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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in The Garden City News, “Village continues consideration of apartment complex”

Media Source: The Garden City News

As May arrives, the Village of Garden City will have additional hearings on the proposed 150 apartment development for 555 Stewart Avenue, adjacent to Roosevelt Field. Plans are in place for the hearings and reviews of related legislation to conclude by the Board of Trustees’ May 24th meeting.

Garden City resident Kevin Walsh, the attorney for the applicant (550 Stewart Acquisitions LLC) presented the Board of Trustees with the traffic study comments document from consultants Cameron Engineering at the last hearing on April 12th and spoke about items related to the site’s environmental review (SEQR).

Special counsel to the village hired for zoning-related applications is A. Tom Levin of Garden City-based law firm Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein P.C. On April 12th, just prior to the continuation of the public hearings, Levin announced that some framework and grammatical changes to the proposed new zoning were still being ironed out by the village counsel, Peter Bee.

Levin said “non-substantive changes” to the proposed local law to rezone the area, which will allow for 150 apartment units, were going to be posted to the Village of Garden City website starting April 13th for the public to review. “The changes are essentially language, correcting grammar, and to clarify with respect to the maximum height of the project,” Levin told the audience on April 12th. The original proposed legislation stated four stories high or an average height of 45 feet, but Levin says there were difficulties to determine what an average height of the building would be given the design. Also the stipulation conflicts as there aren’t any such restrictions stated in Village Code regarding “average height.” Essentially, the new legislation will state “the project shall not exceed four stories or a height of 45 feet” and the word ‘average’ is deleted.

Meanwhile, the process to establish the Board of Trustees as the lead agency for the project’s SEQRA (State Environmental Quality Review Act) compli- ance has moved forward. Levin said only the Nassau County Department of Health commented on the Board’s application for that role, and it stated it has no objection for the Board to serve as lead agency. “There are a number of items that will still have to go before the Department of Health for approval, as is the case with all applications of this type. We will certainly be complying with all of those, but at this point the Board establishes (itself) as the lead agency for the project,” he explained.

The Board of Trustees must still review the Environmental Assessment Form that was submitted by 550 Stewart Acquisitions LLC and attorney Kevin Walsh. At the last meeting Walsh said by April 20th his firm will file “responses to environmental comments” on behalf of the applicants. Levin concurred as he told the Board there were revisions to be made on that official form in mid- April, followed by analysis from consultants to the village at H2M Engineering.

“Hopefully, we would have that in the coming days. The next step is for the Board to make its environmental determination — a negative or positive declaration on whether the project does or doesn’t have significant adverse impacts. Then Garden City will refer it to Nassau County Planning Commission and give them ample time to make a non-binding recommendation back to the Board. When all of that is done, the Board can finally get to the heart of this and make its decision on the applications for the project,” Levin said at the last meeting.

The next step for the public hearings on 555 Stewart Avenue and its related zoning application will come on Thursday night, May 10th. Levin anticipates holding at least one more round of public comments on May 10th, and in the meantime, getting the application ready for an environmental determination by the April 26th Board meeting.

“If everything else falls into place, on May 10 the Board would be in position to finish public hearings. If you are prepared by then to act, you could do so, or make the determination at the May 24th meeting,” he said.

Walsh advises that his full team, including a traffic engineer, would be present at the next hearing on May 10th to answer any questions the Board or the public pose. “If Mayor Daughney and Mr. Levin agree, I can take notes on public comments and submit responses prior to the next series of meetings, whichever way the village directs me to do it,” he said on April 12th.

Former village trustee Thomas Lamberti challenged the proposition of the 555 Stewart Avenue project receiving a tax reduction through the Industrial Development Agency. Lamberti believed that the plan was for an IDA application to include Nassau County, Village of Garden City, and school district taxes, but the Board explained that the “village would be made whole” and the school board would be the governing body that needs to weigh the issue of the IDA applied for towards the offset of school district taxes. Lamberti stated his thoughts on why that will be unreasonable for Garden City’s tax base overall.

“I have an objection with the real estate developer’s proposal to have this project financed by tax dollars from our tax base to pay for their construction costs. We should have this discussion early on and not later — I do not believe there’s an economic justification for it. The powers at the Industrial Development Agency has should take interest in this $60 million project, and they should not use of taxpayer dollars from us to finance its construction. The developers advocate for this because they state the village and schools are getting contributed taxes on its vacant land now. Then they can enter into the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) — for the school tax — and it would take 20 years for their contributions to match market values,” Lamberti told the Board of Trustees.

Walsh later addressed the potential amounts of per-year village taxes the developer will pay for 555 Stewart Avenue with the project if it moves ahead, and he estimated payment between $225,000 and $240,000 (village taxes alone) which would be over a tenfold increase over the taxes currently paid on the vacant lot, which are about $19,000 a year. Walsh described this as a “considerable positive.”

Despite the financial implications, Lamberti says he is particularly pleased that the village can make progress with affordable housing as part of a resolution involving the 555 Stewart Avenue application, which would include 15 AH units (10% of the proposed 150).

Resident Bob Orosz spoke about the willingness of the developer to build on its Stewart Avenue property stemming from “such a small donation” to the village and especially with its potential school district tax contribution with an IDA and/or PILOT involved. At the first round of the hearing on March 22nd, Orosz commented that the project, based on estimated school district budget and per-pupil costs, could increase the district’s operations financing by up to one million dollars if more than 30 students are a result of the new 150 apartments. Again, he addressed the Board and fellow residents on April 12th with long-term finances as the chief concern.

“Why should taxpayers of Garden City have to put up with their own taxes increasing by $500,000 or one million dollars just so the developer can maximize his profits. Please remember that S.A.L.T. is gone and we can no longer utilize state and local taxes off as a federal tax deduction and that will add to our plight. I am not asking the Board to fulfill the role of an IDA but I am asking where your heads are at in terms of letting developers get away with this type of payment toward our taxes — I am sure the Board of Trustees could approach Nassau IDA and request for the developer’s donation to be changed (increased)?” Orosz asked.

Mayor Brian Daughney said at the current time, the Board is only taking comments, and to answer Orosz’s follow up question he said the trustees will certainly discuss that tax and financial outlook for the project in the course of the hearings and decision making.

After he asked about the Nassau County IDA hearing or meeting schedule to be made public on the village website, counsel A. Tom Levin stepped in to say “the Board is now listening to everybody and considering all parts of the application.”

“The developer has the right under the state law, which created IDA’s, to make an application to the county IDA for an exemption — a process which cannot be made until they have obtained the various project approvals. Down the road, after the village is finished with its consideration of the project and if the village approves the project the applicant has the right under state law to apply to the IDA which is not part of village government. Everybody has the right to attend the IDA hearing and argue for or against whatever relief the developer is asking for, then the IDA will make its decision. When and if that application to the IDA happens, this Board of Trustees can review it and decide to take a position on it at that point in time” Levin said.

Orosz counters that the step-by-step view is hard to believe: “Either the Board of Trustees backs the residents or they back the developer, so which side of the equation are they on?” he asked. Mayor Daughney told Orosz he hears him, but the comments at the hearings assume his (Orosz’s) opinion are the best interests of the village, and the members of the Board may or may not agree with the assertions related to the project’s impact. Trustee Robert Bolebruch ballasted that by saying for him as a Board member it is difficult to provide an opinion on an application (to the IDA) that has not been filed yet, or suggested for approval by the village.

“Myself and the rest of the Board will sit back and form an opinion once we have something to form an opinion on,” Trustee Bolebruche said, adding that he understands Orosz’s concern that this IDA process is coming down the road ‘one way or another.’

EPOA President Tom Hogan also spoke during public comments and said new members of village boards and commissions be approached for input on large-scale projects in the village “to be considered on a more proactive basis.” Hogan reminds the mayor that there was much time spent interviewing candidates for the various boards and commissions (ADRB, Zoning Board and Planning Commission) in 2017 and into this year, and he would like to see the talented residents and volunteer individuals have an opportunity to advise and help Garden City on a more routine basis.

Steve Ilardi of Meadow Street, the EPOA vice president, asked for the developer’s attorney Kevin Walsh to clarify the height of the proposed apartment complex as either four stories at 45 feet tall, or ‘two to five’ stories as specified in the plans. Walsh got up and replied that

Ilardi also asked for Walsh to fulfill a role of notifying the Village of Garden City on the steps with the possible IDA application, so that the information and a meeting schedule of the county IDA with the project could be posted on the village’s website “for any citizen that wants to go to the I.D.A hearings — so at least the village can inform its residents when the hearings will take place. At the April 12th meeting, Walsh said he’s agreed to notify both the Village of Garden City and the Garden City Public Schools’ officials once the IDA process is outlined.

“We anticipate that from the $100,000 to $110,000 in annual school taxes we (the developer) is paying now and going up to over one million dollars, as the IDA the phase-in of the PILOT contribution happens over a number of years. The PILOT would be based on numbers above $100,000 a year and whatever the taxes are the year the PILOT kicks in. We’d never go down from the current $100,000 a year in school taxes. With the phase-in set by the IDA, there could be a discussion at its public hearing with the public present to exactly what the IDA will approve for our phase-in on the school taxes — I am prepared to discuss those issues when we get to that point. It is premature to do so now as we do not have any approvals,” Walsh said.

Click here to read the article on The Garden City News