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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in The Island Now, "North Hills Board Skeptical of Changes to Ritz Carlton Condo Plans"

Dec 17, 2015Local Government and Land Use

The North Hills Board of Trustees and the developers of a luxury condominium complex there are not seeing eye-to-eye on numbers.

The board on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to let RXR Realty combine several smaller units at its Ritz Carlton Residences into fewer, larger condos, after Mayor Marvin Natiss said the changes were a way the developer could circumvent the limit of 244 units.

"Your client has been here 10 times, and 20 times has been told no more than 244," Natiss told Anthony Guardino, RXR's attorney, Wednesday night.

That number has stood since 2006, when the board first approved RXR's plan for five luxury condo buildings at the 17-acre site on New Hyde Park Road near the Long Island Expressway Service Road, managed by hotelier Ritz Carlton.

RXR's amended plans for the first two buildings combines 28 of 124 individual condos into 14 larger ones, for a new total of 110 units. The developer plans to add the extra 14 to the fifth building in the project's second phase, keeping the total at 244, Guardino said.

RXR First Vice President Frank Haftel said the board allowed for combined condos to count as a single unit in 2009, when it approved the firm's plan to reduce the average unit size.

Counting them as one also makes sense under the village code, Haftel and Guardino said, which says a "dwelling unit" ought to be "intended, designed and built for use by one family."

"All we're saying is let's not change things around," Haftel said in an interview. "Let's just stick with what we agreed to do."

But Natiss said the board has always held that two condos sold as one unit still count as two toward the total because the final plans approved in 2013 list them as separate units.

Combining units and tacking more onto the last building would bring the total above the limit of 244, he said, which the board has repeatedly said it would never allow.

Natiss also noted the village's approval for permits to combine condos always reflected that the larger units counted as two.

"We approved 244 units. It's up to us how we count them, not up to you how you count them," Natiss said.

RXR's proposed changes would not increase the number of bedrooms in the complex, Haftel said, and it would still house no more than 244 families.

He said the firm has sold all 14 of the proposed larger units, but the sale contracts say they are "physically and legally" one unit rather than two. RXR needs the village to approve the new floor plans to close the sales early next year, Guardino said.

Village Attorney A. Thomas Levin said the developer could change the contract to reflect that the buyer would own one unit on two separate lots.

The debate over how units are counted is the latest contention in a project that's spanned nearly 10 years and gone through several changes.

RXR, which calls itself the leading real estate owner, manager and developer in the tri-state area, had sought to develop the Ritz Carlton project since it bought the previous owner, North Hills LLC, in 2007. The developer paid the village $21 million that year in lieu of providing public amenities under a zoning regulation that allows the high-density development.

The then-bleak real estate market pushed RXR to split the project into two phases in 2009, with 124 units originally set to be built in the first phase and 120 built in the second phase. No plans for phase two have been submitted yet, Haftel said.

Before the final 2013 approval, RXR and the village negotiated over the number of units to be rented, finally settling on 60. The rental units were significant to the firm's application for $3.6 million tax breaks from the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, which the Great Neck school district vehemently opposed.

But RXR said over the summer that sales projections indicated it would not rent any of the units, which range from 1,500 to 4,300 square feet and cost between $1.2 and $5 million in the previously approved plan. Haftel said RXR has sold 90 condos so far.

The first phase construction was supposed to be done in August, but crews are still finishing work. The village board extended the deadline for completion Wednesday night to August of 2017.

Since work has been completed, trustees also voted Wednesday to reduce the total amount of the bonds posted for the project from $14 million to $8.5 million.