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A.Thomas Levin Quoted in The Island Now, "Two North Hills Projects Put on Hold"

Jan 9, 2014Local Government and Land Use

Media Source: The Island Now


A Nassau County Supreme Court justice issued a temporary restraining order on Jan. 4 against the Village of North Hills and two developers to stop work on two projects in the village based on environmental issues raised in a petition filed by East Hills environmental activist Richard Brummel.

Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Dana Winslow directed the Village of North Hills to issue a stop work order to Midtown North Hills LLC to stop construction on RXR Realty’s planned 244-condominium project and X-Cell III Realty’s plan to build two 92,500 square foot office complexes in the forested area of North Hills along the Long Island Expressway.

Village of North Hills officials said they would abide by the order until it can be challenged at a hearing in Nassau County Supreme Court. A hearing originally scheduled for Wednesday morning was postponed until Monday, Jan. 13.

“We have to live with it,” Village of North Hills Mayor Marvin Natiss said on Tuesday.

Brummel had appeared with other environmentalists at a North Hills hearing in October on a revised plan submitted by Midtown North Hills - an operating company of Uniondale-based RXR Realty - objecting to the destruction of the Grace Forest where the 17-acre condo project is planned.

Natiss had blocked Brummel from speaking about RXR’s condominium project at a Dec. 18 meeting where the board gave its final approval of RXR’s amended plans. He said the village had already considered the environmental impact when granting approval to an earlier version of the project.

In Winslow’s order to show cause, he directed North Hills to show why it should not “undertake a thorough ‘hard look’ inquiry” and “issue a reasoned finding” on the need for a new environmental impact study to supplement studies done by Midtown North Hills in 2005 and 2006.

Winslow also enjoined the village from issuing any building permits or authorizing RXR “to in any way disturb, damage, degrade or otherwise change the land, natural vegetation, wildlife or other attributes of the RVR tract” until the village has “a lawful determination regarding the state environmental impact study.”

The judge’s order also said the environmental impact of the RXR and X-Cell projects should be considered in relation to one another.

Thomas Levin, village attorney for North Hills, said the village will defend the approval process for the two projects.

“This litigation has absolutely no merit,” Levin said. “It’s similar to the four cases Mr. Brummel brought and lost against East Hills last year. We are going to vigorously defend it.”

“The likelihood is that one or more of the people being sued here are going to seek sanctions against Mr. Brummel,” Levin added.

Efforts to reach attorneys representing RXR and X-Cell were unavailing.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Brummel said the North Hills Village Board had approved RXR’s condominium plan despite the objections of representatives of the Sierra Club LI Group, the Green Party of Nassau County and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature.

He said RXR bulldozers had pulled down dozens of trees in the forest on two days last week and he was seeking to “prevent any further damage” prior to the court hearing.

“Environmentalists told the village and two developers that state law obligated them to undertake a new environmental review after eight years because many more of the animals believed to inhabit the forest are now on New York ‘special concern’ registries. Now a court will look at our issues,” Brummel said.

After refusing to let Brummel speak at the Dec. 18 meeting, Natiss defended his village’s environmental record, saying, “The Village of North Hills preserves as many trees as it can, without standing in the way of progress.”

Brummel also said in his release that North Hills had received a $21 million “incentive zoning” payment from RXR “to relax strict half-acre zoning rules and allow an opulent Versailles-style compound of five-story luxury condominiums at the site.”

RXR Realty, which touts itself as the leading real estate owner, manager and developer in the tri-state region on its website, has sought to develop the property since an affiliate bought the previous owner, North Hills LLC, in 2007. RXR paid the Village of North Hills $21 million in 2007 in lieu of amenities on the condominium project.

Natiss said the economic downturn had stalled the RXR plan that the village originally approved for construction.

RXR is currently proceeding after receiving village support for a payment in lieu of taxes proposal being considered by the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency on 60 of the first 124 units that RXR intends to build in the project’s first phase. The 60 units will initially be leased.

Natiss had adamantly opposed a 20-year PILOT with $4.6 million in property tax breaks that RXR had previously proposed.

At a recent IDA hearing, Natiss said that although he was still “philosophically opposed” to IDA tax breaks on rental property, he felt he had to “compromise” his principles “so they can get this built.”

RXR recently received IDA approval for $3.6 million in tax breaks on sales taxes and mortgage tax tied to the 60 units to be leased.

Administrators representing the Herricks and Great Neck school districts, who opposed previous PILOTs for RXR and a second development in North Hills, have said they are comfortable with the compromise on the latest PILOT after the recent IDA hearing.

The RXR property lies in the Great Neck School District.