Harbor Isle development a toss-up

Town reserves judgment on $90 million project


After a contentious two-hour Hempstead Town Board hearing at which more than 20 people commented on a proposal to build 32 condominiums and 140 rental units on a contaminated piece of land in Harbor Isle, the board reserved its decision on the project, pushing the process to at least Oct. 15 and most likely until mid-November.

Farmingdale-based Posillico Development, in partnership with the Virginia-based Avalon Bay Communities, plans to build a development called the Battery at Harbor Isle & Avalon Yacht View on Island Parkway South and Sheridan Place in Harbor Isle, a small, 490-home community that shares a zip code with the Village of Island Park but is part of the Town of Hempstead. The $90 million project would include 140 rental apartments and 32 condominiums, and the condos would have luxury amenities such as boat slips.

The Town of Hempstead, however, has a covenant on its books that would limit the number of rental units in the Harbor Isle plan to 10 percent of the total number of units.

The Oct. 1 hearing was the beginning of an administrative process to decide whether the covenant would be lifted by the town to allow the 140 rental units. Once the board makes a decision, a formal vote on the application will be scheduled. The next meeting at which a decision could be announced is set for Oct. 15. Two more meetings will be held on Nov. 12 and 26.

In the audience on Oct. 1 were more than a dozen yellow-shirted union members, lending support to residents who oppose the plan. There were also more than 150 Harbor Isle residents, the great majority of whom indicated with their clapping and cheering that they, too, opposed the plan.

The developers, Michael Posillico and Matthew Whalen, a senior vice president of Avalon Bay Communities, addressed the board, detailing what they wanted to build. Posillico said that he was aware of the community’s opposition to rental units, but said that it made little difference whether the development would be all condos or a mix of condos and rentals.

“The only difference is who they pay their money to each month,” he said. “Renters pay to the landlord in the form of rent, and condo owners pay it to the bank in the form of mortgage payments.”

Posillico added that the plan had the approval of the Island Park Civic Association and the Chamber of Commerce. For that, he received boos.

“There has been a lot of fear-mongering about this project,” he said. “I’m here to tell you the truth.”

He said that a cleanup of the toxic site would begin as soon as the board lifted the covenant, and that the site should be cleaned by sometime in 2015. The rental units would be built soon after the cleanup was certified, and the condos would be built as the rental units were occupied.

Whalen said that Avalon Bay already has 570 rental units in the Town of Hempstead, and that they are more than 98 percent occupied. The units, he said, are aimed at two demographics — young professionals under age 35, and empty-nesters.

Whalen pointed out that a two-bedroom unit would rent for around $3,300 a month and would be suitable for someone earning a little more than $200,000 a year, and that the past successes of Avalon Bay developments show that the demographic is “doable.”

One-bedroom rentals would start at $2,800 a month.

More than two dozen Harbor Isle residents disagreed with the developers, arguing that the project would impact residents’ quality of life by bringing transient renters and increased traffic, and would stress the infrastructure.

Audrey Rosenberg, who has lived in the community for 40 years, grew emotional as she addressed the board. “I don’t want my kids in a community with rentals,” she said. “They change the entire fabric of the community. It will make it much less safe for the kids, who now can play in the streets with little traffic, and it will force many of those who have lived here all our lives to leave and move elsewhere.”

Rosenberg got a loud reaction from the audience, with many clapping and yelling, “Right!”

Nicholas Mela, a retired New York City police officer who lives on Island Parkway, adjacent to the development site, was even more forthright. “What do I care what the unions want, what Island Park wants?” he told the board. “They have no say in whether or not the yuppies come to our small community. They have nothing to do with us and should not have a say. Only Harbor Isle should have a say. They don’t care about my grandson riding his bike or playing basketball in the street. The developers just want the yuppie money.

“This is not Rockville Centre or Garden City,” Mela continued, referring to two other Avalon Bay communities. “This is Harbor Isle, with two small bridges in and out and nothing but one-family homes.”

Mela later met a Herald reporter at the site, pointing out the problems that he believes would come from building the development — the two bridges, the long walk to the train station from the site, the limited number of streets and the predominance of single-family homes.

Others complained about overtaxing the schools in Island Park, which students from Harbor Isle attend, overcrowded roads and the potential overcrowding of the parking lot at the Island Park Long Island Rail Road station.

The project would increase Harbor Isle’s population by 35 percent,” said Mark Tannenbaum, a resident who is also the vice president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t want transients. Nobody knows we’re here, and nobody comes here unless they have business here. The project would open us up to those who don’t know Harbor Isle and who don’t care about our quality of life. They have no family roots here, and no reason to respect the community as our homeowners do.”

Several union officials spoke against the plan, describing Avalon Bay as bad for local workers in both the construction and maintenance of its projects.

Roger Klaman, a business manager for the Long Island Federation of Labor, said that residents of a community are impacted by development decisions, and that this plan should be defeated. “Policy decisions should keep local workers working,” he said. “We have grave concerns about Avalon Bay. The company has been cited numerous times for pay infractions, and often brings in out-of-state workers, taking the money out of the community rather than maintaining good jobs for local workers.”

While board members did not offer their opinions, Councilman Anthony Santino, who represents portions of Oceanside and Island Park, questioned the developers closely, telling them that the price point for the rental apartments seemed high. “You’re asking empty-nesters to pay more than $40,000 a year in rent, and that seems high for somebody who probably sold their house for $300,000 or $400,000,” Santino said. “That seems high, and I’d say the same for the young professionals you spoke about. I’m trying to figure out who could afford those kind of rents and would want to live in Harbor Isle. It tends to suggest that you aren’t looking to attract locals, those who grew up in local communities, but outsiders.”

After the meeting, Santino said that he is in favor of rental units because there are “limited housing opportunities for kids coming back to their communities after college, some who are now living in illegal basement apartments or their old bedrooms.

“There has to be housing for them,” he said, “but it has to be affordable. Very few young professionals would be able to pay the price point asked by Avalon Bay.”

Council officials declined to comment on when a decision might be made.