Despite the fact that the most "ballyhooed" finale of a sit-com on network television was being aired the same night, the meeting held on May 14 by the Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington and the General Council of Homeowners filled the auditorium of the Methodist Church on Middle Neck Road with local officials and residents from Port and Roslyn. Moderated by Phoebe Goodman from the League of Women Voters, the meeting sought to offer residents an opportunity to ask questions or state their concerns regarding Harbor Ridge Estates, the planned 675-unit senior housing complex at Morewood, something which General Council President Barry Siegel feels the public has been deprived of. Overall, the meeting was successful, with many questions answered and explanations given chiefly from TONH Supervisor May Newburgers's executive assistant, and Port resident, Ellen Markowski. However, several attendees, many of whom said they wanted to know about prices and floor plans, complained because the Harbor Ridge developer was not at the meeting. (Ellen Markowski advised that the developer said that he will be holding a series of public meetings in August or September.)
Mr. Siegel opened the meeting stating, "Since the Town is the seller of this 42-acre parcel, the developer has been spared and the public deprived of the full protection of ordinary zoning review. The Town in this case has acted as judge and juror. Under the circumstances, more, not less, public scrutiny is called for."
Supportive of the Morewood development as a whole, Mr. Siegel stressed that Port Washington has a "proud and distinguished record when it comes to senior care and housing, citing senior housing at Landmark, Hadley House, Port Harbor Apartments and the Sands Point Nursing Home. "Most of us will welcome the proposed continuing care retirement community with its independent and assisted living apartments as well as skilled-nursing beds," Mr. Siegel said. Commenting on the golf course, Harbor Links, he said, "course fees aside, (it) appears to be well conceived."
The issues with the senior housing, as stated by Mr. Siegel, concern the two proposed six-story tall, which critics of the plan consider architecturally incompatible with the rest of the community; the 275 housing units composed of assorted villas, town houses and duplexes and their impact on, among other things, traffic, water, fire medic coverage, fiscal assumptions, funding of infrastructure hookups and other improvement districts requirements and the nearby Superfund site; and the belief that the citizenry has not been well informed about the project.
1-If the project goes bust, say they can't sell the units, is there a contingency plan? Ellen Markowski replied that the developer can't build until he has a certain number of units sold and has successfully marketed the development.
2- Sue Fitzgerald asked, "Why is there only one road going in and out?" Saying essentially that the town does not anticipate a large increase in traffic, Ellen Markowski replied that the average age at the 400-unit congregate care building will be 78, so obviously these residents won't be driving. The 275 residents in the senior housing and assisted living will have shuttle buses provided by the developer to take them to and from town, in addition to people using mass transit. She also noted that drivers will be going in different directions, some toward Roslyn and some toward Port.
A few residents disagreed with Ms. Markowski pointing out that many residents will be driving cars because of the age-eligibility requirement: one person in each household has to be only 55 years of age. Thus, many of the "younger" residents will be driving.
In Beacon Hill Road resident Bob Zimmerman's opinion, 800 additional people with cars will be impacting Port Washington. He deduces that even if the 400 people in the congregate care building are unable to drive, there remains 275 units with one to four people who live there who can still drive. He questioned the traffic experts report that stated traffic would increase in peak hours by only 37 cars.
Lou Schwartz, the traffic engineer hired from Schneider Engineering Co. by various civic groups, reported that the 37 car increase is, in fact, "not out of the realm of possibility." Explaining, he said, "There are facilities that typically generate a certain number of trips. From the 400 unit congregate care facility, an increase of 28 additional cars is expected in the morning peak hours, and 64 additional cars are expected in the evening peak hours. From the other 275 units, roughly, an increase of 170 cars in the morning peak and evening peak is anticipated, according to Mr. Schwartz.
Ellen Markowski noted that the developer will be minimizing the need to "go off campus," by providing many in-house services for the residents, some of which will be included in a 2.4 acres commercial area.
Also in terms of transportation issues, a few residents voiced concern about increased usage of the LIRR and the exacerbation of the parking problems at the station.
3- Conflicting reports were made regarding fire protection. Councilman Angelo Ferraro advised that a fireman had spoken to him right before the meeting, telling him that the fire department would not be able to service the new development. Ellen Markowski replied that the Town had met with Fire Chief Interdonati and was told that the fire department could handle the additional territory.
4- Many people, both during and after the meeting, wanted to know how much the units would cost. Ellen Markowski reported that, at this time, these figures are undisclosed. Councilman Ferrara said the pricing will be based on fair market values, which he says, will be "sizeable."
Ms. Markowski informed the audience that the developer plans to hold a series of public meetings in August and September, at which time the prices will be announced and floor plans unveiled.
She also mentioned that the developer will be giving a $2 million endowment to the Town of North Hempstead for affordable senior housing.
5- Ms. Schods questioned how effectively the owners of the facility could prevent residents of the facility from adding more school age children to the community. Ellen Markowski replied that the exclusion of children under the age of 18 is a requirement in the zoning.
"What about in an emergency situation where grandparents may have to take children in?", Ms. Shods asked. She noted that court cases in Florida have been won by senior housing residents who fought age-restriction on these grounds.
Ellen Markowski replied that New York and Florida law may differ, but if the case arose, "We'd fight it,"
She also noted that residents move to senior housing because of the rules, not in spite of them.
6- Douglas Schlafer expressed concern over setting a precedence by allowing six-story buildings in the Town. "They will create less than aesthetically pleasing vistas," he said.
Port News contacted TONH Planning Commissioner Michael Levine who clarified this issue. Six-story buildings in the Town of North Hempstead are only permissible in tracts of land with Planned Unit Development (P.U.D) zoning. This site-specific zoning is only considered in tracts of land of more than 100 acres. It must be appropriate for the location and is a binding master plan for the entire site (i.e. the whole 460-acre Morewood parcel).
Commissioner Levine noted that the six story buildings will not be all mass. He explained that the center of the building will be six stories, but the wings of the buildings will vary from three, four and five story levels.
Councilwoman Doreen Banks also noted that the developer requested the six story congregate care building because "it's easier to take care of elderly people" in a more compact unit, as opposed to one that is spread out.
7- Some controversy arose over whether the community had sufficient input into the project. Councilman Tony D'Urso, who, along with Ms. Banks, are the two sitting councilmembers who were on the board throughout the process, took exception to the claims that the public was deprived of opportunities to give its input. He said that some made it sound as if the town board tried to "sneak the project through."
He reported that the following 42 public meetings had taken place: six Morewood Coalition meetings between 3/23/94 and 1/23/96; five Town Board Public Hearings between 9/26/94 and 7/15/97; and eight other meetings, including, among other topics, Roundtable meeting with Port residents-12/9/96, Civic Summit-2/4/97, meetings with the Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington one each from 11/3/97 to 4/10/97 on financial issues, environmental issues, traffic issues and general update. He added that 23 other resolutions appeared on the Town Board calendars, inviting public discussion. "Is this any way to sneak a project through?" he asked.
In his opening comments, Curt Trinko of RFAMBPW addressed the community input issue. In his view, "The Town believes that the resource issues have been adequately addressed at a series of hearings over the past five years. Residents respectfully disagrees. During the preparation of the draft GEIS and final GEIS on the property, the resource demands of a residential development were not addressed other than in broad concepts. No details were discussed. Even with the preparation and adoption of a P.U.D. (Planned Unit Development) for the Morewood property, these resource needs for a residential development were still not addressed, or dealt with in detail, but again were handled conceptually." Mr. Trinko added, "Moreover, there were continual commitments made that any specific development proposals on Morewood would be fully explored and scrutinized in public forums before their approval."
Councilwoman Doreen Banks took exception to the claim that the resource demands of the development had not been addressed. She advised that the Town Board had met with the sewer district which reported that it had the capacity to handle the new development, however, it needed a force main. The board approved the necessary funds for this line. Funding this infratructure expense indicated a "significant effort" on the part of the board to ensure that infrastructure costs were born by the whole town and not just Port Washington, she noted.
She reported that the board also met with Lilco and the Water District. At these meetings, Councilwoman Banks said that she believes, "We carefully negotiated on behalf of the Port Washington community." She added that the board promised to do everything in its power to reduce water usage, not only in the new development, but also in Manorhaven Beach Park and Bar Beach.
Another controversy centered around Town Supervisor May Newburger's absence from the meeting. In his opening remarks, General Council President Barry Siegel said that he was advised that Supervisor Newburger had been "afforded the opportunity to schedule this event any day of her choosing," and then added, "She declined."
However, Ellen Markowski reported that the only notification the supervisor received was a general fax that was circulated to others stating the new date and location of the meeting, which had been rescheduled from April. She produced a copy of the fax with a handwritten note on the fax allegedly from Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington's Mike Blumenfeld stating, "May, Note new date and location." "I need to set the record straight, said Ms. Markowski, "The date was not cleared with May."
*Jennifer Wilson Pines, a member of the Audubon Society, finds the project "unsettling," in part, because she fears that what natural habitat is left at the Morewood site will be turned into more golfing facilities in the future.
*Bob O'Brien said, "It's not a good design. It looks like a ghetto."
*Architect Eric Pick is concerned that, based on the site plan drawings, the mature trees currently on the property will not be used by the developer.
He also does not feel that the project has been looked at as a "totality."
*One gentleman asked, "If the development goes bust, is there a contingency plan?"
* Councilman James O'Connor informed the audience that in the short time that they've been on the Town Board, both he and Councilman Ferraro had voted on six items related to the Morewood property. Each time they voted no, "on principle," according to O'Connor, because he and Ferraro feel that the project is too large in scope, and many questions still had to be answered.