By Larry Gordon
There are two sides to every story and an equal number if not more to every construction project. There is always construction going on somewhere; some projects are smaller, some are greater. Sometimes it’s a private home on a small street and other times it’s a building that can redefine a neighborhood.
Today there is a housing shortage and a lack of availability of rental apartments in areas where many would like to reside but just cannot find anything suitable. That’s just one issue of these multiple construction projects on the Five Towns drawing board.
Now and then there is a confluence of major construction and building projects that not only pushes people to their communal wit’s end but also divides a community.
It might just be my impression, but these matters seem to be additionally pronounced in our Orthodox Jewish communities. And that is in part because the nature of who we are and how we live and practice our form of Judaism requires or creates a preference that we live in close proximity to one another.
So aside from that sociological reality, the question is how close is too close?
First allow me to state that the objective here is to analyze the feelings and attitudes about all positions related to the fashion in which a massive construction project can impact on a city, village, or neighborhood. It needs to be clear that the writer—that’s me—has no horse in this race. Our function here is to air out the issues.
In discussion with people involved in these matters I have always commented to them that they already live here. For the most part, the target market of most of the new construction projects are people who would like to reside in Lawrence, Cedarhurst, or Woodmere but have been boxed out of the market mostly by the lack of housing opportunities. There is something inequitable about people who live here fighting to keep others out.
On the other hand, there is only so much room until we reach the point that our real estate columnist, Anessa Cohen, refers to as “overbuilding.” And it just might be that our area of New York may be reaching a tipping point where we end up living with actual gridlock on a daily basis.
On most of these current projects being considered there are good and clear-minded positions on both sides of the equation. Construction, whether it is next door to you or on an entire street that reroutes traffic for a year or more, is not a pleasant thing to have to deal with.
On the other hand people need suitable places to live. Older people who are downsizing may still want to be able to live within walking distance of children and other family members.
Newlywed couples who are starting a life together can easily live in a one- or two-bedroom apartment and may also want to start out not too distant from (but also not too close to) family.
It is difficult to marginalize the need for housing in the above scenarios. At the same time, the need for condominium or apartment rentals may also be very much in demand.
So we may have established that accommodating these lifestyle needs will not attract too many critics or opposition. But there are other problems that those who object to this type of construction have with these plans.
Mostly it is about car traffic. Over the last several years in the Five Towns, traffic delays on main streets like Rockaway Turnpike and on Central Avenue on occasion (Thursdays and Fridays in preparation for Shabbos) are increasingly serious problems.
Right now there are three major construction plans that are in various stages of the approval process that will contribute in some ways to residents’ concerns about changing what it used to mean to live out here in Nassau County in what used to be considered the suburbs.
The question is whether these concerns are being properly addressed, or if the builders and the local government officials involved in the approval process are just hoping for the best.
Then there is the serious matter of overbuilding, creating circumstances that result in flooding that can paralyze communities for days or longer if there is a serious storm or hurricane.
Additionally, there is the opinion that with the influx of thousands of more families, even if the potential traffic issues can be addressed, life will be altered to the point that it will no longer resemble what it once was.
If you live out here or have traveled here you will have noticed signs along Rockaway Turnpike when you’re heading west that read: “Emergency Evacuation Route.” That essentially means that in an emergency circumstance like flooding, for example, it is conceivable that almost everyone will be headed out of town at the same time. All you have to do is try to drive out to the Belt Parkway or Van Wyck Expressway any morning between 7 and 9 a.m. to discover that, at best, you are inching along.
The three projects that some view as “overbuilding” today are the plans for three buildings (112 apartments) on Pearsall Avenue in Cedarhurst, a project of hundreds of apartments on Bayview Avenue in North Lawrence, and the Woodmere golf course project that may someday be home either to 50-100 private homes or buildings of about 200 apartments for those looking to downsize and in the category of age 55 years and over.
Taken together it is not an understatement to say that people are in a tizzy about what the Five Towns will look like when these construction ventures are done over the next several years.
It is difficult to say whether or not residents are evenly divided over these issues. There is a sense that those who will benefit somehow from a significant uptick in the frum community population are in favor of the building and almost everyone else is opposed.
So who exactly is perceived to be benefitting from and in favor of these building projects? Well, certainly the builders stand to gain; after all, that is how they make a living. Also, it seems from the meetings that have been held that their friends and families are supportive as well.
It would not be fair or accurate to say that almost everyone else is against the projects in some fashion. I would like to submit that standing at this side of these developments can be much different than living with them once we endure the imposition of construction for a long period of time in each area.
I’ve been here in the Five Towns for nearly three decades. I have been to numerous zoning board hearings that deliberated over the building of the 144-apartment complex on Central Avenue known as The Regency. There have been contentious debates over the construction of the Sh’or Yoshuv campus at the edge of Lawrence, the Heichal Dovid Shul on Central Avenue, as well as several others.
Now, ten years later, The Regency is a crown jewel of the Village of Lawrence where people of all ages at all stations of life reside. There are a lot of cars parked in front of the building and there is an underground garage as well. Perhaps the people who reside there do contribute to the growing traffic jams on Central Avenue. It is certainly bothersome and inconvenient at times, but it is certainly not impossible.
When Sh’or Yoshuv was being permitted 20 years ago there were people who rose to speak at village zoning meetings who said that on New McNeil Avenue leading to the yeshiva, children riding their bicycles would be accidently hit by cars and injured or possibly worse. Today, as you know, Sh’or Yoshuv is a centerpiece of the Five Towns, a bastion of Torah and tefillah, a place where people are proud to say they learn or daven.
Both the North Lawrence and Woodmere projects are located on the periphery of the area known as the Five Towns. Pearsall Street is in a more centralized location, but that stretch of roadway is almost asking to be bulldozed and rebuilt, and someday you’ll be proud to say that your parents or your children live there.
The same is true of the buildings that will be built in North Lawrence and where the Woodmere golf course once existed.
We definitely need to deal with the future serious traffic problems that will result, and we need mitigation and creative solutions to deal with the daily gridlock entering and currently existing the Five Towns.
So are we for or against it? How about if we work together to make sure these plans are done the right way.
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