West Merrick Road storage facility proposal draws backlash

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At the outset of a Nov. 13 Valley Stream Board of Zoning Appeals hearing on a proposed four-story self-storage facility at 750 W. Merrick Road, local zoning lawyer Dominick Minerva, representing the property’s owner, stated, “The applicant has studied the market, and determined that this area is still underserved with self-storage as compared to others.”

The assertion drew laughs from the 20 or so residents of surrounding streets who had come to express their op-position to the project. Two blocks away, at 599 W. Merrick Road, a three-story storage facility is under construction. A few blocks east on West Merrick is an Extra Space Storage, and further down on Merrick is an Out-A-Space storage, less than a block from an Omega Self Storage in Lynbrook. A Google Maps search revealed that there are roughly a dozen such facilities within five miles of the proposed one.

Minerva argued that the property’s owner, Louis Sollecito, of the West Merrick Road Realty Corp., a shell company, faced a unique hardship because he had tried to sell the property for four years, and permitted uses for the surrounding commercial zone, such as retail and office space, were not viable for a reasonable return on Sollecito’s investment. The property is currently occupied by a now-defunct Honda dealership and service facility.

Sollecito is seeking variances from the board to allow for warehouse use in a C-2 zoning district, four stories to be constructed in a zone that permits a maximum of three, 17 off-street parking spaces to be provided for a property that, according to code, would require 142, and side and rear-yard setback variances.

The property would be redeveloped by the New York-based Storage Deluxe and operated by Pennsylvania-based Cubesmart Self Storage.

Residents criticized the project for a variety of reasons, including the abundance of such facilities in the area; the possibility that it would change the character of the neighborhood and negatively impact property values; and fears that the owner could seek tax breaks from county or town agencies in an area of Valley Stream still grappling with property-tax increases after School District 30 failed to account for payments in lieu of taxes granted to the Green Acres Mall in 2016 by the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency.

Michael Harmon, of Danzig Place, presented the board with a petition with 58 signatures of nearby residents who opposed the development. He said the storage facility would contribute to the degradation of the area’s residential nature.

“If we wanted to live in an area zoned for warehouses, we would have bought in an area zoned for warehouses,” Harmon said. “If you were to approve, you’d be completely changing the face of our community.”

He added that in light of Sollecito’s reconstruction of his Honda dealership a few blocks east on Merrick, and his ownership of several others, he had a hard time believing that Sollecito’s financial hardship was unique, as argued by Minerva.

“I’m not worried about what he can write off on his taxes if he can’t sell this [property] right away,” Harmon said. “That doesn’t affect him; that’s a blip on his screen . . . I can’t write off the loss of value on my home.”

Frank Thomas, of Casper Street, who lives directly behind the storage facility now under construction at 599 W. Merrick Road, said that it had become so disruptive that a family seeking to buy a nearby house backed out after learning about it, and that the size of the building had changed the area’s aesthetics.

Thomas said that when he leaves his home, the structure blots out much of his view, adding, “I can’t see the damn sky anymore.”

Doug Zapart, a resident who also owns a business in District 30, argued that a storage facility would do little to generate foot traffic to benefit nearby shops. He also said that even after an adjustment by District 30 to reduce property taxes following the initial increase, his shop was still struggling to cope with the school-tax hikes, and that he was concerned that another PILOT would sink his business.

“I don’t know how much anyone else’s residential property taxes went down . . . but ours only went down 13 percent from that 26 percent [hike],” Zapart said. “. . . I’m concerned that this may get a [PILOT] and impact us again.”

Another attendee, Martin Zirpolo, acknowledged that the crumbling Honda service station hardly benefits the look of the area, but said he worried that that stretch of Merrick Road could become overindustrialized. “When are we going to stop the urbanization and start the suburbanization of Valley Stream?” he asked.

In the realm of zoning appeals, however, few if any of the residents’ complaints are legal grounds for board members to deny the variance applications, and, in fact, could expose the village to a lawsuit if they were to do so. “Green Acres Mall was an anomaly,” Minerva said. “. . . And IDA applications, and zoning and land-use [applications], are usually heard and considered independently . . . whether they approve it or deny it is a totally separate application based on its own merits.”

Additionally, he said, “General community objections are not a basis for determining an application.”

The board declined to say whether it would consider making a decision on the application at its next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 27, but encouraged residents to attend in case it does.