A public hearing to consider the application of Sandy Hollow Associates, a subsidiary of Jobco and the developers interested in developing Dallas Realty's 41 acre tract of land in the Village of Port Washington North into senior housing, was held on Oct. 13 at the Polish American Hall. The proposal requires a rezoning of the property, by the board of trustees, from light industrial to a "golden age zone."
The proposal calls for 327 units with eight clustered units per acre and requires that at least one owner be over 55 years of age. The prices of the units, which include one-story, garden and condominiums will range from $175-$250,000 per unit.
Approximately 300 people attended the hearing, with 29 people speaking. Nearly all of the residents who spoke opposed the proposal for several reasons.
Several residents reported that the traffic congestion in town is already "horrendous." Several speakers disputed the claims made by traffic expert Ron Hill of Dunne Engineering who was hired by Sandy Hollow Associates, that a senior facility only generates 50 trips per hour. They pointed out that, with an age restriction of only 55, many individuals/couples still drive and most likely work full or part time, while maintaining active lifestyles. Also noted was the fact that the seniors would have visitors. Challenging Mr. Hill's conclusion, one resident stated, "The traffic impact would not be negligible."
Many residents stressed that the increase in traffic and population is a peninsula-wide concern, especially with the additional senior housing complex due to be constructed shortly at Morewood.
In terms of the proposed development adding to in-town traffic Sandy Hollow Attorney Herbert Balin informed the audience that the facility would run a jitney shuttle bus around town to help reduce any additional traffic generated by the facility.
Michael Pontillo, a principal of Sandy Hollow Assoc., also pointed out that if the property were to be developed to the maximum under its existing light industrial zoning, 1,800 cars would enter and 255 leave in the morning rush, and 302 would enter and 2,200 leave in the evening rush. (He noted that this might occur if an office building or factory were constructed on the site.) He also noted that the truck traffic would be increased.
However, the residents were not convinced that this scenario would develop. In fact some residents accused the developer of using "scare tactics" and presenting worst case scenarios.
The developer stated that senior housing has one of the least negative effects on the community compared to other potential uses of property. However the residents expressed concern over the developer's ability to strictly adhere to the age restrictions imposed on the senior facility, which, in addition to the 55 and over age requirement, includes a prohibition that does not allow school age children to reside in the complex.
At issue with the prohibition against school age children are residents' fears that the facility might add students to the school district at some time in the future.
Residents posed a hypothetical situation to the developer in which a grandparent, under pressing circumstances, has to take in their grandchildren. "You can't just turn them away," they said.
Mr. Balin replied that the homeowner's association would have to enforce the restriction, which he stressed would be part of the restrictive covenants that run with the land.
One resident noted, however, that a recent court case in Florida ruled that even though age restrictions were in place at a senior housing facility there, the grandparents could still take in their grandchild. In a post meeting discussion a resident noted that the courts feel that the welfare of the child supersedes covenants.
Mr. Balin reiterated that the restrictions imposed on the facility would prevail in a court decision. Resident Rita DeVita exclaimed, "Who would have to pay all the cost of litigation? It would be the Village."
Residents also expressed fear that if more moderately priced senior housing were to be available in town, senior citizens would downsize from their three and four bedroom homes, and consequently have young couples with children purchase their larger homes, thus adding to the increasing student enrollments in the school district.
It was also pointed out that if the property remains zoned for industrial, there's no potential risk whatsoever of increasing the school population.
In line with concerns about the school system, Ben Zwirn noted that with 700 units at Morewood and 300 in the 41 acres, an additional 1,000 senior citizens could be voting on school budgets. He pointed out that this block of voters traditionally votes school budgets down because they're looking to pay the lowest taxes possible. And, he added, since this group in particular can only sell to buyers without school age children, improving the quality of the school system doesn't make a difference to them. "The entire flavor of the community will change dramatically," said Mr. Zwirn.
Another concern regarding the 55 and over age requirement was expressed by resident Martin Vogel. "What if the properties don't sell? What do you do then?," Mr. Vogel asked the developer.
Other residents, as well, expressed fears that if the developer is unable to sell all of the units to seniors 55 years old and over, they would be forced to sell them to younger people, who in addition to having more active lifestyles that require more driving in town, may have school age children who would add to the already high student enrollments at the schools.
Dolores O'Brien, co-chair of the Responsible Development Committee of the General Council of Homeowners, doubts that a need exists for more senior housing.
Expressing another fear, Fern Arnold asked, "Could they eventually become rental properties?"
Mr. Balin replied that the Puntillo family has been in business for 48 years and usually builds very successful developments. He told the audience that to date no problems regarding age restrictions has come up.
Cautioning the board against rushing toward a significant break with the current zoning in favor of a relatively new type of zoning for senior residences, resident Wayne Wink made some interesting points about the viability of the proposal. He said that the "golden age" zoning has become the"strip mall of the '90s."
Explaining he said that in the '80s, retail bases expanded too quickly, which led to overproduction which ultimately led to the closing of many stores. "Owners simply walked away, our empty stores speak volumes about this practice," noted Mr. Wink.
He's now concerned that a developer could emerge to exploit the political climate favoring senior housing that currently exists, use that climate to push through a change of zoning and build and sell for profit a development which exceeds what any other zoning would allow. He fears that the developer will "simply walk away," leaving the management of the facility to a party who would need to make a profit from this facility. 'Even if Sandy Hollow Associates has the best intentions, local history is replete with examples of well meaning, misguided development, " Mr. Wink said. With 1,200 senior units in various stages of development on the Port Washington peninsula, Wayne urged the board to step back and learn from the examples they would set to see what kind of demand really exists.
Speaking on behalf of Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington and echoing the statements of others, Curt Trinko voiced concern over the fact that the proposed facility has only one ingress and egress (located on Pleasant Avenue). In addition, he's concerned about the density of the complex and its strain on public resources. He noted that at this time Residents has not taken a pro or con position, but is prepared to work with all people to ascertain the realistic costs to the public and the real demands on public services (i.e. water, sewer, fire dept., police dept, etc.) created by the project.
An attorney from Farrell, Fritz, Anthony Guardino, told the audience that the facility will create "more of a demand on municipal services than the applicant would like you to believe."
A female resident said that she's concerned about adding more senior citizens to the area, who are more likely to be in need of hospital services. At St. Francis, some people are already "kept in the halls," she said.
Strongly opposed to the proposal, Stretch Ryder of Thomson Industries said, "This development is not compatible with the industrial area (in Port North)." Saying that Thomson is typical of a business in an industrial location, he told the audience, "We're open seven/days a week and have three shifts a day. We have truck shipments, vehicles arriving and leaving the premises day and night. We have lighted parking lots, industrial noise, building generators and a myriad of other daily industrial operations that would cause the residents to object to our ongoing business requirements. He noted that even though homeowners agree to locate near the site, they still complain, "I didn't know this, or I didn't know that," which causes problems.
He noted further that the developer is looking for a maximum financial gain, with no regard for the community's needs or problems. He asked, "How much more can the infrastructure handle?" Addressing the board, he said, "You must look beyond your borders to benefit the entire community and also consider the negative impact the proposal will have on businesses. It's not good planning."
Ben Zwirn stated that commercial development is not a "dirty word." "Look at how well Thomson Industries, Stark Carpets, etc. maintain their properties." In terms of taxes and services Mr. Zwirn compared residential to commercial. "We (commercial) pay $3 per square foot on a 22,000 square foot building and receive no services from Port North. We pay for our own waste pickup. As far as traffic is concerned, "There's no commercial traffic on weekends. We only use roads designated for commercial traffic, unlike residential traffic that uses all roads in towns."
Several residents want the 41-acre parcel to become a park. Mrs. Mazur said the town "needs a bird sanctuary." When asked how much the 41 acres would cost, Mr. Balin compared it to the selling price of the 42 acres recently purchased at the Morewood property for the senior complex currently under construction: $28 million.
Resident Steve Kaplan envisions the 41 acres as a tract of land where "a lot of the landscapers and the people in the smaller businesses in town that aren't wanted in their areas could come and use it for parking and keeping their vehicles and landscaping equipment. That's not industrial. There will not be 1,800 vehicles in the morning, coming to work." He sees it as redirecting "the same vehicles that are presently in Port Washington."
Aside from the developers, two lone voices of support for the proposal spoke toward the end of the meeting.
One was Genaro Tallarico, who acknowledged that he is a member of the Scotto family, the owners of the 41 acres. He said, "Whether we go with light industry or housing, we're going to build on that property." Using sarcasm, he said, "Maybe light industry, with the helicopter flying in its executives like Thomson has graced us with for several years, maybe tractor trailers coming down so kids can't play by Mill Pond, would be better than housing."
Continuing in a facetious manner, he said, "I think it's a terrible idea that if you're over 55 or 65 that you should sell your houses because a family with children might move into Port Washington. That's horrible. I think we should just continue to build factories. I think rather than have families with children who might care about this town, we should have possibly 2,000 nonresidents."
"Unless you can afford to buy the land and make it a park (I can't afford to pay any more taxes on my house however), you have to be out of your collective minds if you think that an industrial park with strangers coming into this area is going to be better for us. Industry is not the answer for that property," Mr. Tallarico concluded.
The other "pro" proposal voice was implied by a septuagenarian who, responding to the strong opposition to the senior housing expressed at the hearing, stood up toward the end of the meeting and stated, "Maybe we should just shoot everyone over 70."
The developers promoted the positive points of the proposal, which include, according to them:
* providing much needed moderately priced senior housing, in a secure gated community, so Port seniors could now remain in town
* retaining the residential character of the Village
* providing a clubhouse for all Port North seniors;
* offering a plan that maximizes open space by using a cluster configuration;
* adding residents who would support the retail shops in the community;
* offering a better alternative to what could be constructed under the existing zoning.
Mr. Balin maintains that the facility will not be adding seniors to town because senior citizens from Port will be purchasing the units, for the most part.
A few speakers stated that they're not opposed to senior housing, they just do not want it at the 41 acres.
Resident Ed Moskowitz told Mayor Tom Pellegrino that he should recuse himself from voting on the rezoning because he is a friend of Mr. Scotto. The mayor replied that three quarters of the people in the audience would say they're friends of Mr. Scotto.
Resident Ivan Debel told the developer, "You're asking us to give you millions of dollars. How will this project affect us positively?" Mr. Balin replied that if the property remains zoned for industrial use, it would be a "disaster" for the community.
A few residents asked that the rezoning be determined by village referendum, a procedure that Village Attorney Steve Limmer said is not appropriate for proposals like this one.
At press time, the Port News was informed that an article appeared in Newsday with a headline that read "Senior Housing Plan Dropped." When reached for comment, Sandy Hollows attorney Herbert Balin said that this means that they're "going back to the drawing boards and reviewing our options." He said he had no idea at this time what kind of new proposal would be made. In answer to the question, would it be senior housing or industrial, he said, he didn't know. "Perhaps some housing and some industrial, or all one or the other," he said. He also said he has no idea when the revised proposal will be submitted.