Editor's note: A previous version of this article noted that a site plan was approved by the Town of Hempstead, but it was only received and approval is pending. We regret the error.
After a $60 million, 230-unit Rockaway Avenue rental apartment complex project was announced on Sept. 6, the Oceanside Civic Group has grown in numbers as residents search for answers to questions about the plan.
Many locals have denounced the project, citing its size and traffic concerns, and Oceanside Civic Group organizer John Mannone said that some members met with Nassau County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Richard Kessel on Oct. 10 to learn about why a payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement was approved.
“The problem is this is just so over-the-top and just suddenly appeared one day, and we didn’t catch it,” Mannone, an attorney, said of the project. “I live next door and I don’t even know. It’s like, how can it be?”
The civic group, which was formed, he said, after the project was announced, has about 75 members, and is growing daily.
Kessel, County Executive Laura Curran 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 the project at a September news conference. They lauded the creation of a transit-oriented development while also stressing the potential boon it could be for local businesses.
Dubbed Woodcrest Village Park, the four-story, 260,000-square-foot rental complex is intended to attract young professionals, who would otherwise move out of Nassau County, with its proximity to the East Rockaway train station. It will replace a 105-unit Woodcrest rental complex that was demolished in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The project will also include 421 parking spaces, a large increase from the 190 offered at the old complex.
The county IDA approved a 15-year PILOT sales tax exemption and mortgage-recording tax abatement. 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.
But many residents like Mannone were confused about why the PILOT agreement was approved before a site plan was. “How do they give this tax break when it actually hasn’t been approved?” Mannone asked.
He and other members of the Ocean-side Civic Group met with Kessel, who said he was eager to answer questions, though he mostly deferred them to the Town of Hempstead.
“We approved it because we are very comfortable with the project,” Kessel said of granting 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.”
But Aaron Meyer, also an attorney and member of the Oceanside Civic Group, questioned why the town approved a zoning change in the first place.
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.
According to town code, however, approval for such a change can only happen 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 away 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 were not returned as of press time. Last month, town spokesman Michael Fricchione said officials had received a site plan and were awaiting the results of a county traffic study.
At the news conference announcing the project, Curran gave it a glowing reception.
“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 he was worried about the traffic ramifications that a project of this magnitude would have on the area. “It’s bad right now,” he said. “You add 400-some-odd cars and it’ll become a nightmare.”
Meyer added that he lives off Lawson Boulevard, and noted that the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Lawson is already backed up with traffic daily, which is exacerbated by the Long Island Rail Road crossing on Atlantic.
The area could be more congested soon because of nearby Marina Pointe, an 80-unit waterfront condominium complex that is under construction across the East Rockaway village line.
Meyer said he is also concerned that the school district might be more impacted than town officials have let on, and that
residents of the complex would patronize East Rockaway businesses instead of those in Oceanside. In addition, he raised concerns about the environmental impact that the complex would have on nearby Mill River.
Kessel said residents have a right to oppose the project, but also noted that it has many supporters. He said that, overall, his meeting with the group was positive.
“I thought it was a great meeting,” he said. “I appreciated them coming in. I listened to them and explained what our role was.”
Meyer said the group plans to continue its fight against the project.
“The fact that we’re an unincorporated hamlet and don’t have an active government doesn’t mean we’re going to sit around and let this happen,” he said.
Peter Belfiore contributed to this story.