Why & How YOU Should Help Prevent the Expansion
of the Firehouse on Harbor Hill Rd.

FACT SHEET LEGAL CRITIQUE Publicity Created by 1 Person's Effort Summary of the Issues (original posting)
Initial Community Outreach (1-2 weeks after ZBA vote) Reserved Reserved Reserved

Update 9-21-11:   It appears the jig is really up to stop the firehouse expansion. The time to file a lawsuit under one law is expired, and I do not expect the Architectural Board to be able to do any meaningful review of relevant issues. Last week I tried very hard to bring together some residents who were willing to help pay for legal representation to stop the firehouse, but this group dissolved as soon as some complications arose, and complaining how late in the game it was and no one else was supporting us.

    The attorney I selected unexpectedly questioned (by speakerphone, during our meeting) the arguments I made on lack of "hard look" performed on variance requisites, but he offered a better challenge based on the failure of the zoning board to follow state environmental review laws (SEQR).This attorney specialized in environmental not zoning law. I had assumed expertise in both areas.

    I spoke last week to a state SEQR expert in Albany, who told me that the zoning board was probably wrong to grant a Type II exemption to the fire company, which let it sidestep some environmental review. But the small group of opponents (six besides me) just did not have the perseverance in them, and felt abandoned by the community. I could not persuade them otherwise, and they quit. So as of 9/21 or 9/22, the 30-day clock expires for an Article 78 lawsuit to be filed.

    What happened? The opposition was pretty slick. They used a deceptive mass-mailing, expert misinformation by village officials, aggressive spinning in The Roslyn News, they used summer-time scheduling of the zoning action, and a quick vote with no clear advance notice to the community at large, and a sleazy pretense that the firehouse will not really change at all. (Maybe not this year, anyway.)

    Many new vehicles will be added to the firehouse right away, as they are shifted from Warner Ave. "storage" (if the fire company is to be believed), and as time goes by engines etc. will also inevitably appear. (See the company president's words in the "Legal Critique".) Just this Saturday, Newsday reported how a little snack-bar that a village permitted on the dock in Northport grew illegally over the years into a large bar and restaurant, but when the neighbors finally challenged it the town agreed to compromise with the restaurant and a court refused to act (Newsday, 9/17/11, p. 12). That is going to be the firehouse story!(I wrote a letter to The Roslyn News to this effect.)

    Despite all the efforts I made in holding meetings, publicity, flyers, knocking on doors, calling people, creating these web pages, writing to the newspapers, etc., I feel personally annoyed that I did not do more or better -- particularly re-researching the SEQR law I had originally pointed to, and consulting legal counsel earlier to pin down the defensible arguments.Also, it was important to strike harder when the issues first burst into public awareness, not wait for people to appear at the door (or Inbox). And I was willing to walk away a few weeks ago because I felt disappointed, and I thought I had exhausted all sources of assistance, when in reality there were more to be found.Alas, I too had other plans this summer.

    But that being said, the finger of blame must be truly pointed back at all the residents who waited to be led or who essentially did nothing -- no letters to the editor, no holding or attending meetings, no assistance to help organize or research the issues. A simple call to the Mayor as sme people ventured does not count as doing something constructive; it only counts as spending five minutes getting patted and massaged to make yourself feel worthwhile.

    Fortunately, it is not like we lost a forest and the firehouse will have utility, at a significant cost. (The cost is continuing urbanization and tolerance of bad government.) I personally will be better prepared next time through this experience. Another silver lining is that village officials were revealed in some ways that will not be easy to defend in some future election, if a progressive might run. In the meantime residents can try to keep an eye on what happens at the new firehouse, when built, but that is just a losing game (see "Northport", above). Then they can also try to elect better stewards of the public business. By the way, I think that begins with hiring a professional independent administrator to run this municipality, because it cannot efficiently, economically, and ethically run itself.

Update 9-6-11:   The firehouse train-wreck is well on its way down the track. The sirens during hurricane week and since are just a foretaste. Our efforts have gone almost completely unsupported by residents who prefer to be lulled by the official fairy-tale which we debunked. The zoning decision was officially "published" on August 22nd, which started a 30-day legal clock for opponents. The decision is a long, costly legalistic document that nevertheless contains distortions and childish asides aimed at denigrating the one voice that unexpectedly challenged the pre-ordained, hasty, unanimous vote.

   The Architectural Review Board is to meet on September 12 at 8 PM according to village staff today. They have supposedly promised to look at the firehouse, but have limited jurisdiction. Still it might be a useful forum for critics.

   Surprisingly, the decision contains fine-print that essentially stabs the fire company in the back by granting permission to build a large new firehouse but taking them "at their word" that no more fire trucks would be put inside. Click for the Legal Critique where we show that the fire company president specifically said that there would be more trucks in the new firehouse, to deal with the greater calls, and more "standby" staff too (a point also raised -- obliquely -- in the decision). This is a strange ruling that will likely be (a) un-enforced and (b) explicitly changed in the future. becasue otherwise this farce would result in sinking $3.4 million of fire company money into a pretty useless shell, in addition to already having sunk the integrity of the public zoning process.

   A 30-day clock for residents to file a legal challenge to the decision began August 22. A court fight should be a slam-dunk, as I have repeatedly argued, not least because the fire company apparently submitted a state corporate charter that (a) expired in 1955, and (b) specifically describes its zone as covering Roslyn exclusively (not the 10 areas it now covers). There are more-substantive failings in the process, as I have outlined in the "Legal Critique" and "Fact Sheet" linked above, particularly the lack of any studies to analyze impacts.

   But we will not act alone. Our diligent attempts to mobilize both front-line neighbors of the firehouse and residents in general has been met with lots of harrumphing but no action. A disinformation offensive mounted in the media and in person by various voices of the official local establishment seems to have easily lulled even easily-excitable local residents. We find our neighbors in this "champion community" to be pretty second-rate when it comes to following the law or fighting for its proper application. We continue to have some dialogues with residents who express interest, but there has not been any real commitment and time is short.

   The Roslyn News has continued to cover the issue, though not as productively as we would have preferred. Letters were edited in a way that seemed unfair, etc. But I have repeatedly told them I am very grateful for the coverage, and other residents should be too. It just could be better, and more balanced.

   Finally, the zoning decision distorted our testimony before the zoning board, descending into mockery while omitting material points. Still, simply being quoted was gratifying. We have formally submitted corrections to address errors in the official transcript of the zoning board testimony. (For example, one quotation was rendered amusingly as "A line in this hand....")

   Contact me at (516) 279-8941 to offer your assistance. Or Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org.

Update 8-17-11:   A small core of concerned residents is continuing discussion of options. As of 8/16 the village has once again left residents in the dark, removing from its website any reference to the fire house variance & controversy and the next public meeting to address it, by the Architecture Review Board, whose next meeting still seems to be unscheduled.

  As we have followed up with residents who expressed initial concern, we are amazed at how malleable residents have proven when they are self-reportedly provided with basically false or unsubstantiated assurances or counter-arguments from village or fire officials. To clarify some issues, please see our Legal Critique Here which quotes extensively from the official record. In order to track this official disinformation, we have filed a Freedom of Information request with the village to determine how many calls trustees and the mayor indeed received and answered about this issue.

  The village did permit us to use a common room two evenings for an hour and a half and we certainly appreciate that generosity. We had a civil conversation with the mayor, at his initiative, which did not result in any changes in policy. This effort remains very tenuous without greater support from residents. Contact me at (516) 279-8941 to offer support. Or Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org.

Update 8-10-11:   I am scheduling meetings at 6 PM THURSDAY 8/11 and SUNDAY 8/14 to discuss concrete steps to oppose the firehouse expansion as presently proposed. This is my FINAL effort to create a movement on this issue! Please participate! These meetings will be solely to form a group opposing the firehouse expansion. A public meeting may be held later, for Q&A etc. Participate NOW or you are probably getting a big new firehouse. The other parties who may be 'working' on this issue have demonstrated no resolve to follow through. Please contact me directly if you wish to attend. Or call if you have my number from the flyers. Email me at Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org. (The email address is given in a format to deter spam-harvesters. Please use normal email-address syntax when writing, e.g. joe@acme.com.)
      As previously noted, we encourage you to send a letter to The Roslyn News registering your feelings. They accept email submissions. Newsday might also be pushed into coverage. Give them a call (Editor Janet Day).

Update 8-6-11:   The effort to force a critical re-examination of the firehouse expansion continues to gain traction, but we need immediate assistance from our fellow residents to continue this effort (see below). The Roslyn News did another front page lead article, although it again bent over backwards to accomodate the official line. After much defensiveness from the mayor in a board meeting and in print, the village now promises on its website a fresh hearing by the Architectural Review Board, date still unannounced. (What they should promise is a fresh re-hearing by the zoning board, which is in their power to hold.)
    But confounding logic, the village and fire company continue to insist -- the fire company via an expensive flyer recently rushed throughout the village -- that the tripled in size, 7-garage door, nine-vehicle, 7,200 square foot expansion for $3.4 million won't change a thing. This defies logic. The fire company flyer also seems to deny its own legal memo that describes its 2,800 annual calls in 10 (TEN) communities, including Old Westbury, Greenvale, and North Hills, claiming now "Many of the current calls do not require" a real response!
      We again canvassed the East Hills Park and distributed a few dozen flyers to eager readers. Many people expressed support for this opposition effort, although the efforts of the fire company and village to portray the expansion as a benign natural growth without any impact on our neighborhoods is gaining many supporters. There are some scare tactics being used as well, telling residents to think about "when your child wakes you up in the middle of the night." We recall Hillary Clinton using a similar line against President Obama in the primaries. It didn't work.
      Residents need to gather supporters, meet together, and push the village one way or another to exercise responsible authority. Please email me at Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org and/or post on the Facebook page “East Hills Environment”. (The email address above is given in a format to deter spam-harvesters. Please use normal email-address syntax when writing, e.g. joe@acme.com.) The Roslyn News coverage will greatly benefit from residents' letters and encouragement. Their email is available by calling them. Newsday should lso be pushed into coverage. Give them a call (Editor Janet Day).

Update 7-30-11:   Today we canvassed the village pool and tennis courts and distributed dozens of informational flyers. Again most residents, young and old, male and female, were very disapproving of the firehouse plans, the issuance of the variance, and the impact on the community. Most agreed a better location should be sought if indeed the second larger firehouse is needed-- but most doubted that and did not see any case having been made.
      Most residents we discussed the matter with at the pool and tennis areas -- about 2 dozen or more -- also supported a strong fight to stop the firehouse expansion -- whether by asking the zoning board to re-open its hearing -- as permitted by state law -- or through a lawsuit against the village, again under state zoning law. (A lawsuit must commence 30 days after the zoning variance is filed, but it has not been filed yet according to the village Clerk Friday.
      We were very pleased by the interest and acumen shown by our neighbors. Mayor Koblenz attempted to prevent our distribution but we had already verified with the authorities that we were within our rights, exercising 1st Amendment protected speech on public property, and he did not follow through on his threats to have us ejected. However, we remain concerned by his repeated issuance of personal threats as a tactic.
      We distributed contact information and encouraged people to log into Facebook, visit "East Hills Environment", and leave comments and ideas. And "like" the Facebook site in order that it may be promoted to "group" status.
      We hope to hold a meeting in about a week to organize further action, which might well involve a lawsuit based on the sloppy or nonexistent record of analysis and deliberation created by the zoning board of appeals prior to its approval of variances required by the expansion.
      Residents need to gather supporters, meet together, and push the village one way or another to exercise responsible authority. Please email me at Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org and/or post on the Facebook page “East Hills Environment”. The Roslyn News is also continuing to cover this, and will greatly benefit from residents' letters and encouragement. They are doing a good job of being our local paper on this issue. Perhaps Newsday can also be pushed into covering it. Give them a call (Editor Janet Day).
      (The email address above is given in a format to deter spam-harvesters. Please use normal email-address syntax when writing, e.g. joe@acme.com. Thanks!)

Update 7-28-11: The village board meeting July 27th was jammed with people concerned about the firehouse expansion. Some expressed strong opposition due to the neighborhood impact, some objected to being kept in the dark about the zoning board hearing, some questioned the cost or necessity, some were just curious.
      Twenty people, however agreed to wear a white ribbon symbolizing their opposition to the zoning board action June 28th.
      The meeting was strong-armed by the village officials, who did not allow a public comment period, and who literally hid behind a fireman and a zoning attorney who answered all questions. And the format of the night was questions only – statements including by this writer were rudely cut off.
      In fact despite our extensive research and activism on this issue – or because of it – village officials made every attempt to silence our input, repeatedly cutting us off and threatening to eject us from the meeting.
      But we were able to get a village attorney to admit that the zoning board can re-visit the variance and re-hear the application with full public participation. (By law this can occur on the simple motion of a zoning board member, with the rest of the board agreeing.)
      Failing that, the village will have to be taken to court. But any judge who looks over the record of the zoning board hearing will find it so lacking in data and facts as to be merely an invalid “arbitrary and capricious” act, devoid of the reasoned judgment required to be rendered by a deliberative body tasked by law with answering specific questions prior to voting on a variance (NYS VIL law, Article 7-712 (b)(3)).
      The fire department representative also acknowledged that (a) there are no restrictions on how the firehouse will be used, and the firemen could soon decide to move half their apparatus into the new house; and (b) as it covers 10 nearby communities, the fire company looked at several other locations for the firehouse, including the Pall Corp. property. Why they chose Harbor Hill Rd. instead he did not say, but that is a legitimate and important question for the zoning board – which was not asked June 28th.
      Residents need to gather supporters, hold a meeting, and push the village one way or another to exercise responsible authority. Please email me at Richard (AT) planet-in-peril (DOT) org and/or post on the Facebook page “East Hills Environment”. The Roslyn News is also continuing to cover this, and will benefit from letters. And encouragement. Perhaps Newsday can also be pushed into covering it. Give them a call. (The email address above is given in a format to deter spam-harvesters. Please use normal email-address syntax when writing, e.g. joe@acme.com. Thanks!)

Update 7-14-11: This issue now is getting play. The Roslyn News published long letters from two residents questioning the proposed new firehouse in their July 14, 2011 edition and online here. Link Neighbors along the Harbor Hill Rd. corridor, extending well into Strathmore, are responding to the issue with outrage, including critiques of the adminstration in general. Our page on Facebook, "East Hills Environment", is receiving a number of views. It appears likely that some of the neighbors will put together a tangible opposition and hold meetings to strongly challenge the firehouse project. And it will create a big opening to challenge the village administration in the next elections. Still, we remain shocked that this issue, despite its resonance, would have been very unlikely to receive ANY public awareness or response until construction began, had we not singularly attended the hearing and then endeavored aggressively to alert neighbors with fliers and one of those letters to The Roslyn News. Clearly, NY municipal planning and environmental review rules are NOT adequate for proper citizen participation. Meanwhile, the firemen have been noticeably silent. Given the bare-knuckles nature of Nassau politics, we remain somewhat concerned and wary. And we have more proximate reasons to be concerned. Please note: Only one of the two letters in The Roslyn News was put online on their website. The other was from Revere Rd. resident and attorney Scott Spinner.

The following statement was posted on the Facebook group “East Hills Environment” in early July, 2011.

Big Problem: Those who care about the E Hills environment have a big fight on their hands now.

A big development in local noise, traffic, light and diesel pollution is now in process: The little fire house on Harbor Hill Road has gotten tentative zoning board permission to expand into a full-service, 24/7 fire house, capable of containing NINE fire vehicles. The fire company said before the board they answer around 2500 calls a year, around the clock, making that seven calls a day on average. In the future there will inevitably be more , and the new firehouse will be a central source of response.

The East Hills zoning appeals board on Tuesday 6/29/11 voted to give the fire company multiple variances to build a new complex at that location. Neighbors did NOT appear at the hearing, but 2 of 3 reached Sunday opposed the development -- and said they had been deceived about the scope of the changes. But the vote by the appeals board was defective legally, due to the absence of any environmental analysis (traffic etc.) and the village board and/or County Planning Commission MAY also need to pass on it. [Mayor Koblenz told us the village board does not need to affirm the appeals board decision.]

This issue seems to have gotten no public attention. A letter required to be sent to neighbors did not discuss any of the environmental impacts (traffic, noise, emissions, light) and according to one neighbor the firemen were not accurate about the large scope and ambitions of the new firehouse -- like 24/7 manning [we have since reviewed the application and they dubiously promise to visit the house only during an emergency, and in any event fewer than 24 hours a day] and capacity for 9 fire vehicles.

We are putting together an opposition. In 1962, residents opposed even building the initial small fire station there and sued the village, but they lost in court. The difference now is the new expansion is MUCH larger, and environmental rules in New York State are much stronger, albeit mainly on a procedural basis. a successful opposition will have to be based on Quality of Life issues that the Village itself agrees is unacceptable, so the work now is to build that argument.

ALTERNATIVES: (a) the fire company responds all over the North Shore; they may want to build the firehouse elsewhere - such as Greenvale; (b) better to separate the firehouse from homes -- relocate it in the Village Park property; (c) analyze whether this is a waste of public money, given the paucity of real fire emergencies and the robust responses already answering any fire call right now. There are already at least 4 fire houses in Roslyn and Roslyn Hts., and maybe a handful of actual fires or serious accidents each year. PLEASE post your responses AND speak to your neighbors.

Outreach Efforts

Where is the involvement by progressive or enlightened residents to act upon the Harbor Hill Rd firehouse rebuilding proposal? Not forthcoming in young and stodgy East Hills! But the political class and its news lapdogs are equally feckless.

We have made numerous and varied efforts to reach out, inform and energize the community about the Harbor Hill Rd firehouse fiasco, wherein a busy 24/7 2,800 call-a-year facility with space for nine vehicles was approved with minimal board discussion 6/29 by the zoning appeals board, and with no environmental analysis at all!

We spoke at length to Mayor Koblenz, who said he had not been aware of neighbors' concerns (see next paragraphs), and he agreed the fire companies believe in overkill in terms of equipment. He agreed to listen to neighbors' concerns. We spoke to several neighbors of the firehouse who were extremely upset about the vote and promised to call the Mayor and contribute to this page.

We sent notes to the dog park members, including two attorneys one of whom is a land use specialist. We contacted former mayor candidate Matt Weiss who refused to take a position or get involved. Candidate Gregg Resnick did not return our voicemail. We informed neighbors in the area.

We contacted Nassau Legislator Wayne Wink's office to make sure the county Planning Commission was engaged. (The call was not returned as promised, though the staffer (Marilyn? Wendy?) took down some details.) We also contacted an official of the Planning Commission directly and discussed the issues. He said it was hard to find files because the agency relocated in May.

We informed the leader of the local civic association. And we emailed and called Newsday reporter Emi Endo as well as the Newsday newsdesk email address. We have also contacted The Roslyn News [which has since given tremendus attention -- than you! (8/7/11)]. Given the passive community and political environment, our efforts MUST be joined and assisted quickly.

East Hills Central Page