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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in The Island Now, “Inisfada Developer Scales Back Plan”

Media Source: The Island Now

Levin_TomThe Village of North Hills Planning Board accepted a revised site plan draft from the Manhasset Bay Group last Wednesday night that decreased the number of lots in the proposed development on the grounds of the former St. Ignatius Retreat House from 51 to 46 .

The revision complies with a request from the village planning board during a May presentation to have uniform lot sizes of 20,000 square feet on the 30.5-acre site on which the St. Ignatius Retreat House was formerly located. The revised plan also adds an emergency access road to the site off Searingtown Road in addition to another emergency access road already on the draft of the site plan.

Anthony Guardino, an attorney with Farrell Fritz which is representing Manhasset Bay Group, said he hoped the developer would get a “green light to move forward with this plan.”

Village planning board members agreed to consider a formal preliminary site plan, based on the draft presented, on the recommendation of planning board Chairman David Kass.

“I would like to suggest to my fellow board members that we give them the go ahead,” Kass said.

In response to concerns expressed by board members about trees on the site, Guardino said the developer had identified three groups of trees it would preserve. He said Manhasset Bay Group planned to submit an environmental impact study that addresses the removal of trees.

Architect Victor Bert, a partner with Nelson & Pope. which drafted the site plan, said the county Department of Public Works had expressed reservations about the emergency access road off Searingtown Road. But, he said, a board-approved plan including the access road might be accepted by the county DPW.

“We do think they’ll object to it, but if it is mandated by this board, we think they would consider it,” Bert said.

After the meeting, Guardino said the Manhasset Bay Group was “a few months away” from submitting a formal preliminary plan for the development.

Manhasset Bay Group, a corporation registered in Delaware, bought the property from the Jesuit order for $36.5 million last summer over the strong objections of area residents and preservationists.

The property included an 87-room retreat house, named “Inisfada” after the Gaelic word for “Long Island,” which was built between 1916-1920 for industrialist Nicholas Brady and his wife Genevieve.

The retreat house’s Genevieve Chapel, which was removed in June and donated to Fordham University, holds religious significance locally because Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would go on to become Pope Pius XII, celebrated mass there and stayed at the retreat house while on tour in the United States in 1936. The rest of the home was demolished by the Manhasset Bay Group to make room for the housing development.

Following her death in 1938, Genevieve Brady left Inisfada to the Jesuit order, which used the Searingtown Road property as a seminary and retreat house for regional parishes and faith-based addiction help support groups for more than 50 years before putting the property on the housing market last year.

Kass said the plan submitted by the Manhasset Bay Group complies with the village code, which permits one house to be built on a plot of 20,000 square feet. The plan for 51 lots the developer presented in May included lot sizes that did not comply with zoning for the area.

Kass said the developer had also agreed for roads in the development to be 50 feet wide, an increase from the 30 feet indicated on the first plan submitted.

“That permits parking on the side of the road,” Kass said.

Village planning board attorney Thomas Levin emphasized that the draft submitted is far from what the board will require in a final site plan.

“We wanted to get into the ballpark of what’s feasible,” Levin said. “They’re still going to have to come up with a lot of detail.”

Following the meeting, an executive of the Manhasset Bay Group declined to discuss the company and the identity of its principals.

Farrell Fritz attorney Charles Strain said the company is a newly formed real estate development company and development of the former St. Ignatius property its first Long Island project.

“That’s why this project is important to them,” Strain said.

Asked why the company’s executives appeared reluctant to talk about their business, Strain said, “They don’t need to talk about themselves because they’ve spent a lot of money to create what will be the premiere development on the North Shore.”