Whether it was because of traffic, environmental, parking or other concerns, many community members said they breathed a sigh of relief when the Hempstead Town Board voted on March 9 against a proposed three-story, 119-room assisted-living facility at the site of the Oceanside Jewish Center.
“We were very happy,” said Joyce Lipton, who lives near where the proposed facility would have been built. “The neighbors were very happy.”
Charles Weinraub, a real estate investor, planned to purchase 24,000 square feet of the 40,000-square-foot property from the OJC, which has struggled with declining membership for years and had sought to ease the burden with the sale. Weinraub planned to build the facility on the property, but after dozens of residents opposed it, the board denied the project, 7-0.
“I was thrilled and at the same time a little sad that OJC may not be able to remain in the community,” Lipton said. “But there are other options.”
Marc Weissman, an attorney who lives in Oceanside and advocated against the sale, said residents were open to the OJC developing the land, but would have preferred one-family homes to be built there. He said the area was already often snarled with traffic without such a facility, and noted that the homes within 25 feet of the planned facility would have had a three-story building in their backyards.
After the vote, Weissman expressed satisfaction. “I thought that the residents of Oceanside were heard,” he said.
Many residents said they were frustrated that OJC administrators did not communicate their plans for the sale with the surrounding community. Calls to the OJC requesting comment were not returned at press time.
Weinraub also did not return calls or emails seeking comment about the results of the vote and whether he planned to appeal or work out a deal for another project.
The March 9 hearing was open to in-person and virtual attendees as developers sought to rezone the southern half of the Brower Avenue property. It marked the second hearing after several residents spoke for or against the project in February.
At a Feb. 23 meeting, William Bonesso, an attorney who represents Weinraub and Madalay Holdings, spoke in favor of the project, citing a lack of assisted living facilities in the area.
“Long Island is an aging community,” he said. “We are in need of senior housing and assisted living facilities.”
Bonesso did not return a request for comment after the vote.
Had the development been approved, the northern half of the property would have remained the OJC, a center for religious services with a nursery school, but its catering hall would have been lost as part of the conversion. The center sought to divide the property amid declining membership, which only worsened in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
In September 2019, Weinraub announced that he sought to develop one of five projects: a 120-unit apartment building, a 120-unit senior housing complex, an assisted living facility, storage units or a medical office, before settling on the assisted living project. More than 100 Oceanside residents gathered in October 2019 to discuss their opposition to the project, and their sentiment intensified up to the town vote.
In a joint statement, Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin and Councilman Anthony D’Esposito explained that they denied the plan because of resident outcry.
“When residents speak up about issues impacting the suburban character of their neighborhoods, we take their opinions seriously,” they said. “. . . These residents raised an array of valid objections, including the potential for a significant increase in traffic and congestion within this residential community that is within close proximity to schools. Neighbors also expressed worries about the development’s lack of sufficient parking, as well as blocked sight lines that impede on the character of this beloved neighborhood.”
After the vote, Dave Dedonna, who lives less than a mile from the OJC, said he was pleased. “I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” he said. “It was satisfying because usually it doesn’t go that way, from what I see, so it was good.”
A resident named Brett, who requested not to give his last name because of his job in federal law enforcement, lives about 25 feet away from the OJC, on Sylvan Court, and said he and many residents were “shocked” when they saw the size and scope of the project that developers sought to build.
When the 7-0 vote was cast, he said, he was happy. “When you heard that, as a resident, that was great, and I think everybody had a smile on their face,” he said. “As a community, we don’t mind them building something here. Build private houses, build something nice. Not something that’s going to affect the community in a negative way.”
Marty Salzberg echoed many of the other residents’ sentiments, adding that she hoped the OJC could find another way to survive.
“I was shocked,” she said of the vote. “I was stunned. My jaw dropped. We were very surprised, and it’s the sort of thing where if they came in with a right-sized project, the community would support it.”