About 400 people packed Huntington Town Hall to speak out at a public hearing Tuesday night on a controversial proposal to build 360 senior-housing condos on Elwood Road in East Northport.
The Garden City-based developer, the Engel Burman Group, described the project, known as The Seasons at Elwood, as an “active lifestyle community offering resort-style living limited to homeowners who are 55 years of age and better.” The original proposal, submitted two years ago, called for 482 condominium units to be built on the 37-acre site currently occupied by the Oak Tree Dairy, between Burr and Cedar roads.
According to a town official, 116 people signed up to testify at the public hearing, the first one scheduled by the town to consider the zoning change that would allow the retirement community. Given a limit of two minutes per person, they began speaking at about 7:30 p.m. and, with an intermission around 9 p.m., continued until nearly midnight.
“We are a single-family residential community,” Wendy Stranieri, an Elwood resident for 25 years with two children in John Glenn High School, told the Press. “We want senior housing but it has to be done responsibly.” In order for her to support the project, she said it would have to be “significantly smaller…like small ranches, three per acre.”
After scaling back the project in consultation with the town and Elwood residents, the developer said the density would be 9.75 homes per acre. But, opponents of the project complained that it was still “too dense” while supporters extolled the virtues of the planned community and the crucial need for senior housing on Long Island.
Supporters of the project ranged from the developer’s representatives citing the economic benefits to town residents eager to downsize their homes and remain in the area. The condos would vary in price from $435,000 to $700,000. According to Engel Burman, The Seasons would generate an additional $2.8 million in annual real estate tax revenue, which would benefit the Elwood Union Free School District. To mitigate the increased traffic on Elwood Road, already one of the busiest north-south arteries in East Northport, the developer would invest $1 million in “infrastructure upgrades,” such as adding new sidewalks, a left-turn lane at the entrance and synchronizing the traffic lights.
Asked about the developer’s claim that The Seasons would add money to the school district, Stranieri called it “a lie.” Other opponents also scoffed at the claims made on behalf of the project, even disputing The Seasons’ age-restriction, arguing that the covenant could be amended to allow parents with school-age children to live in the new development. Supporters of the project stressed the lack of alternative housing for seniors on LI, which has been driving retirees to move away to Virginia and North Carolina.
“I too am very interested in this project,” said Peter Wunsch, president of the Commack School Board, who’s been an East Northport resident for 32 years. “As I am retiring soon, I am looking at the possibility of moving to a facility like the one being proposed of which there are minimal options if I want to remain here on Long Island, which I do.” He said the Elwood School Board opposition to the condo project was “extremely short-sighted.”
Wunsch stressed that he wasn’t speaking for his Commack board but for himself, a “school board member who is aware of all the issues.” The Elwood crowd, which occupied about a third of the chamber, loudly expressed their displeasure.
Another objection to the rezoning repeatedly noted at the hearing focused on the contaminated soil found at the site that would require remediation before the development could proceed. Other people alleged that Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson were biased in favor of the project because they’d accepted campaign donations from the Engel Burman Group. Neither Petrone nor Cuthbertson responded to the criticism.
A sign posted along Elwood Road near the dairy praised Councilman Eugene Cook, who had run as a Republican for the supervisor’s seat in 2013 and lost, for “having our back” regarding their opposition to the housing project. At one point during the hearing a resident at the podium warned the town council that “we will kick you all to the curb come the next election” if they approve the rezoning.
Petrone had said at the beginning of the hearing that there would be no vote that night. The town reportedly has 90 days to approve the project. Otherwise, it has to hold another public meeting.