Less than a month after voting against a developer’s payment in lieu of taxes request for a $90 million, 172-unit luxury apartment complex in Island Park, the Town of Hempstead Industrial Development Agency board voted to approve it in a re-vote on Feb. 19.
“The board found it was an excellent project,” IDA Chief Executive Officer Fred Parola said. “Our board is oriented toward economic development.”
Arlington, Va.-based AvalonBay Communities was granted a 15-year PILOT agreement for the complex, which is to be built at the former Harbor Isle petroleum-storage facility in Island Park, ending more than a decade of controversy over how to develop the site. The payment will be $100,000 the first year, and increase in increments to $1 million by year 15.
The board voted, 3-2, against the PILOT request at its Jan. 23 meeting, a result that was described as a surprise by many of the project’s detractors. Immediately after the vote, however, Parola told the Herald that the board would soon seek a revote after board members’ questions were answered. When the board voted again on Feb. 19, the result was 4-1 in favor of the agreement. The only board member to vote against it at both meetings was Vice Chairman James Marsh, who called it “one of the worst examples of corporate welfare that I’ve ever seen” during the Feb. 19 discussion.
Chris Capece, vice president of development for AvalonBay, said that now that the PILOT has been approved, the first steps in the redevelopment process include bulkhead reconstruction and remediation of the site, which will begin in spring, pending weather conditions. Capece noted that because contaminated soil and groundwater were discovered on the lot, left over from the days when it was a petroleum-storage facility, the $9 million remediation process would be difficult, but would improve the site.
“In the end, this is an 11.6-acre contaminated site that has been an eyesore for many years,” he said. “We’re very confident that the local community is going to be very pleased with the quality of the completed community.”
Capece said the project would take about 36 months to complete, and that tenants would start moving into the apartments in late 2021, with full occupancy expected by mid-2022.
Kevin Law, the president and CEO of the Long Island Business Association, lauded the project, saying that more developments like the one in Harbor Isle are needed on Long Island and calling it a “major plus” for the community.
“It repurposes a major contaminated brownfield into much-needed luxury multifamily homes,” Law said. “In turn, this additional housing option not only helps our economy attract and retain young professionals, but also gives empty-nesters the opportunity to downsize and stay on the Island, keeping their considerable buying power in our communities.”
The PILOT vote, however, was not well received by all. Jack Vobis, president of the Island Park Board of Education, said he addressed the IDA board at the meeting and was disappointed to see two of the members change their minds after the original vote.
“My reaction at first was disbelief,” Vobis said. “We learned the possibility of there being a revote the minute after the first vote was taken. I don’t want to say this, but other people have said the fix was in, which you can’t argue with. You only revote to change an outcome.”
Vobis said that he favored development at the site, but as a taxpayer, he did not support the PILOT because of its length, saying he would have favored a three-year agreement.
School officials are also wary of the pending litigation over the Barrett Power Plant. Island Park homeowners could soon see a 25 percent increase in taxes due to the Long Island Power Authority’s challenge of the property taxes that it pays on the plant. LIPA is seeking to reduce its taxes on four National Grid-owned power plants, including Barrett, arguing that the properties are over-assessed by at least 90 percent.
Island Park Schools Superintendent Rosmarie Bovino has been outspoken in her opposition to the project for many reasons, including her concern about the impact that adding nearly 200 more residents would have on traffic. She noted in January that there are only two ways out of Harbor Isle.
Parola said that the IDA board is not responsible for traffic studies, and Town of Hempstead officials approved the project on the basis that traffic would not be an issue. He added that despite school officials’ traffic concerns, he believed the units would be geared toward young adults or seniors, not residents with children. He called the concerns “ill-founded,” and said the property, as it stands, is an environmental hazard that annually generates $97,000 in taxes, while the AvalonBay Communities complex will generate $400,000 by its fourth year.
Residents have also spoken out against the PILOT deal. Rich Schurin, who has lived near the site for 18 years, said he was one of a dozen residents, school officials and union workers to address the board in opposition to the proposal at the Feb. 19 meeting. “There was absolutely no justification for the revote,” Schurin said. “I’m against it because the costs far outweigh the reduced tax revenue that this project would bring as a result of the project.”
At the meeting, Michael Scully, a former president of the Island Park Chamber of Commerce, was one of many residents to question why there was a revote. Parola said the board did not have enough information about the project at its January meeting, including the impact it might have on the schools.
Schurin expressed disappointment in the reversal. “I thought it was over,” he said. “They voted it down and the community won. I was very surprised they called for a revote.”