The Nassau County Industrial Development Agency approved a financial assistance deal on Sept. 5 for a proposed $60 million, 230-unit Rockaway Avenue rental apartment complex in Oceanside. The agreement includes a 15-year payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, sales tax exemption and mortgage-recording tax abatement, according to IDA Chairman Richard Kessel.
County Executive Laura Curran, along with Kessel and representatives from Vision LI and the Feil Organization, a Manhattan-based development firm, which has owned the roughly 5.2-acre property since 1979, lauded the deal at a news conference held the same day — before IDA members voted to finalize it.
“This [development] fits right into our vision for economic development right here in Nassau County — transit-oriented development,” Curran said, touting the potential business it could bring to local shops, bars and restaurants. “[It’s] rental housing that is accessible to our train stations, and that’s what should be happening right here.”
Called Woodcrest Village Park, the four-story, 260,000-square-foot rental complex is marketed as a transit-oriented housing project 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. Ten percent, or 23, of the units are to be designated as workforce housing, which, under Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, must have reduced rents for households earning up to 80 percent of the median income for the area.
“This kind of project is critical to the future of the county,” Kessel said, noting that with skyrocketing property taxes, members of younger generations struggle to afford living in the area. “It’s a home run as far as I’m concerned,” he added.
Residents, however, criticized the development, saying that the deal’s announcement was the first that they had heard of it, and demanded that the agency, the Town of Hempstead and the developer communicate better in the lead-up to approvals, giving them a chance to voice their concerns.
“I’m a little troubled that I live next door and was never given notice of a public hearing, I would like to know more about this development,” John Mannone, a local attorney, wrote in a post to a private Facebook page dedicated to discussing happenings in the hamlet. He called for a public meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 26 at the Sons of Italy, under the banner of the Oceanside Civic Group to give residents an opportunity to discuss their concerns about the project.
“Doubling of rentals of units and granting government-backed subsidies to boot just does not feel kosher,” he added.
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. Councilman Edward Ambrosino of Valley Stream recused himself from the vote.
Under the PILOT deal, Woodcrest Village Park would make nearly $114,000 in payments for the first three years, after which the total is set to increase steadily to $1.9 million during the final year of the agreement.
The increased density has also raised traffic concerns among residents. The property lies roughly 100 feet from the busy intersection of Lawson Boulevard and Atlantic Avenue, which during peak hours can become snarled with traffic as passing trains frequently block the nearby Long Island Rail Road crossing on Atlantic Avenue. Additionally, about 400 feet away, across the East Rockaway village line, Marina Pointe, an 80-unit waterfront condominium, is currently under construction. Additionally, the site plans for Woodcrest Village Park call for 421 parking spaces.
“Oceanside is already overbuilt,” wrote Michael Cascio in the same discussion thread. “Our roads can’t handle the traffic we have now. There were 103 units there before, how about the same amount or less?”
County Legislator Denise Ford, who attended the Sept. 5 news conference, said that while she supported the project, she, too, was concerned about the additional traffic that the development might bring. She wondered whether it would be possible to include an additional ingress and egress point beyond the one planned for Rockaway Avenue.
The town has received site plans for the project, as well as state Department of Environmental Conservation approvals. Since it is on a county road, it is still awaiting a county traffic study, according to town spokesman Michael Fricchione.
Attorneys for the Woodcrest development approached school officials with the project in September 2017, according to Chris Van Cott, assistant superintendent of business for the Oceanside School District.
“They were asked by the Town of Hempstead to meet with us since they were applying for a PILOT,” he said. “They told us preliminarily what the project would be.”
In a brief presentation, he said, the Woodcrest representatives assured him that the project would not be marketed to families, and that the impact on the school district would be minimal. “That’s pretty much the extent I know about it,” he said.
Kessel said that developers from the Feil Organization had performed a study that indicated the Woodcrest development would add roughly 10 to 12 students to the school district. “Not a lot,” he said, but he acknowledged that there would be backlash over the project. “Anywhere you want to build anything, there’s always going to be an impact,” Kessel said. “I understand the concerns.”
Oceanside School Board President Sandie Schoell said she had not heard of the development or how it would impact the Oceanside school district beyond recent news reports.
“Now that I’m aware of it, I’m suspect of their communication ability,” Schoell said of the developers and the IDA. She expressed concern about a repeat of what happened in Valley Stream, where in 2016 school officials had not accounted for PILOTs granted by the Hempstead IDA for an expansion of Green Acres Mall, resulting in a serious budgetary shortfall and sharp school-tax hikes.
Schoell noted, however, that she was not opposed to the idea of a development such as Woodcrest, saying that depending on the number of children the apartments would bring to the school district, the additional tax revenue from the developed property, even with the PILOTs, could be beneficial.
“I like the idea of trying to provide housing for our young people trying to stay on the Island,” she said. “This is the new, young workforce, and they’re definitely contributing to taxes. Losing them to other states, I think, is problematic.”
Still, Schoell said she would like to know more about the project. “Am I going to say I’m not concerned? I’m always concerned,” she said. “But I would have like to have seen a more formal presentation, I would like to have seen their research.”