Town of Hempstead officials voted 6 to 1 on May 7 to approve the site plan for a $60 million, 230-unit Rockaway Avenue apartment complex. The project has met with strong opposition from many residents.
Dubbed Woodcrest Village Park, the four-story, 260,000-square-foot rental complex, which would be close to the East Rockaway train station, is intended to attract young professionals who might otherwise move out of Nassau County. It would replace a 105-unit Woodcrest rental complex that was demolished in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The project would include 421 parking spaces, a large increase from the 190 offered at the old complex.
Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, the only official to vote against approving the site plan, told the Herald that he didn’t oppose it, but shared many of the concerns that residents have, including the impact the influx of hundreds of new residents would have on traffic. He noted that the vote wasn’t to approve the project, but rather simply confirmed that it conformed to town Building Department code and allowed it to move forward.
“I voted no, not because I disagree,” D’Esposito said. “I think that anything is better than having empty lands and vacant lots in Oceanside or any part of my district, but I do have some concerns about the application. As the representative for the community, I felt I needed to let our residents know that I understood their concerns, and I, too, have reservations about how this will be going forward.”
D’Esposito said that representatives from his office met with developers to discuss scaling down the project, but ultimately they decided to keep it as planned. “I am all for taking land and developing it into something, especially when it’s unused,” he said. “It’s better for the tax base, better for the community and helps property values.”
Town spokesman Michael Fricchione said that five departments reviewed the site plans, including the engineering, traffic, street lighting, highways and conservation and waterways departments. "They determined that impacts on traffic and the environment, including Mill River, would be negligible," Fricchione said. He added that the site plan still has to be approved by the Nassau County Planning Commission, which will also look at potential impacts on traffic and the environment.
He added, however, that the studies that were conducted did not look at impacts on the school district, but noted that they are small apartments that are being designed for millennials, empty nesters and young professionals who want to commute into the city every day, not families with children.
Residents from the community are encouraged to express their concerns. The Town's elected officials welcome a dialog with anyone who wants to discuss the project in order to ensure that everyone's concerns are being properly addressed by the Town and the developer.
The Oceanside Civic Group, which was organized in opposition to the project, has shared many concerns with D’Esposito and other officials. The group was started by a few residents, but has grown to about 150 members, according to Aaron Meyer, one of its founding members. Meyer said he was upset that the town did not listen to feedback from residents before green-lighting the project.
“The town has yet again pointedly ignored our concerns, even after repeated attempts to explain our issues with the project and how it’s been fast-tracked effectively behind our backs,” he said.
The group met with Nassau County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Richard Kessel on Oct. 10 to learn why a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement was voted on before the site plan was finalized. The county IDA approved a 15-year PILOT sales tax exemption and mortgage-recording tax abatement in September. 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 announced the project alongside County Executive Laura Curran, 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, at a news conference last September. “This fits right into our vision for economic development right here in Nassau County — transit-oriented development,” Curran said at the event. “It’s rental housing that is accessible to our train stations, and that’s what should be happening right here.”
The property was originally zoned by the Town of Hempstead as Residence CA, which allows for multiple-family dwellings with a height limit of up to two and a half stories, or 35 feet, but in March the Hempstead Town Council unanimously approved a zoning change to Resident CA-S, which allows for building heights to reach four and a half stories, or 60 feet.
Many residents expressed concern that the school district might see more of an impact than town officials have let on, and that residents of the complex would patronize East Rockaway businesses instead of those in Oceanside.
Meyer said he has considered filing an Article 78 action, which is a challenge to a local government’s decision, but he said he planned to reach out to other residents and local leaders first. “If that is what’s necessary to stand up for Oceansiders,” he said, “then that is what I’ll do.”