For the third time since the project was approved in 2005, developer of the Dutchgate senior housing complex in North Valley Stream, on the border with Elmont, has asked the Town of Hempstead to lower the minimum age to 55. This time, however, there was a new twist — the developer wanted to be able to rent unsold units.
The residents of Dutchgate and the surrounding neighborhood weren’t having any of it, and came out in force to oppose the requests at a public hearing at Hempstead Town Hall on Dec. 11. At one point, Town Supervisor Kate Murray, trying to gauge public opinion, asked those who were against the changes to stand up and say “opposed.” Nearly everyone in the audience, with the exception of the few who were there for other town business, did so.
Person after person came up to the microphone to blast the plan of developer Broadval LLC to rent units that have not been sold. William F. Bonesso, an attorney for the developer, explained that it would still be Broadval’s goal to sell every unit, but rentals would be a way for the company to recoup some of the money it has invested in the property.
“It has been very difficult selling these units,” Bonesso said. “They are still going to be marketing these properties for sale. The developer sees this as a necessary, and hopefully temporary, situation.”
After hearing the criticism, however, Bonesso said that the developer would drop the rental request if the town board would still consider lowering the minimum age for those buying units to 55.
Dutchgate was approved seven years ago as a “golden age” complex open to residents 62 and older. In 2008, the town denied its request to lower the age to 55. Last year, after another attempt, the town board approved the marketing of half of the development’s units to those 55 and older.
In exchange, Dutchgate agreed to reduce the number of units from 388 to 348, and to exclude school-age children from the complex. Bonesso said that Broadval LLC now wants the entire complex to be open to those 55 and older.
Town Councilman Jim Darcy, whose district includes the Dutchgate property, said he has many concerns about the application. The asking prices for new units today are the same as in 2005, when the project was first approved, Darcy said, despite a crash in the housing market since then. “How is it that this project seems to be immune from the downturn in the real estate market?” he asked.
“The units, we feel, are properly priced,” Bonesso responded. The base price for a unit is $249,000 before upgrades. Two-story townhouses start at $349,000.
According to Bonesso, 91 units have been sold, and another 41 are in the contract phase. He said that 25 percent of the sales have occurred in the past year, since the town reduced the minimum age for half of the units. Only half of the complex has been built.
Several residents of Dutchgate said they were upset that they were not notified about last week’s hearing, and learned about it only through word of mouth. Bonesso said that all of the properties within 200 feet of Dutchgate were notified of the hearing, but not the owners within. Darcy blasted Broadval for failing to notify its own residents, and said that if the developer wants the board to consider any future changes, it should make sure to do so.
Audrey Brown, a representative of the homeowners’ association, said that according to their contracts, Dutchgate owners are not allowed to rent or sublet their units. She and other residents said that Broadval, through its property management company, Heatherwood, should not be allowed to, either.
Many praised the atmosphere at Dutchgate, saying that it is a great place to live, with wonderful neighbors. However, they want to protect that, and their home values, by ensuring that it remains an entirely owner-occupied development.
“The community is great,” said Bob Azopardi, who lives in Flushing but will soon be moving in. “It’s beautiful. It’s just what I was looking for. The people are even better.”
But Azopardi said he had reservations about moving into a community that allowed rentals. Ronnie Siegel, who moved in two months ago after waiting her whole life to be an owner, said she felt the same way. She noted that a resident-only homeowners’ association won’t have full control of Dutchgate until the last unit is sold. “As long as one renter lives there,” she said, “we will never have control.”
Neighbors from surrounding streets, including West Gate, which runs along the east side of the property, were also critical of the proposed changes, saying that Dutchgate has failed to live up to some of its obligations, including the installation of an eight-foot-high privacy fence and dense landscaping around the property. Darcy instructed Bonesso to make sure the developer completes those projects, which were stipulations in last year’s agreement.
County Legislator Carrié Solages said that several residents of Dutchgate and the surrounding neighborhood had contacted him. Even though the county has no jurisdiction in the matter, Solages, whose district includes the property, met with a large group to discuss the developer’s legal obligations based on prior town board decisions. He said he has concerns that Dutchgate has not always been a good neighbor.
The town board held off on a decision on the age change. It will await an official letter from the developer withdrawing the application for rental units. The public hearing remains open, with the town board still accepting written comments. A vote is expected at the Jan. 8 meeting.