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A. Thomas Levin Quoted in The Island Now, "Inisfada Site Requires Variances for Approval"

Jul 17, 2017Local Government and Land Use

Media Source: The Island Now

The North Hills planning board held a public hearing Wednesday on a draft environmental impact study submitted by the Manhasset Bay Group Inc. for the proposed Crest Subdivision at the former Inisfada Retreat House site, but most of the questions from residents do not have answers at this stage.

The 30.46-acre property is designed with one entrance and exit to the neighborhood with 46 single-family homes planned around a ring road. Designer of the master plan Oliver Schaper said originally, there was a T-shaped set of roads in the center of the ring, but that element has been removed from the plan. Manhasset Bay Group’s attorney Louis Soloway, who recently replaced Anthony Guardino on the project, opened the first public hearing about the property since December 2015 with a list of proposed variances they are requesting from the North Hills zoning board of appeals.
Schaper said these variances would have little to no impact on the surrounding area, including the bordering Estates I and Estates II communities. Soloway said his client is hoping to reduce the size of some front yards to 45 feet, 5 feet less than the minimum requirement, but the average of the 46 homes will at least be 50 feet. Soloway said the developers were also looking for a relaxation of the maximum allowable street grade, set at 8 percent, to have a 9.93 percent slope of approximately 16 feet of the access road to the property, as well as a relaxation of the minimum required right-of-way width from 50 feet to 30 feet and the street width from 34 feet to 30 feet. He said the neighborhood’s water lines would be connected to Estates I and the sewer lines would be routed to the main under Searingtown Road, but no approval for natural gas connections have been made despite multiple requests to PSEG since 2015. Schaper said a large part of his design process revolves around the desire to keep as much of the natural vegetation on the property as possible. Easements along the northern border of the property as well as the southeast corner along Searingtown Road will retain much of the existing trees and plants. “A part of the planning process was to lay out the roads and lots and future building sites in a way to preserve three tree groups that were identified to be worth preserving,” Schaper said. “Our goal is to preserve more trees, and this is part of the approach for this plan, when we get to design the houses to look at the existing trees and minimize the necessity for cutting these trees down. To the extent possible, it’s one of our design drivers.”
North Hills and Estates II resident Eli Zaken was most concerned about the impact of the traffic on Searingtown Road, but board Chairman David Kass said they would be investigating the impact of a new community along the already congested road before approving the subdivision.
Many questions from the residents, including specifics on fencing, vegetation, transformers and the exact placement of the homes, would be decided later in the approval process. At the close of the draft’s hearing, the board approved a 21-day period for written comments to be submitted from residents before the final environmental impact study will be prepared by Manhasset Bay Group. “As the process goes forward, the applicant will be required to tell us one way or the other what they are proposing to do, but the board will decide what they’re going to do,” board attorney Thomas A. Levin said.

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 house, built in the early 20th century, over sustained protest from local civic and historic preservation groups.

Efforts to stop the demolition and make the house a historic landmark ultimately failed.

The planning board also approved an amendment to their rules, extending the notice area 50 feet for any property under their review, allowing homes and businesses within 250 feet of the sites to be notified of public hearings. Kass said this was the same regulation the board of appeals follows.