Jul 29, 2014

Oak Tree Dairy: Elwood Has Two Options

Dairy says it will go to 24/7 full output if condo project doesn't go through.

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Elwood residents can either accept a condominium development at the Oak Tree Dairy or watch it go to 100 percent output, Oak Tree President Hari Singh said at a packed Huntington Town Board meeting Tuesday.

"We could easily produce a million gallons a week in the facility we're running that gets distributed out with about 200 tractor trailers a week," he said. "We can't put those on our property, but we've already discussed alternatives with the town over the years. The solution is to shuttle vehicles on and off our property. It's perfectly legitimate."

If Oak Tree leases to out-of-state dairies, it would become a 24-hour operation working at double its peak production. Because the dairy is restricted to storing only 20 trucks on its property, Singh estimates that the additional tractor trailers and tankers would need to make about 600 round trips per week along Elwood Road, each requiring about 45 seconds to make a left turn.

"The traffic will be profoundly more, the sound, the noise, and the impact," he said. "We wanted to avoid that alternative."

The third alternative--selling the Oak Tree Dairy for development at current zoning--is not financially viable, said Singh. At its current zoning, a developer could build about 30 homes on one acre lots.

Related: Elwood Residents Organize Against Proposed Condos l Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development l 482 Condos Proposed at Oak Tree Dairy

"We've been spending the last three years working on this alternative of this development," said Singh, "which from our perspective was extremely thoughtful. [Developer Engel Burman] mitigated a great deal of the externalities and we thought that the government would recognize that this development addresses so many of the potential downsides while removing the dairy. We thought that it would be a no-brainer. And, frankly, it's a simpler alternative and it's slightly more profitable."

A zoning change from R-40 to R-RM is required to build the proposed 444-unit, 55+ age-restricted community. Though the request is still under review by the Town Planning Board and has yet to be scheduled for a public hearing, Preserve Elwood Now (PEN), a group formed in opposition to the development, came out in full force Tuesday to preemptively voice their concerns. They were met with equal vigor by proponents, including over 200 local carpenters.

Opponents held up signs issued by PEN reading "Stop the Downzoning of Oak Tree Dairy" and "No More Traffic on Elwood Road." Proponents, concentrated in one section of the room and lined along the back, held up handmade signs emphasizing the project's financial impact on the school district.

Engel Burman promised to ante up $1 million dollars to Elwood School District the first year and increase the school tax by $2 million per year thereafter, though some aren't impressed by the offer.

"Why should you be allowed to downzone and get things because you want a certain return?" said one woman opposed to the project. "People want certain returns on their homes, and if this goes through, their property values are going down and they're not going to get their return and they'll be no developer coming in saying, 'I'll give you a million bucks here and a free park there.'"

Residents who spoke against the dairy at the meeting did not seem aware of Oak Tree's plans to go to full scale production should Engel Burman Group's zoning change request fail, resulting in increased truck traffic on Elwood Road. Should the zoning change request pass, Engel Burman Partner Steve Krieger said his company will spend $1 million to synchronize the traffic lights along Elwood Road and provide a left turn lane into the development.

"Right now, if there's a truck going north and making a left into the dairy, the traffic is backed up all the way to Cuba Hill," he added.

In response to environmental concerns, Engel Burman said that any and all requisite studies would be completed.

"A lot of people lose sight of what's there now," said Scott Burman, a principal with Engel Burman Group. "You've got an industrial use with an open-air sewage treatment plant that this would take the place of. If it doesn't, you're going to be stuck with that type of use. It's not like we're taking a pristine property that's undeveloped and turning it into a residential community."

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