When Ken and Adrianne Johnston moved into their home on Sherman Road in 1973 there were 4.5 acres of undeveloped land behind it dubbed the Hueppe Property. It has, for the most part, remained that way until a few months ago. That's when the construction of eight $1 million homes commenced just beyond their backyard.
The view from Ken and Adrianne Johnston's backyard at the end of September on Sherman Road of a Lenox Hills home currently under construction. The above-ground basement and framing for the first floor are completed.
"I moved out of Brooklyn and Queens to get away from the city years ago," Johnston said. "I came out here for the country. I understand they were going to build behind me. We're lucky it lasted so long. But not like this."
A photo of one of the homes, now completed.
The cul-de-sac behind and above the Johnstons is located northwest of Melville Road and southeast of Jefferson Road, with a driveway entrance on Fairview Road.
"The way they filled the hill in, these things are four-and-a-half stories over our house," Johnston explained.
Brian and Jessica Healey are in the same situation, just two doors down from the Johnstons. Brian met with Village of Farmingdale officials after the September trustees meeting. The impromptu informational session was conducted by the village in an effort to address each individual's concern.
"We were disappointed in the meeting afterwards," Healey said. "They wanted to keep it unofficial."
One of Healey's main concerns is that the foundations have been moved from the original site plan.
"There is a lot of misinformation and people don't understand what they are looking at, what the developer is required to do and what the laws are," Village Attorney Greg Carman said. "What we thought we would do is have an open discussion so that we could try and get good information out to the people," he added, referring to the Sept. 6 discussion.
"The problem still continues," Healy explained. "They [the village] said the developer was within its legal rights to do it."
According to both the Johnstons and Healeys, the building plans they were shown when the project was approved included new homes being set 27-30 feet off their property lines. Now they said homes were constructed 15 feet from neighboring property lines.
"We have a front yard that towers over our house by 12 feet," Healey explained. "We're looking at the front of a house. The house is four stories tall in the back yard because the foundation is fully exposed."
Carman responded that the homes are situated the legal distance from the property lines.
Carman explained that "the approved site plan shows the proposed building lots and the area within those lots known as the building envelope. That building envelope shows you where all the setbacks are to the property line. The foundation has to sit within the building envelope."
Building distances and figures are regulated by the village code, which, for the most part, emulates that of the Town of Oyster Bay. Carman said the village's building department, supervised by Ron Craig, has been responsible for ensuring the developer is in compliance with permit approvals.
Carman explained, "these building permits were issued in the ordinary course of business."
"We are fully conforming with every requirement of the AAA zone in the Village of Farmingdale, which is the most restrictive zone in the village," said Anthony Bartone, a partner of Bartone Holdings, LLC, the developer of Lenox Hill Estates. "We are doing anything that anybody else would have a right to do."
Healey's neighbor, Joe Carosella, said in the plans they were originally shown, the houses were further away. Carosella's argument is that no one explained the homes could legally be built as close as they are to his neighbor's homes.
"We never expected these homes to be as encroaching onto our properties as they are," Carosella said. "What you see from my backyard is the retaining wall and they just put the white fence along the top of it."
According to Bartone, the original plan had a natural grade into Lenox Hills.
"As per the residents' request, they asked us to put in retaining walls and a fence to screen any headlights that might be on the street from going into their windows," Bartone added.
The retaining walls and fences were added at the cost of the developer.
"Now that we did that, they are complaining about the fact that it is there," Bartone said. "It has to remain because it's on the approved site plan."
Additionally, the developer designed a map, which had in excess of 160 trees for screening and natural vegetation.
"To date, we've planted in excess of 210 trees, which we were not mandated to do," Bartone explained.
At one point, residents approached Legislator Dave Mejias about the issue.
"The village should invite everyone down to explain exactly what is going on over there," Mejias suggested. "It is the job of elected officials to keep people informed about what is going on in their community and some of the residents feel like there's something bad going on there."
A public hearing on the development of the Hueppe Property was held in June 2004. The board, residents and a representative of the engineering firm were all present.
"We've had in excess of eight to 10 public hearings on this over the past two or three years," Bartone added. "We've addressed every concern that has come up."
The drainage issue was the one looked at the most closely, Bartone said. The drainage system was re-engineered three different times.
"The first proposal was with a conventional drainage system," Bartone said. "We proposed an alternate method with a drainage system comprised of diffusion wells. What they do is punch through any soil conditions, this way the water can diffuse into good soil conditions. We continued to look at the system, both my engineer and H2M [the village's engineering firm], and collectively we decided to take all the water on site, collect it and ship it all up to Nassau County. To the best of my knowledge, this is unprecedented."
According to Bartone, this drainage system cost his company in excess of $500,000, whereas a conventional drainage system would cost $150,000.
"This was $350,000 above and beyond what is an acceptable building standard," Bartone said. "We are 100 percent confident that this drainage system is so far overbuilt that there should be no issues at all."
Bartone stated that for the most part the vast majority of surrounding residents seemed satisfied with the measures taken to address drainage concerns.
Also during the public hearing process the site's density was reduced.
"This proposal originally started out with the prior owner as 12 homes," Bartone said. "As per the village's request, we reduced it to 10 and then at a subsequent hearing we then again reduced it to eight. That is a significant cost impact on the project."
While Bartone, a lifelong Farmingdale resident, said the company's motivation wasn't money, but rather to "create a beautiful court," he added they "certainly have tried to be as receptive as possible to every single concern."
While the Johnstons have enjoyed living in Farmingdale and raised their family there, Ken's wife, Adrianne, said she wants to move. Ken said she put blinds up to block the view and refuses to enter her own backyard.
"You always hear about the quality of life here," Johnston said. "That's why I moved to Farmingdale. I happen to like Farmingdale. My kids grew up here, they went to school here. We can't sell this house now the way it looks. Now we're stuck here and we have to wait and see when it's a finished project and hope for the best."
The homes that comprise Lenox Hills Estates have all been completed, with six out of eight being sold. According to Barton the homes were sold "in excess of $1 million."