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A. Thomas Levin Quoted In The Island Now "North Hills To Hear More On Inisfada Site Plan"

Feb 11, 2016Local Government and Land Use

The Village of North Hills Planning Board will hear more testimony about a proposed subdivision at the former site of the Insifada Retreat House at its March 9 meeting.

The board will continue a public hearing that night for Manhasset Bay Group's application to build 46 homes on the 30.43-acre site, and the developer will present a draft scope, an outline for a thorough environmental study of the proposed development.

The developer won't have any new information to present about the project, attorney Anthony Guardino said Thursday. But the public will be able to comment on the plans and give feedback about the scope for the environmental review.

"We'll be listening to the (village) to see what they're going to require from us as far as an environmental impact statement," Guardino said.

The developer was required to create the scope after the Planning Board ruled last month the project would have a significant environmental impact on the area.

The board's positive declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act asked Manhasset Bay Group to evaluate impacts on ecological resources, appearance, water resources and traffic at the property off Searingtown Road.

Guardino has said that decision wasn't unexpected, and the scope was submitted a day after the ruling.

Consultants are working to study the issues the board raised, he said last month.

At the March hearing, the Planning Board will hear public comment about other environmental issues that should be studied, Guardino said. It will then issue a final scope dictating the full content of the study, he said.

"That is our roadmap," Guardino said. "That's basically the outline of all the items that we need to make sure are studied in that environmental impact statement.

The village will make determinations about the project "at appropriate times when permitted by law," Village Attorney A. Thomas Levin said in an email.

Manhasset Bay Group has been trying to develop a subdivision on the site since 2014 and reduced the proposed number of homes from 51 to 46 this year, with plans saying the houses would sit on lots between a half-acre and one acre in size.

The company, incorporated in Delaware and led by four Hong Kong real estate magnates, purchased the property from the Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church for $36.5 million in July 2013.

It subsequently demolished the historic but dilapidated house, built in the early 20th century, over sustained protest from local civic and historic preservation groups. Efforts to stop the demolition and designate it a historic landmark ultimately failed.

In a Jan. 31 email, Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations President Richard Bentley said he thinks the village should have required the developer to submit a plan that complies with SEQRA before it approved the house's demolition.

"Gone forever is the historical structure and the human services it provided, and so too is the greenspace that once graced this 30-acre site," Bentley wrote.

Bentley also said he worries the project could increase pressure on schools and nearby infrastructure.

Guardino said he disagreed with Bentley's comments, and the village and the developer "are both applying the letter and the spirit of the State Environmental Quality Review Act."

Levin said the village followed all applicable legal requirements in issuing the demolition permit, an action that fell under the building department's authority.