A former Mineola mayor said apartment influx could doom the village, in announcing his decision to run for trustee on the Mineola Village Board.
Thirty-four year Emory Road resident John Colbert, under the Save Our Suburbs Party, will oppose incumbent trustees Paul Cusato and Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira on Election Day in March. The New Line Party currently holds a 4-1 majority on the board, with Cusato representing the Hometown Party.
“People have come to me asking if I’ve decided to run,” Colbert said. “I’ve met with a lot of people I trust and they said I should give it a go.”
With his staunch opposition to apartment development in the village, most recently the approval of the 266-unit Village Green, Colbert suggests the board is “rubber-stamping” approvals.
“[The board] had four meetings on the Village Green; standing room only,” Colbert said. “I’d say more than 90 percent of the people who got up there were against. It seemed the board wasn’t paying attention.”
Arguing for a moratorium on apartment development, Colbert hopes the village makes good in a recent point in “taking a breather” from apartment plans.
“It allows an entrepreneur who doesn’t go out and start hiring an architect or buying property,” Colbert said. “They know they have a period of time the village board isn’t going to do anything. [Strauss] said the village is going to take a breather? Well, people can still make applications.”
Colbert sat on the village board as a trustee from 1989 to 1994 before a nine-year run as mayor until 2003, where he lost in a contentious battle to current New York State Senator Jack Martins. Colbert’s term has come under fire over the last decade, with officials and residents contending the village’s $33 million debt was a direct result of Colbert’s tenure.
But Colbert argues tax certioraris, settlements brought by property owners who claim they are over-assessed and paying too much in property taxes, pigeonholed his administration. As far back as in 2005-06, the village was budgeting $1.3 million per year for tax certioraris. The village earmarked $330,000 for the most recent budget.
“They don’t know the whole picture, but [future boards] certainly used everything my administration did,” Colbert said. “We built a new community center, firehouse, two water facilities, a library—more than $25 million in expenditures. The financial situations were certioraris I had to pay, which were put way in before my administration started. We were compelled to pay them. I didn’t have a building going on [the tax rolls] to get incentive awards. We went out and bonded them and kept taxes below 1.5 percent.”
Colbert, a real estate salesperson, thinks townhouses would have benefited the area rather than apartments.
“They could be two or three stories,” he said. “Something that fits into the character of the village. This is suburbia.”
He also questioned the infrastructure capabilities of the downtown, specifically the water and sewer system’s handling of the more than 1,000 apartment units currently rising or proposed in the area.
“This whole area is not meant for that,” Colbert said. “I think the studies that have been done were lame. There’s going to be an over-deluge of traffic in that area.”
The two open seats on the village board are eligible for four-year terms. The village board approved the term increase in 2013. The change won’t fully take effect until 2018 when three seats occupied by Mayor Scott Strauss and trustees George Durham and Dennis Walsh are up for grabs.
Cusato declined to comment.
“I welcome anyone who’s willing to put themselves out there,” Pereira said. “When in fact, Colbert becomes a candidate, we’ll have to remind people that it becomes a choice of 10 years of fiscal responsibility versus 12 years of mismanagement by [Colbert].”
To challenge the 2016 two open seats, candidates must file a petition with 100 signatures from Mineola residents by Feb. 9 at Mineola Village Hall.
“I don’t want to be obnoxious,” Colbert said. “I don’t want to voice down the mayor. I want to be a member of the board of trustees. I want to speak for the people. I won’t sit there and just shake my head ‘yes’ for 20 minutes.”