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A.Thomas Levin Noted in The Island Now, "Changes Sought on Inisfada Site Plan"

Jun 5, 2014Local Government and Land Use

The Village of North Hills Planning Board called for changes last week to a site plan from the Manhasset Bay Group Inc. for 51 single-family houses to be built on the 30.5 acres of the former St. Ignatius Retreat House.

Village planning board Chairman David Kass said some lots on the plan presented at last Wednesday night’s board meeting do not conform to village code for houses on half-acre lots, and said the board wants the developer to comply with the code.

“Some of the lots are not 20,000 square feet,” Kass said.

In his presentation of the proposed site plan to the board, Victor Bert, partner of Nelson & Post Engineers and Surveyors, said he is seeking variances on the size of 11 lots for aesthetic reasons. He said all lots would be 115 feet wide but will vary in depth by 10 to 15 feet. The plan showed two sets of house lots arranged around two oval roadways, with one roadway inside the other.

“With the board’s permission, we want the variances to make it look more interesting,” Bert said.

“I don’t know why you can’t adjust lot lines so you wouldn’t need variances,” planning board member Janet De Winter said.

After efforts to preserve the St. Ignatius Retreat House failed last summer, Jesuit officials who maintained the property sold it to the Manhasset Bay Group, a corporation registered in Delaware, for $36.5 million.

Following a brief executive session he called to “clarify some legal points” with planning board counsel Thomas Levin, Kass said the board also wants Manhasset Bay to revise road widths in its plan from 30 to 50 feet in compliance with village code. Kass suggested the plan be revised and submitted for consideration at the board’s June 9 meeting.

“They have to go back to the drawing board and fine tune it,” North Hills Deputy Mayor Dennis Sgambati said after the meeting.

In response to a question from De Winter about the road widths, Bert said he had shown the plan to a chief at the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department but had not received approval for it.

Donald Alberto, superintendent of the village Building Department, said he had also sent a copy of the site plan to a chief of the Manhasset-Lakeville department, but had not yet received feedback on it.

Bert said the roads would be deeded to the proposed development’s homeowners association, which he said would also be responsible for maintaining a new drainage pool planned for the southern border of the proposed development that abuts the village’s Estates II development.

Kass and De Winter also suggested incorporating a second access road into the property in addition to the existing access on Searingtown Road was another issue raised.

De Winter said she favored a second access route from Searingtown Road to the property so the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department “so they can go in and out and wherever.”

Bass said a survey his firm conducted of private developments in the area showed that most didn’t have a second access road.

Planning board member Richard Kashinsky said there are emergency access roads in all developments or what he called “crash gates” in the absence of a secondary roadway.

After the meeting, Bert said amending the plan to make all the lots uniform dimensions would mean reducing the number of lots to 49. He said he hopes to present a revised site plan to the planning board next month.

When the board went into executive session during the meeting, Estates II resident Arlene Travis told Anthony Guardino, a lawyer representing Manhasset Bay, the plan should be revised with fewer lots.

“You want to make some money. I want some peace of mind. And this is going to be very busy,” Travis said of the plan.

Travis had been one of the local activists who sought to see the St. Ignatius Retreat House preserved.

The retreat house was built for as a residence for $2.3 million between 1916-1920 for industrialist Nicholas Brady and his wife Genevieve, who also had residents in Manhttan and Rome and maintained a close relationship with the Catholic church. After Genevieve Brady died in 1938, the then-300-acre property was left to the Jesuits, who used the Searingtown Road property as a seminary and retreat house for regional parishes and faith-based addiction help groups.

The Jesuits maintained the property for more than 50 years, but high operating costs led the order to sell off most of the property and eventually put the remaining 33 acres on the housing market a little more than a year ago.

Commenting on the board’s response to the site plan, Charles Strain, an attorney with the Manhasset Bay Group said he wasn’t concerned with the requested revisions.

“We have a plan with 51 lots that complies with the village code. We had a plan with a little more detail and a little more interest,” Strain said. “It’s all part of the process.”

Strain said the Manhasset Bay Group did not yet have an estimate on the cost of the proposed North Hills development on the former St. Ignatius Retreat House property.

“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Strain said.