice, leaving the room with the board’s attorney, Steven Leventhal, for 28 minutes. After returning, Thomas Gallucci, the board’s acting chairman, acknowledged the Article 78.
“As a result, we’ve been to court a few times,” Gallucci said. “In court, all four of us [on the board] felt that we would lose the case if we didn’t ratify it, so we went ahead and made an agreement.”
In a proceeding on May 7, Judge Randy Sue Marber ordered the preliminary subdivision approval subject to more than 30 conditions set forth at the Planning Board’s Nov. 15 meeting, according to a transcript obtained by the Herald through a Freedom of Information Law request.
The conditions, originally recommended by Leventhal if the board had granted preliminary approval to the project that night, include a $50,000 payment by the O’Reillys to the Village Park Fund, to be used exclusively for parks, playgrounds or recreational facilities. Another condition, Leventhal noted, is that the O’Reillys pay a performance bond to ensure the completion of all required site improvements within two years of final subdivision approval.
Browne said at the most recent meeting that the O’Reillys have also agreed to work with the village Department of Public Works to plant trees along Hempstead Avenue, as well as on the adjacent property of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. If the board had lost the case, Leventhal told residents, the project would have been approved without any conditions.
“I know everybody has worked very hard to try to resolve it to everybody’s mutual satisfaction,” Marber said in the transcript.
But about two dozen residents attended the Planning Board meeting, and several confronted the board to express their disapproval of the settlement. “I’m very disappointed in the proceedings and how there’s an absolute lack of transparency from the very beginning,” J. Robert MacAneney said.
When Leventhal said there was “complete transparency on the part of this board,” attendees began to shout and laugh. “If we don’t maintain order tonight, the meeting will come to an end,” he added.
Browne noted to the board that no further public comment was required by law, and that it could now complete the process. But after voting to preliminarily approve the project, the board held a public hearing during the meeting, at which time residents questioned the effect their comments would have.
“Why the public hearing if there’s nothing that the public can say that can change the outcome of this?” MacAneney said.
“I’m going to take that as a rhetorical question,” Leventhal responded.
Residents close to the proposed project, who for months have argued that the subdivision would destroy green space, bring more traffic to Hempstead Avenue and diminish their home values, asked the board and Leventhal throughout the meeting why the board’s original decision to deny the subdivision could not be defended in court. In an email to the Herald in May, village spokeswoman Julie Scully wrote, “In discussions with the court, it became clear that the Planning Board decision would not be sustained.” Asked by the Herald to elaborate on Monday, Scully did not wish to provide further details of the negotiations.
Lincoln Avenue resident Michael Mulhall said that if he held elected office, he would dismiss the board members. “You’re getting a little bit carried away,” Gallucci told him.
“I’m not getting carried away,” Mulhall said. “I live here.” Gallucci replied that he has lived here longer. Leventhal broke up the argument, telling them to stick to the matter at hand. Cameron sat leaned back in his chair, seemingly embarrassed by the display. He and fellow board member Matthew Didora whispered to each other periodically, and Maria Meyer sat expressionless for much of the meeting.
Leventhal, who told residents he would share his opinions about the case privately, did not respond to the Herald’s call requesting comment.
The meeting was adjourned to Aug. 6, as the board inches toward a vote on final subdivision approval.
If it is approved, the village board of trustees will consider whether to approve the construction of Killarney Lane, a proposed street perpendicular to Hempstead Avenue that would allow access to the four homes planned for the rear of the property.