15 Sep 2014
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Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development

Traffic flow, congestion top list of concerns for residents opposed to the development of a 482-unit, 55+ site on the Oak Tree Dairy property.

Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development

Residents concerned about traffic flow and congestion on Elwood Road expressed outrage and skepticism at a presentation Thursday night given by representatives from the Engel Burman Group, which is under contract to purchase the 37 acre property. Plans to turn the site into a two story, 482-unit condominium community for 55+ owners known as The Seasons at Elwood would require a zone change from R-40 to R-RM. The property currently has a variance for commercial use.

At a in March hosted by the Elwood Taxpayers Association, traffic consultant Bob Eschbacher had said access to the property would be at a light installed between Hammond Road and Shelby Road. Right and left turning lanes would also be added.

However, at Thursday night's Elwood Board of Education meeting, he said the light would actually be installed opposite Hammond at the county's request. That drew the ire of several Hammond Road residents, including one man who said, "You're going to devastate Hammond." He disagreed with Eschbacher's studies which showed that the busiest times on Elwood are between 7:15-8:15 a.m. and 5-6 p.m. while retired people are most active between 9-10 a.m. and 4-5 p.m. "How many 55-year-olds do you know who are retired?" he asked. "I'm not buying it."

Another Hammond resident agreed, expressing concern about adding potentially 650 more cars to Elwood Road. "This doesn't pass the smell test," he said, and vowed to fight the development.

Residents of Burr Road were equally concerned. Joan Minkowski pointed out that a large number of drivers try to get to Town Line Road using Burr to avoid traffic on Jericho Turnpike. "It's hard for people to get out of their driveways." Eschbacher said the additional cars wouldn't be noticeable, but Minkowski wasn't convinced. "Trust me," she said. "More cars will be noticed."

Another resident wanted to know what happens to the units once the original owner passes away. Krieger said the 55+ rule is included in the deed, thereby excluding future residents with young children. The woman expressed skepticism that the $450,000 price tag would lure future buyers, and predicted the units would be unsold. "It's going to be a wasteland like Florida."

Throughout the evening, Steven Krieger, a partner at Engel Burman, sought to reassure the community that the process was still very much in the early stages. "We're not here as an enemy We're here to let you know what's going on and to hear what you have to say."

The group plans to spend approximately $1 million on improvements to Elwood Road, including improvements to the sidewalk in front of ; installation of flashing beacons to slow cars down to the 30 mph school zone speed limit; and modernization of the "controllers" which moderate the flow of traffic between lights. 

Michael McCarthy, attorney for the group, said the estimated sales price would range from $435,000 to $500,000 for the 1300 square foot, two bedroom/two bath units. Zoning allows for 14.5 units per acre but Krieger said the number in Elwood would be 13. He estimated taxes for the units at around $5000 but said he thought that number could be closer to $7000.

The Elwood school district could potentially see an influx of $1.7 million in taxes if the deal goes through. The dairy currently pays $109,000 in property taxes per year.

McCarthy said the assessed value of the district, which has dropped from $18 million to $17 million, would see a $745,000 increase based on a unit sale price of $450,000.

Not all residents were opposed to the development. One man said he thought it wouldn't "degrade" Elwood but did think some additional stop signs on Burr and Hammond would be helpful. He also suggested that the road improvements be done first, before construction actually begins. Krieger thought that was an excellent idea.

Superintendent Peter Scordo, as well as  Board trustees, made it very clear at the presentation, which was preceded by a short BOE work session, that they had no influence over the proposal. President Joe Fusaro and Vice President Dan Ciccone both disclosed before the start of the meeting that they had done business in the past with McCarthy but were not currently associated with him. Trustee Andrew Kaplan, whose employer has a financial interest in the Oak Tree Dairy property, recused himself and left the dais to sit in the audience.

Asked for a timeline for the project, McCarthy said the zoning change still has to be approved by the Town. If it's granted, then the next step is a site plan review by the planning board, followed by an application for a building permit. The whole process could easily take 18 months before work begins.

If the project doesn't come to pass, Krieger said the owner of the dairy had told him that he would ramp up operations. 

At the end of the evening, Krieger made it clear he heard residents' concerns, and said he would approach Suffolk County again about moving the light on Hammond back to where it had originally been proposed.

Despite the amount of objections raised, Krieger said after the meeting that he thought the evening went well. "We got a lot of great feedback."

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