Lynbrook Mayor Alan Beach and the board of trustees voted unanimously on Monday to cancel an application from a developer who sought to build a 200-unit apartment complex and four-story parking garage in downtown Lynbrook.
“Over the course of the last few weeks, as the board has received and reviewed application material from the applicant, I communicated to the applicant that the application, as currently proposed, is not in keeping with the character of our downtown,” Beach said. “We have communicated to the applicant that the contemplated project, as it currently exists, needs to be re-evaluated, specifically with regard to the height and the unit count.”
Farmingdale-based Terwilliger & Bartone Properties proposed the construction of a $75 million apartment complex, dubbed the Cornerstone at Lynbrook, on the southwest corner of Earle Avenue and St. James Place, in the village’s downtown cultural arts district. It would have been built at 14 St. James Place, where there is now a law office, and over municipal Parking Field 8, which is used mostly by employees of village businesses. In exchange for the board’s approval to build, developer Anthony Bartone said he would have funded and constructed a $10 million, 400-space parking garage at Broadway and Langdon Place, now a commuter parking lot.
In the wake of public outcry against the project, and village officials saying they believed it was too large in scope, the board requested that Bartone re-evaluate the application, but he chose not to, Beach said. Nonetheless, Beach said that the board would be open to developing that area and other parts of the village in the future, if a project fits its vision.
Monday was the third time that a public hearing about the Cornerstone was scheduled and then canceled. On Oct. 22, Bartone appeared at the Lynbrook Elks Lodge to host a community open house, answer questions and address residents’ concerns. Though Beach said that Bartone chose not to re-evaluate the application, the developer said he still had the project in his sights.
“While we are disappointed the Cornerstone Lynbrook hearing was adjourned for the third time, we remain steadfast in our unwavering resolve to see this important downtown economic development project for the village come to fruition,” Bartone said in a statement. “. . . The Cornerstone Lynbrook will bolster the tax base, add much needed parking plus create quality residences near amenities downtown. We stand hopeful for a new hearing date soon, as we are eager to listen to feedback from all sides to craft a proposal that the village can embrace as our intention is, and has always been, to partner with the community.”
Beach and the board members had come under fire in recent months, with many residents saying that their complaints about potential traffic issues and other problems were not heard. Citing the advice of lawyers, the board refused to address the project publicly before the hearing. Though the board announced the cancellation of the hearing days before Monday’s meeting, members of the Lynbrook Community Alliance, a group formed in 2016 to oppose a proposed gun range and spa in the village, rallied outside Village Hall on Monday morning. They wielded signs that accused board members of corruption and pleaded with them to “keep Lynbrook Lynbrook.”
Deputy Mayor Hilary Becker, who has voiced concerns about the project, came to Village Hall to meet with the group. Beach called Becker’s actions “disappointing,” citing unconfirmed reports that Becker might run against him for the mayor’s seat in next March’s election.
‘What kind of loyalty is that?’
“It’s very disappointing,” Beach told the Herald after the meeting. “I appointed him deputy mayor. He told me he was loyal to me, and now he’s thinking about running against me. What kind of loyalty is that? You don’t even come to me and say you’re doing it. He goes around and tells people, and I hear it from the other people, and then when I confront him, he goes, ‘I might, I might not.’”
Asked by a resident at the meeting if he planned to run, Becker said he hadn’t made up his mind.
Resident Laura Ryder, who said she had known Becker and the board members for many years, criticized him for appearing among the protesters. “I was so disappointed to see you standing in front of a group of people that had posters that said, ‘Stop the corruption in Lynbrook,’” Ryder said. “. . . For you to get up there publicly and say that your colleagues, who you worked with for so many years, alluding to the fact that they are corrupt, it broke my heart.”
Becker said he was not there to claim that his peers were corrupt, and noted that he wanted to hear people’s objections to the project. “I’m not a member of the Lynbrook Community Alliance, but like everyone here, I listen to residents’ concerns,” he said. “. . . I’m not involved in any group. I would be creating legal jeopardy if I took sides. I’ve tried to remain neutral as best as I possibly could.” He added that he had serious concerns about the project, but was willing to hear what the developer said — but the hearings kept getting canceled.
The Lynbrook Community Alliance had previously created a petition opposing the project, which Bartone said was filled with inaccuracies and misleading information.
Conflict of interest?
On Monday, local business owner Stephen Wangel questioned whether there was a conflict of interest, since Becker and his family recently sold a parcel of land at St. James Place and Forest Avenue to another developer, Bradford Mott. The parcel is adjacent to where the Cornerstone development would have been built. Asked if Bradford Mott had plans to redevelop the land, Becker said that, to the best of his knowledge, it was not planning a major development, but told Wangel that he would have to ask him himself.
On Oct. 22, Beach sent a letter to each member of the board, requesting that they disclose any potential conflicts of interest with the proposed project before the public hearing, which he said was done in the interest of transparency. All three trustees submitted their disclosure forms, but Becker did not.
Village Attorney Tom Atkinson, who is part of a limited liability company that owns the property at 14 St. James Place, where the Cornerstone was to be developed, recused himself from serving as legal counsel on the project. In a letter to the board, Atkinson said that he had discussions with the Becker family in the past about selling each parcel in the interest of developing the properties, but nothing materialized. He added that the sale to Bartone was not contingent on the approval of the Cornerstone project.
Becker said he did not return his disclosure form because he had many questions about the project that had not been answered. Instead, he sent back a letter containing nine questions, including why the project was entitled to a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement, requests for five years of tax returns from Bartone to verify his financial strength, and a list of all bidders for the project and their bids.
“The letter speaks for itself,” Becker said when a resident pressed him about why he didn’t return his disclosure form. “I had other questions in addition to the questions that were asked of me.”