Filling The Gap

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The news of a proposed four-story mixed use building at 86 and 88 Main St., which would involve retail space on the first floor with 11 residential apartment units above, drew the likes of residents, local business owners, judges and former senators to last week’s village board meeting to voice their opinion about the project.

The project, which would be spearheaded by Freeport-based Zambrano Architectural Design, would involve razing the vacant Buccelli Uomo at 86 Main St. and combining it with the vacant lot at 88 Main St. The building that once stood at 88 Main St. was demolished in 1974.

Citing the village’s master plan, Mineola-based commercial real estate attorney Marco Silva said the master plan suggests promotion of infill development in order to create a vibrant, walkable and accessible downtown.

“By acknowledging that vacant lots and breaks in retail fronts detract from the downtown pedestrian quality and unity, incentives should be provided to encourage new development on smaller vacant lots…,” said Silva, who represents the owner of the property Joseph Puccio of New Jersey. “The existing building sits in a toothless gap between its two neighbors. We propose to fill that gap in, continue the existing street wall, and ascetically, it will seamlessly continue to move across both conjoining buildings.”

The proposed building is being built to be mindful of the need to create more quality housing that is targeted to young professionals, commuters and empty nesters who are looking to downsize. The residential portion of the building is exclusively single bedroom apartments while the ground floor has 13-foot ceilings and will be used for commercial purposes determined by the tenant. There will be a 10 percent set aside for affordable housing.

The new building would also increase the village’s tax base since it does not have any Industrial Development Agency (IDA) or payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) incentives. Predicting that the new building would be a win for the school district as well, Silva said he doesn’t see any of the 11 apartment units housing students.

Since parking is a hot commodity within the village, certain amenities would be offered to perspective residents.

“In terms of amenities, we had proposed in order to not take away spaces from other commuters with parking passes, we would prohibit our residents from having access to the commuter parking passes,” said Silva.

In response, Mayor Scott Strauss asked what the plan for parking in that area would be.

A rendering of the new project.

“There are several ongoing projects in a close proximity to this subject site,” said traffic engineer Sean Mulryan of Garden City based-Mulryan Engineering. “The Mineola Village Green, as part of that project, there is parking that was on street that has been eliminated temporarily. The removal of those parking spaces increased the lack of availability. The numbers that are represented in the report also reflect that village lot #5 [on Harrison Avenue, where a new five-story parking garage is currently being built] is now fenced off, which had high utilization. Currently as it sits today…the parking challenges that are in this area has been enhanced.”

When and if this project is approved, Mulryan said it would come online at a point where other projects have already been finished, which would include new parking garages.

“On street parking will be open again to employees, residents and customers,” said Mulryan. “We believe the timing of this project is good because we’re looking to develop within a new look of this area. This area is obviously going to go through changes above and beyond these with the third rail project that is going to come through from the Long Island Rail Road. We’re looking to be a positive change along Main Street.”

Knowing that the area of the proposed building will be under significant construction in the near future, Strauss asked Silva if he was aware of that information—reminding him that in the second quarter of 2019, the village will be undergoing a massive overhaul of its sewage system in the downtown area near Main Street.

“If approved, we have to act on it in a certain amount of time,” responded Silva. “We’ve already discussed delaying this as much as three years if that’s necessary as long as it doesn’t cause a problem with the expiration of the permit. The quickest it would happen would be at least a year to begin with.”

Trustee Paul Cusato said that he’s not against the proposal, but is concerned about how people are going to move around in the area.

“Maybe you guys should wait until that parking lot behind Fox’s is built and then you’ll know where you stand before you do this,” said Cusato.

Trustee George Durham asked if the 10-foot set back on the top floor could be pushed back further so it wouldn’t be as visible from the street. Trustee Dennis Walsh, who called the current site an eyesore, agreed—saying that he wished the top floor would be pushed back to 15-feet and that the apartment units be a little larger.

After compromising, Puccio said that he would be willing to move the top floor back 20-feet while keeping floors two and three 10-feet back.

Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira tried to keep things in perspective.

“If this project were to go away and something else goes in there, it could actually be exponentially worse,” said Pereira. “You could have a business where clients are coming in all day, every day and they have to provide zero parking.”

Mayor Scott Strauss read a letter from various business owners who opposed the possible new development.

Before the board opened the hearing for public comment, Strauss read a letter that was signed by several local business owners who opposed the new development.

“We object to granting variances to the proposed apartment project at 86-88 Main St. without adequate additional parking,” read the letter. “This apartment structure will completely overburden the area and the already strained parking in the area.”

Bob Fox, who owns the women’s clothing store Fox’s, which is located on Main Street, said that the possible new building sounds great in theory, but not in actuality. Fox also told the board that his customers have enough trouble finding parking as it is.

“The developers will always be successful, but it comes at a cost to the community and the rest of us who’ve been there for so long,” said Fox. “I know that any further development without additional parking will significantly reduce the potential of anything we can do and look forward to do on Main Street.

Strauss reassured Fox that the problems that he’s running into, although aggravating, are temporary.

“At the end of the day you will probably have, potentially, 300 more customers without negatively impacting your business,” said Strauss. “I know it’s challenging now to go through there as it is with everybody, but we need to do something with that downtown area…It needs help.”

However, things took a slight turn when Fox accused the board of having no consideration for other business owners in the area by considering the approval of the potential building.

“Mr. Fox, please don’t say that again,” Strauss shot back. “We consider you every time we make a decision as well as we do everybody else here that’s in that downtown area.”

Tom Murtha, who is president of Mineola Historical Society, suggested that the building have more of a historical feeling.

“The windows look bare,” said Murtha. “I’d like to see a little history instead of a plain square brick building.”

Judge Scott Fairgrieve urged that the building be kept to only three stories and was concerned about the urbanization of the village.

“I’m not against the development,” said Fairgrieve. “You have to have a development to keep your tax base, but you have to do it within a suburban point of view in my opinion. It’s not the city of Mineola. It’s the Village of Mineola.”

Former Mineola mayor and senator Jack Martins thanked the board for their initiative in regulating commuter passes making sure people aren’t using them as a means of parking downtown night and day.

“The particular location has been empty for a while. It’s an eyesore and I think if we’re really going to realize the vision that is Main Street, we want a building there. The code allows a three story office building as of right now and I don’t think anybody realistically here want to see a three story office building there,” said Martins, whose family owns the building right next door to 86 Main St.

Puccio, who purchased the property in 2015, said he appreciates traditional architecture.

“Main Street is a mix of everything,” he explained. “What I was bringing into this town was a clean traditional look that I would hope other buildings would incorporate into theirs. I want to bring New York City attitude. We are willing to tone it down [the modernism] to it.”

Strauss adjourned the hearing to Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, at 6:30 p.m. at Village Hall.

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