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The stretch of property on lower Main Street between Jackson and Covert Streets has become a point of disagreement between developers, who want to build senior housing, and community members, who object to many aspects. While some modifications were made to the proposed construction of a 30-unit, three-story, senior independent living facility on this spot by Putnam Developers, a number of concerned individuals remain critical of the plan, anticipating increases in traffic and parking problems and the loss of the historic nature of the waterfront area that many consider the "heart" of Port Washington. Arguments on both sides were presented at a hearing of the Town of North Hempstead's Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on May 23. No decision has yet been made by the BZA, who will permit additional viewpoints and further information from concerned citizens through June 6. After this date, they will accept no further testimony on the subject, and after further study, will make a final decision.

In a May 24 telephone interview, Putnam Developers' attorney Thomas Pantelis said that his experts, a real estate appraiser and a traffic engineer, as well as a planner, pointed out the many merits of the plan at the hearing. Citing a need for senior housing, the experts also commented that this particular use generates less traffic than many other potential, and legal, uses. As to opponents' claims that it is oversized for the property, Mr. Pantelis said it complies with "the height, setback, and density [number of units] to code." "At its highest -- an average of 38 feet -- it is still less than the code allows," he said. Mr. Pantelis also said his real estate expert, Barry Nelson, indicated that when one looks at similar buildings, and examines the resale of those units, and the adjacent housing, the properties have all held their value.

"This is a conditional use permit, a form of permitted use," Mr. Pantelis explained, unlike the proposed assisted-living facility proposed several years ago. Therefore, he said, the BZA uses a different set of standards to evaluate the application. Nonetheless, the developers are seeking several variances. Currently, the properties are zoned for business use, with a narrow band zoned for residential use. Putnam developers would like a variance to move some of the proposed parking and landscaping into the section zoned residential. And as the Town code prohibits parking beneath buildings, the developers seek a variance to have some parking underground and some on grade level. In addition, they seek a variance to create smaller parking spaces (9' x 18') instead of to code (10' x 20'.) Mr. Pantelis did indicate he would review the outside parking spaces, and stated his willingness to amend the plan, if necessary. "We think this is a good plan ... and we are willing to fine-tune it," he added. Overall, he feels it is advantageous to "put senior residences where seniors can take advantage of parks, restaurants, the harbor, shops, and be part of the vitality of the town."

But there is strong opposition to the proposal; some are represented by Hempstead attorney Mark Birnbaum. Resident Tinu Thakore explained her objections and concerns -- with parking, with future facility management, with loss of historic character, with proof of the builder's credentials -- in a May 24 telephone interview. She believes that underground parking might pose a safety threat, especially when it came to fumes and the need to walk to an elevator. Moreover, "the entrance and exit to the underground parking lot is the same one, so the potential for possible accidents is great," she surmised. In addition, many residents would like a study of the environmental impact of digging so close to the waterfront, before any construction is done. "We don't know what the impact will be," she said. And the provision of 45 parking spots, she anticipates, will be inadequate. She mentions visitors and adult children, as just two additional groups whose parking needs have not been considered.

Opponents of the proposed development also point to the lack of a clear or cohesive plan for managing the facility, once built. Ms. Thakore said there was no evidence of any planning for garbage removal, or maintenance of the facility, for example. And once these details are given at the site plan phase, she said, the developers will have already been given permission, and it will be too late.

Perhaps most dismaying to many opponents is that the proposed plan requires the removal of what has been a very comfortable residential buffer between residential homes and the Main Street properties. Moreover, residents are unhappy that the building will be three stories and architecturally not in keeping with the historic character of the area. "Why is it that we should make a sacrifice of this buffer for a profit-making venture?" Ms. Thakore posed, adding that it was not equivalent to a non-profit community center for children, for instance. "We are abutting a residential sliver, and we will lose it to parking." She mentioned too that Sue Fitzgerald reminded the BZA of the master plan for the waterfront area, and that a Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington representative, Faithe Ann Scobo, spoke about the historical area.

"We aren't against construction, or seniors," Ms. Thakore explained. "Why not build three Victorian-type homes with apartments for seniors instead?"

Those wishing to express their views should do so before June 6; comments should be sent to the Board of Zoning Appeals, Town of North Hempstead, Plandome Road, Manhasset, NY 11030.


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