The 41 acres in Port Washington North owned by Dallas Realty was once again the source of some "development" controversy. At a public hearing held on Dec. 11 by the Village of Port Washington North, the board of trustees listened to citizens' comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement to help the board determine whether or not it should approve a change of zone for the property. The rezoning involves changing the parcel from Economic Development A to a new proposed Senior Housing District and development of the site in accordance with the new zoning.
The proposal seeks to develop a gated, 327-unit, senior community of one and two bedroom ranches and townhouses of traditional architecture. Prices for the units range from $175,000 to mid-$300,000. An age restriction will require that one of the applicants for each unit be at least 62 years of age.
According to the developers, Sandy Hollow Associates, on 58 percent of the parcel, open space will be preserved which will include a large park, several ponds and walking trails. A clubhouse with an indoor swimming pool and recreational areas will also be on the premises. This will be open to Port Washington North seniors for a fee. Additionally, a jitney will be provided to transport residents to various spots around Port.
The site is located on the northerly side of Pleasant Avenue and the westerly side of Harbor Road, and within the boundaries confined by Valley Road, Glamford Road, Radcliff Avenue and Channel Drive. The main entrance to the development will be on Pleasant Avenue at that intersection on Harbor Road.
During the hearing, some called the property an "oasis," others called it "dump" and asked if anyone had ever picnicked there. Some called it a bird sanctuary that should not be disturbed; others countered that providing affordable housing for our senior citizens should be more important than birds.
Debate also centered around the issue of what the best benefit to the residents was when comparing an industrial use of the land to a senior housing one. Some said they preferred industrial because the site is adjacent to several businesses (i.e. Thomson Industries, Fiesta) and this keeps the commercial area in whole: others argued that senior housing is a much less offensive use of the land in terms of additional traffic, use of the infrastructure, etc. Many also spoke of the strong need for affordable senior housing in our area.
Some believe that the land could best be used for park and recreation, if certain types of funding are pursued. However, several speakers did not see this as being feasible because of the millions of dollars that would have to be raised to purchase, develop and maintain the site as a park.
Questions regarding the DEIS were recorded and the "substantive" ones will be answered in the Final Environmental Impact Statement, which should be completed in early 2002. The board of trustees will be accepting written comments from citizens until Dec. 21. These questions/concerns/doubts included the following:
*Lisa Liquori, a planner representing RFAMBPW, stated that senior housing projects usually are studios or have only one bedroom and are built as one-story structures. (The proposal has some two bedroom units and some two-story buildings.) In her estimation, this indicates that the project does not fit the senior housing criteria. She feels that important items that are deemed to have a significant impact on the enviornment, like water usage and traffic, should be adjusted to reflect regular housing.
(Ms. Liquori's comment drew criticism from seniors, however, because, as some seniors said, they feel that just because they're older, it does not mean that they should be squeezed into smaller quarters, and might like to have family or friends stay with them from time to time.)
*As the housing will be open to all seniors, and impact all residents on the peninsula, one gentleman wanted to know why neighboring municipalities were not invited into the preliminary process.
* Village of Baxter Estates Mayor James Neville seconded this criticism of the DEIS saying that Baxter Estates, a village adjacent to Port North, will be impacted. He cited the additional traffic on Central Drive as one impact, and also High and Columbia Streets, which are already being used as short cuts, which were not included in the statement's traffic assessment.
* Adding to the above statements, County Legislator Craig Johnson declared that the development can't be evaluated in a vacuum. He reported that he gave the plans to the county's department of public works for assessment. He noted that the DEIS traffic report did not include any site generation from Harbor Road to Shore Road. He also said that the number of cars estimated at Shore Road and Main Street need to be reviewed and adjusted because of slight inaccuracies in reporting the varying green time at the light.
* Because of the composition of the soil, which was a sand mine years ago, questions regarding special construction needs have to be addressed more comprehensively before the rezoning is approved. Also ways to mitigate the affects of pile driving, necessary for construction on the site, have to be identified.
* Jennifer Rimmer from RFAMBPW wants the FEIS to explain how the developers plan to enforce the age restriction of 62 years of age.
* Concern over the fact that the 41 acres serves as a watershed, which provides space for nature to clean itself, was expressed. According to James Eisenmann of HarborSafe, this will have a negative impact on the ongoing efforts to cleanup Manhasset Bay.
* Edda Ramsdell requested that the FEIS have the developer make a commitment to the prices of the units as stated by the developer. Also, she asks if the owners will be able to sublet the units or buy more than one. She also questioned the jitney service: is it an absolute, and if so, will it be handicapped accessible?
* Criticizing the report in general, Bob Keane said that it failed to recommend any remedial actions for identified problems. Dan Donatelli, president of the General Council of Homeowners also stated that there are unanswered issues for all Port residents that still have to be addressed in the final statement.
* Several questions and comments were made regarding water usage. Because there is confusion and conflicting reports, the Port News has asked the Water District to give us a statement regarding water usage for this parcel. At press time, we had not yet received it, but will publish it as soon as it's submitted.
The businesses adjacent to the parcel, specifically Fiesta Nuts, Thomson Industries and Franklin Stainless, all object to the project.
Thomson Industries' Stretch Ryder wants to maintain the balance of industry and residential in the community created years ago when the village planners established the zoning. He claims that over the years Dallas Realty has not marketed the property for the use it is zoned for.
The owner of the 41 acres, Anthony Scotto, a Port resident himself with several family members living in town, responded that because he cares about the community, he prefers to see the property used in a less intrusive way than industrial.
And, shaking up the fragile, peaceful co-existence of commercial and residential interests, one speaker suggested that Thomson with its many employees and helicopter, didn't really care about the town. "How many employees are PW residents?" How many live here and pay taxes?" asked one speaker." And, "Do we want people or commuters?," queried another who added that the site has been an eyesore for years.
Ms. Talvee of Franklin Steel asked why the buffer between her company's property and the proposed housing units was so small. Strongly opposed to the project, she stated that her firm is considering legal action to stop it.
Ben Zwirn, owner of Fiesta Nuts, commented that our infrastructure is already maxed out. He's concerned that the Fire Medics won't be able to handle the additional emergency calls to the development, which he feels will be more than usual because of the age of the homeowners.
Walter Trapp, chief of the Port Washington Fire Department, concurred stating that the development will place a major burden on the already overburdened department. "This will put us over the top," he asserted. He noted, "We will need a lot more ambulance service and cause us to have to take other measures that will impact the community."
However, one neighboring "business," the Long Island Alzheimer's Foundation on Channel Drive, welcomes the development. Janet Walsh LIAF's founder said, "Affordable senior housing, like Mill Pond Acres is a viable option for the site." She explained that the stimulation and socialization that occurs in a senior housing atmosphere helps deter dementia in the elderly.
Many speakers made emotional appeals for the need for senior housing. Several seniors reported that opposition is raised whenever they want to build housing in their district for them. "We've fought the wars, paid taxes all these years and deserve homes close to our loved ones and communities," they say.
Younger people argued for the seniors, who "helped build Long Island," asserting that it's our duty not to let this wonderful opportunity disappear.
One gentleman noted that in addition to adding tax revenues (school alone is almost an additional $1 million each year), property values also rise.
Another stated that the developers aren't asking for tax abatements, or placing any burden on the school district.
"It's been a vacant waste dump for 30 years, " said one speaker. "It's a better choice than an office building," said another.
But most speakers who spoke in opposition to the proposal, stated that they're not opposed to senior housing. They just do not want it on this site.
Those arguing in favor of the project assert that the current industrial zoning could bring a much more significant negative impact to the area. They explain that under its constitutional right to private property, Dallas Realty can develop the property using zoning that allows office development of 712,800 sq. ft., or industrial development of 891,700 sq. ft. As a result, the developed site could generate substantially greater levels of traffic, up to 2,200 additional cars, than the proposed development of the almost 600 estimated for the senior community during a typical weekday.
This fear that an industrial complex will be built there is the reason 19 homeowners in the immediate area of Glamford and Radcliffe, who are the ones who are most affected by the project, say that they support the proposal, albeit with a decrease in the project's overall density. Craig Werle noted that ideally leaving the property as open space is preferred, but believes that this is not realistic.
Mr. Scotto claims that he currently has an offer on the property to develop the site with an industrial use. If the property is not rezoned, he will move forward on the other deal, he said. "I'm tired of paying $200,000 a year in real estate taxes for the property."
Some speakers argued in favor of industrial development on the site, like Phyllis Reiff. She said, "An industrial park doesn't have traffic 24 hours/day, 7 days a week.
However Guy LaMotta believes that an industrial park would destroy the peninsula. He also questioned the need for another one citing the fact that there are 10 vacant stores in Manorhaven already. "We have enough. We don't need any more."
He called the opponents of the proposal just "anti-development" people who object to every proposal. He said if some critics had their way, the Morewood sand pits would never have been developed. "We wouldn't have the beautiful golf course there today," he said.
On a humorous note, LaMotta quipped, "When the ducks pay my taxes, I'll listen."
If the board approves the rezoning, it must then be approved by the Nassau County Planning Commission.