When polls open for the Lynbrook village election at Greis Park on March 19, five candidates will be on the ballot competing for two trustee seats.
Incumbent Trustees Ann Marie Reardon and Robert Boccio are running for re-election on the New Vision Party line along with Mayor Alan Beach. Trustee challengers Steve Ligouri and Antoniella Tavella are part of the newly formed Preserve Lynbrook Party with Deputy Mayor Hilary Becker, who is challenging Beach. David O’Neill is running independently for trustee.
Reardon and Boccio have said their top priority is to hold the line on taxes and strengthen the tax base. Ligouri said his goal was to create a more transparent, accountable government by using his businesses sense, while Tavella said she intended to stand up against big developers and O’Neill said he’d like to bring in new businesses and encourage smart development.
After they debated the issues on March 7 at the Lynbrook Public Library, the Herald asked the candidates for their opinions on the issues that face the village.
Herald: Why do you think the Cornerstone proposal wasn’t a good fit for the village, and what kind of development do you think would work for Lynbrook?
Reardon: Nassau County is one of the highest-taxed counties in the country. Living in an incorporated village with its own Police Department and services, only increases the tax burden on our Lynbrook residents. As a result, many young families and seniors are having a difficult time paying their tax bill. So, it is essential for the village board to do everything in its power to ease that burden on our taxpayers. One way is to expand our tax base with smart development, whereby we increase our commercial tax base, so our homeowners will have to pay less. If we want to control and stabilize our residents tax burden, it is essential that any village board seek to do so in a way that does not jeopardize the character of Lynbrook. The Cornerstone was a project that any board that cares about controlling the property taxes for its residents would be compelled to at least examine. After a thorough review — which included two traffic studies and multiple departmental and environmental reviews — I felt that the project as designed was too big in scope.
Boccio: I believe that the Cornerstone project wasn’t a good fit for the village because it was too big and not in keeping with the village’s character. In our efforts to attract development that is reflective of our village’s charm and quaintness, we must seek out businesses that have a minimal and/or a positive impact on our village’s services, schools, traffic and quality of life. As our goal is to revitalize a struggling downtown, which has seen some improvement with the addition of the movie theater, it is imperative that we attract businesses that will add to its vibrancy, such as restaurants, start-up incubators, cultural centers, grocery markets and other entities that add to our tax base, as well as enhance the quality of life for residents.
Ligouri: Why is the New Vision Party pushing this project in the first place? Why apartments and why seven stories? Why offer to sell village property at a 30 percent discount to the developer? Why was the village put in a position to let the developer make an application for a PILOT program wherein the residents would be made to pay the tax that the developer would not have paid due to the PILOT? I have a colleague at work that lives in Valley Stream and had his taxes raised by $4,000 due to a PILOT program.
Tavella: The PILOT program was slated to give the developer an astronomical tax break that would ultimately fall on the backs of the residents. Our residents are already feeling the effects of the new county tax reassessment. The folks that can really use the tax breaks, the residents, are completely overlooked, yet these multi-million dollar developers are given the red carpet treatment. The developer grossly underestimated the impact on our traffic and congestion issues, our existing infrastructure and importantly our schools. I believe that the type of development that would be good for Lynbrook would be one that would attract companies from innovative industries that would bring in high-paying, sustainable jobs. But first we need to start with an updated master plan for our village’s future, which takes into account the addition of the new movie theater, the demographic changes that we have experienced and the needs and desires of the residents.
O’Neill: The Cornerstone project was too big. Parking and traffic are a serious problem in the village. I would like to have Anthony Bartone and other developers come to the village with new proposals. As a village, we need to be willing to sit down and listen to what they would like to propose for our village. We need to focus on attracting those whose own goals match those of our village. We need to gather as much information as possible in order to make a decision that will benefit us. We have to welcome any and all business and developers the opportunity to present to us their vision. We need to allow free and open discussion and stop the barrage of the current administration’s negative media that offers nothing but their propaganda. We have a wealth of people whose energy and talents can be combined to solve our problems, but our government needs to listen to them. With all that’s been in the news and all the negative media, we may have scared away any and all businesses and developers.
Herald: What types of businesses would you like to see in the village, and what ways do you think business owners could be enticed to open establishments in Lynbrook?
Reardon: No one likes to see empty storefronts in our downtown. However, a lot of progress has been achieved while Mayor Beach and I have been on the village board. When Beach was first elected to the board, every storefront under the Long Island Rail Road station was empty and boarded up. Frankly, it was a disgrace. Since that time, Beach negotiated a deal between the LIRR and a prospective developer, which resulted in all of those storefronts being redone and now the majority of those stores are rented. We accomplished an anchor business by negotiating the construction of a new movie theater. Businesses have experienced a 30 percent increase in traffic and sales. This type of success builds upon itself and will encourage more new businesses to come into Lynbrook and open.
Boccio: I would like to see businesses that will add to the vibrancy of our downtown area such as restaurants, start-up incubators, cultural centers, grocery markets and other entities that add to our tax base, as well as enhance the quality of life for residents. To entice businesses, we must first ensure that Lynbrook remains one of the safest villages in the state. In addition, we must continue our beautification efforts with an emphasis on the quality of our parks, streetscapes, signage and roads.
Ligouri: I would not entertain any program that would involve a tax relief program offered to a developer. If a developer asked for a PILOT, I would say no and move on to other developers that do not need a tax relief program to complete a project. Through my experience, I am skilled enough to ask the right questions before the village agrees to entertain any project, thereby saving the village from future Cornerstone situations. I would initiate a complete marketing program that would indicate our demographics, strengths and attributes as a village. Then I would have a focused marketing effort that would only engage with businesses that match our profile. This would lead to a more efficient process and we would improve our chances of success in bringing businesses that fill a void and will be able to sustain themselves in our village.
Tavella: I learned first-hand, while working at Thomson Reuters, the importance of technology and utilizing the new tools that it created, to improve the way we live, work and do business. We need to ultimately attract businesses that are at the forefront of technology — green tech, robotics, biotech, social media — this is where our focus should be when we look at granting PILOTs and the future projects we wish to attract. With respect to the downtown retail, I think that once we attract some larger anchor businesses, the trickle-down effect will be just what we are looking for. One of the greatest obstacles for retailers is the high rent and I would be an advocate for creating an incentive program that would offer a reduced rent for retail business start-ups that could slowly increase as they grow.
O’Neill: We can make our community a destination for those wanting to offer a mixture of businesses. I want to help Lynbrook realize its potential so that the residents have increased options, businesses have an increase in customers, and both have a decrease in their share of the tax burden. I would like to see a variety of restaurants, shopping boutiques and all of our businesses working together to be more involved in the village. Economic development brings and keeps businesses in our village that provide not only places to shop and eat, but also tax revenue, thereby alleviating some of the burden on homeowners. Long-term economic development takes planning, marketing and time.
Herald: Traffic, parking and poor road conditions are three issues Lynbrook residents seem to discuss the most. What can be done to solve these problems?
Reardon: We have to continue to search for more solutions to increase our available downtown parking. The New Vision Party reclaimed 233 parking spots under the LIRR station. We have also facilitated agreements from private property owners to allow public parking on those properties during off hours. As for roads, the party has repaved more roads over the past 12 years than any administration has in the history of Lynbrook, and we have called for every road to be redone within the next four years, while we have also contacted town and county officials to address the dreadful conditions of their roads.
Boccio: We continue to search for more ways to improve parking and among our many solutions included the institution of a smart-phone application that can be used by shoppers in order to provide a more convenient and efficient parking experience. The worst roads in our village are under the jurisdiction of the county, town and/or state. We have consistently advocated on behalf of residents to push road repairs. We will remain vigilant in continuing our efforts to improve non-village roads by sending a clear message that Lynbrook residents demand that their roads reflect the high price we pay in taxes for such services.
Ligouri: Residents are looking for a simple solution to a complex question. We need to take stock of the land available for new flat-top parking. I have located several spots in the village where we can add parking without constructing a multi-level parking garage. In addition, I would increase efforts to obtain more grants from the state and federal governments so that we can increase the timetable to fix all the roads the village is responsible to maintain. Improving traffic flow within the village will necessitate a complete and measured study to ascertain which traffic patterns and lights need to be changed.
Tavella: We need to establish a hotline to Village Hall that residents can call to report poor road conditions, so that the board can coordinate repairs. Traffic during peak commuter hours can be a nightmare. We need to explore the possibility of implementing a resident shuttle to and from key points around the village to the LIRR station. This could alleviate some of the traffic parking issues, while generating revenue. Downtown parking along Atlantic Avenue needs to encourage local shopping and dinning at our retail businesses. We have to be cognizant of any parking restrictions that might hamper the ability of shoppers to spend the time in our downtown.
O’Neill: I would sit down with the Department of Public Works members and ask their advice on improving these areas. We need to realign the parking spots on Atlantic Avenue and other roads. The Highway Department must readjust the traffic lights on Sunrise Highway because they cause bumper-to-bumper traffic. Parking is always going to be a problem due to limited real estate. The movie theater added to the parking problem and we must look at our options. It would be my priority.