More than 40 residents filed into the Sons of Italy in America headquarters on Nov. 19 as the Oceanside Civic Group hosted a meeting to protest the construction of a Rockaway Avenue apartment complex that was approved by the Town of Hempstead.
“We are not anti-development,” said Aaron Meyer, an attorney and one of the organizers of the Oceanside Civic Group. “We understand and embrace productive development, which is indeed necessary to ensure that Oceanside thrives even in this changing world.” He added, however, that he believed the project slated for Oceanside was not the right fit, citing potential issues such as increased traffic and overcrowding at schools as his main concerns.
Meyer said the group met for two hours to discuss the issue and was drafting a petition to present to the Town Board. If its concerns are not addressed, he added, the group might pursue legal action against town officials.
In September, County Executive Laura Curran, county Industrial Development Agency Chairman Richard Kessel and representatives of Vision Long Island and the Feil Organization, a Manhattan-based development firm, which has owned the roughly 5.2-acre Oceanside property since 1979, announced a new project for the site.
The plan is to construct a $60 million, 230-unit apartment complex at 2930 Rockaway Ave., where a much smaller complex stood before being demolished in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Dubbed Woodcrest Village Park, the proposed four-story, 260,000- square-foot rental complex, near the East Rockaway train station, is intended to attract young professionals who might otherwise move out of Nassau County. The project would also include 421 parking spaces, compared with 190 at the old complex.
While county and town officials have lauded the project, citing the hope that it would bring in more tax revenue and foot traffic to local businesses, the Oceanside Civic Group formed in opposition to it. In October, members of the group met with Kessel to address concerns about the IDA’s granting of a 15-year PILOT sales tax exemption and mortgage-recording tax abatement to the project’s developers. Under the agreement, Woodcrest Village Park would pay about $114,000 for the first three years, after which the total would increase steadily to $1.9 million during the final year of the deal.
Kessel told the Herald at the time that he was prepared to meet with the group and address its concerns, but that many of its issues with the project would be better addressed by Town of Hempstead officials. Despite concerns from an increasing number of residents, Kessel said he believed the units would be good for Oceanside.
“We approved it because we are very comfortable with the project,” Kessel said of the tax break. “It’s transit-oriented, it provides affordable units for people and we like the project, and we felt, from a financial perspective, that we want to encourage affordable, transit-oriented housing, and this qualified for that.”
In March, the Town Board unanimously voted to change the zoning for the site, increasing the height limit from two and a half stories, or 35 feet, to four and a half stories, or 60 feet. According to town code, however, such a change can be approved only if the site is adjacent to a train station, is on a county or state road, is on a bus route and is at least 200 feet from residential areas. Though half the criteria were met, the N36 bus route was cut in April 2017, and there are residential areas less than 200 feet away from the site.
Requests for comment from town and county officials and representatives of the Feil Organization were unanswered at press time.
Curran said at a news conference announcing the project in September that it would be a boon for Oceanside. “This fits right into our vision for economic development right here in Nassau County — transit-oriented development,” she said. “It’s rental housing that is accessible to our train stations, and that’s what should be happening right here.”
Meyer said the civic group has grown in recent months since the project was announced, with most people expressing concern that the announcement was sudden. “It seems like every time we turn around, we’re seeing another project where the first that anyone hears about it is when something was approved,” he said, noting that he has contacted county and town officials, but his questions have not been answered.
John Mannone, an attorney who organized the civic group and lives next door to the proposed project, also expressed concern about how few details of the proposal were shared before its approval. “The problem is this is just so over-the-top and just suddenly appeared one day, and we didn’t catch it,” Mannone said. “I live next door, and I don’t even know. It’s like, how can it be?”
The Feil Organization first presented a proposal to redevelop the land in September 2016, and the PILOT application was sent to the IDA in December 2017. Detractors have pointed to the increasingly troubling traffic issues at the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Lawson Boulevard, which are exacerbated by a Long Island Rail Road crossing on Atlantic Avenue. The nearby Marina Pointe, an 80-unit waterfront condominium complex that is under construction across the East Rockaway village line, will worsen the problems, residents have said they fear.
Meyer said he would like to see a smaller-scale development at the site, which would have less of an impact on traffic and the nearby Florence A. Smith Elementary School No. 2. Oceanside School District officials were told that the project would result in an increase of 12 to 15 students, but school board President Sandie Schoel said she had worries.
“Am I going to say I’m not concerned? I’m always concerned,” she said shortly after the project was announced. “But I would have liked to have seen a more formal presentation. I would like to have seen their research.”
Meyer said the group is now drafting a petition to present to town officials at their December meeting. “We’re trying hard to be non-confrontational,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is be productive. The endgame is this thing can’t be built. Something needs to be there. Something should be there, but this is not it.”
Peter Belfiore contributed to this story.