19 Aug 2014
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Mineola Village Board Rejects Initial Keyspan Building Proposal

Trustees ask developers to go back to drawing board for Old Country Road property.

The is asking the developers of the former Keyspan building at 250 Old Country Road to come up with a new proposal, one that is less dense and fits more in tune with that of a suburban area and the proposed vision of the village’s master plan for a “gateway” entrance into the village.

“I’m fully supportive of the village’s master plan and it’s implementation,” said during a May 23 hearing at the . “That being said, I don’t have an ‘anything goes’ attitude. I’ve often said that there are good plans out there, but they might not be good for Mineola.”

In 2009, the application sought a permit for the construction of a 257-unit condominium complex on the site but was left open and unresolved over the 10 percent set-aside for affordable workforce housing remains, resulting in no decision ever being issued. The developers are seeking to convert the proposed condominium complex into a rental building and to increase the number of units to 345 rental apartments of various sizes.

“A lot of things have changed since 2009,” said attorney Kevin Walsh, representing Mineola Properties, LLC and applicant Robert Kahen, vice-president of Great Neck-based Dastech International. “We believe and I think we concluded, at least in your environmental findings that the proposal we made at that time addressed Mineola’s effort to improve the downtown, to improve smart growth, to embrace transit oriented development, to bring people to live in the downtown. We want to create some(thing) downtown; the question is, are we presenting an amendment that you think substantially complies with that (vision)?”

Originally the firm did not get the special permit as it was still in the process of discussing some of the public amenities they would provide, among them substantial streetscaping and a $2.5 million contribution to the village to improve other aspects of the downtown as part of the .

Three factors prevented the firm from going forward: the 26-unit set-aside for next generation housing, financing for condominium projects and the jurisdiction and input the Garden City Planning Commission would have over the development of the condos, which requires a subdivision.

“They were not going to be all that willing to cooperate in connection with this project,” Walsh said.

While the revamped proposal carries the identical amount of residential square footage, the developers have eliminated all of the three-bedroom units, created studio apartments and increased the number of units by 88 for a total of 345 units.

The specific number of unit changes includes the creation of 19 studio apartments where there were none, 156 one-bedroom units as opposed to 63 previously, a reduction from 184 two-bedroom apartments to 170, and the elimination of 10 three-bedroom apartments.

“It doesn’t give someone the opportunity quite frankly to raise a family and stay in an apartment like this because there’s no room to expand,” trustee Lawrence Werther said.

In response, Walsh stated that one of the problems the real estate market is faced with is that the demographic the condos were marketed for “you find that when you buy that the price you’re getting for your home is too close to the cost of the unit that you’re going to buy as a condominium; that’s created the inability for a lot of people to move from a home to the condo.”

The building has also been reoriented to face Third Avenue instead of Old Country Road.

“It also takes the vehicular traffic that would have in the prior design entered and egressed the building off of Old Country Road... and put that traffic on Third Avenue where there’s a traffic light,” Walsh said.

The developer was attempting to persuade the board to relax its requirement of having 1.5 parking units per unit, which caused building to go up by 10 ft. as the first level of parking would be on ground level.

“From a traffic and parking perspective, this application is no different than the one you approved in 2009,” senior project manager John Canning of VHB Engineering said, noting that parking rate for townhouses/ condos in suburban areas the number of spaces required per unit was below 1.4 per unit and the average peak parking demand for an urban environment “which is more typical of this location in Mineola next to the ,” would be 1.2 spaces per unit. But Canning said that using another equation for properties located near a train station it would be less than one space for rental units, or 322 vehicles. The current proposal had 518 spaces.

He went on to say that if the building were to reduce the level by 10 ft., thus eliminating a story and 100 spaces with it, the building would still have adequate parking and that the developers would provide valet parking as well as two to three “Zip Cars” – ad hoc rental cars which can be procured on a per use basis – to the residents.

“The one-and-a-half, I think originates from old village data and old village parking,” Walsh added, referring to the parking requirements.

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There were also a “significant” amount of architectural changes detailed by architect Stephen B. Jacobs including the outside being covered in a salmon or tan-covered brick and having large windows at the corner “to maximize not only the view from the interior but to minimize... the bulk and mass of the building.”

The new design also features a two-story lobby, fitness facility, a landscaped courtyard between the two wings of the building with an indoor/outdoor swimming pool heated by solar panels.

“It’s our intention to do this project as soon as approval and everything’s in place,” Kevin Lalezarian of Lake Success Lalezarian Developers, which constructs rental residential housing, said.

“I’m really very disappointed in the look of this building,” trustee Paul Cusato said. “Back in 2009, the photograph that they mayor showed was a ‘wow’ to me; it was going to compliment the other building taking place three blocks away. We mention in this study that we want this building to be the gateway; it’s not the gateway to me. This is a wall, this is not a residential (building).”

In regards to the workforce housing, there would be a “random” disbursement throughout the building. Lalezarian said that the village or his company could either administer the workforce housing, the latter of which is the current situation on several other projects. The eligible range for workforce housing income is between 50 percent and 100 percent of area median income and is in line with most of Nassau County guidelines.

“This is not a case where the folks who are in the next-generation housing are in one area of the building or anything like that,” Walsh said. “They get everything everybody else gets.”

This statement appeared to be in direct conflict with the testimony of Lalezarian, who stated that “sometimes the workforce units the only difference they have is they have different finishes inside the apartment,” in response to a question from Strauss who pressed him about the exact meaning of “finishes.”

In response, Lalezarian said that in one building there would be used “a different line of the same... appliances” in the apartment.

“So if we apply this to say a volunteer firefighter, our volunteer ambulance personnel as a workforce housing, they’d get less quality items than anybody else,” Strauss said. “People that are volunteering their time will get less quality items.

Lalezarian replied that “it’s not less quality but often times its a different brand where it brings the cost down in order to build the project more feasibly. Sometimes it’s a different line of a similar appliance that has all the same features as the market-rate.”

“So why don’t you just put all the same things in all of the units?” Strauss asked, noting that if – according to Lalezarian the difference “is not significant” – “then why have it?”

The mayor listed his initial objections as at 110 ft., the building would be too high and “too massive on the Old Country Road side,” thus creating “a little Manhattan” and that there would be too many units in the building.

The mayor stated that the village needs a “special build option” as preferable to not building any new structure. “From my point of view what I’ve seen here tonight pretty much is not going to work,” Strauss said, asking the developers to “come back with something that might fit better into our village” and holding up a design of the original proposal with setbacks.

“This was what was originally the plan. I think this is something that would fit better into the village than what you’re proposing here tonight.”

Lalezarian stated that he would not consider breaking ground on the project without applying for tax breaks through the Nassau County IDA for PILOT agreements, but that he would not look to sell the project to another company to maintain as a rental like the .

“It’s just not what we are striving (for),” deputy mayor Paul Pereira said. “I’m afraid if we approve something of this size and density it would scare away other developers because the market has been saturated... or we invite other development of this type. I also don’t want to become the haven for rentals only, IDA projects only and 100-ft. buildings only.”

A second hearing on the proposal is scheduled for June 20.

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