Developers met with support and backlash over the proposed Union Boulevard apartments
During an Islip Town planning board meeting last Tuesday, Tritec Real Estate made their case for a development they are looking to build on the property that currently houses the Touro College of Health Sciences.
The developer entered into a contract last year to purchase the roughly 10-acre property, located at 1700 Union Boulevard. The sale should be completed in 2020, according to officials. Reps said they are looking to tear down the existing four-story structure and construct a mixed-use building that consists of 495 apartments and approximately 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
Tritec, which is based in East Setauket, is applying for change of zone from Business District to Downtown Development District. The team has been behind numerous downtown revitalizations throughout Suffolk County, including New Village in Patchogue, the Ronkonkoma Hub and the Shipyard in Port Jefferson Harbor.
Eugene De Nicola, the applicant’s representative, said the project would provide immediate and long-lasting economic benefits to the community when Touro vacates the property next year. He also said the development would create a more cohesive downtown area, with more foot traffic that benefits local shops and restaurants, and cut down on automobile use due to the close proximity to the hamlet’s train station. He also noted the development’s close proximity to the Bay Shore ferries and Southside Hospital.
“This is a perfect first-class housing development for a growing professional community in a thriving downtown,” De Nicola said, adding that it provides much-needed multi-family housing.
A number of speakers, mostly union workers from Local 200, voiced support for the project because of the construction jobs it would create.
Robert Oswald, a Bay Shore native who now resides in Islip and works for the local plumbers union, said the development would help put food on his table. “It’s great for local jobs,” he said.
Donna Periconi, president of the Bay Shore Chamber of Commerce, also endorsed the project. She said her first choice for the property was a botanical garden. But when it became clear that wasn’t feasible, she came to support Tritec’s proposal. Periconi added that the development would offer tenants a new lifestyle they aren’t normally accustomed to in the community. She also said a project like this not only attracts younger people with disposable income, but also older residents who have sold their houses and are looking for a work-free environment. In addition, Periconi asked concerned residents “if not Tritec, who and what will come to Bay Shore and fill this spot?”
There were also a number of speakers who voiced opposition to the project.
One of the most notable was Brightwaters resident Rick Damore, who has lived in the community for about 60 years. Damore said he is invested in the community in a way that Tritec is not.
“I left Queens when I was 6 years old,” he said in an emotional speech. “I’m in my mid-60s now. I don’t want to die in Queens. This [project], to me, is Queens. This [development] does not belong here or in any other town up and down the corridor of Union [Boulevard] and Montauk Highway.”
“I can assure you that the people in this community will rally against this [project] in a big way. It’ll be reminiscent of what we say at Shoreham Wading River when the people were laying [down] to prevent the workers from coming in to build the [nuclear power] plant,” Damore continued.
Barbara Cannova, a Bay Shore resident, also took issue with the idea that the apartments in the proposed development are marketed as affordable. She argued that people who work in the local restaurants and chain stores could not afford the rent of these apartments, which officials had listed earlier in the evening as $1,800 per month and up.
“I think we need to stop this [project] in its tracks and get people to sit down and consider something else [for the property] before Bay Shore turns into what it used to be in the ‘90s,” Cannova said.
De Nicola and other Tritec reps also stated that the development would add between 12 and 41 students to the Bay Shore School District. They are, however, leaning more towards the higher number and came to the conclusion through a study (“Impact of Market Rate Apartments on School District Enrollment”) that was conducted, earlier this year, by REI at Stony Brook University College of Business. Some of the residents who oppose the development were skeptical of these numbers and felt the Bay Shore School District should weigh in on the issue.
“The Bay Shore School District is aware of the extensive housing project being proposed for the current site of Touro College,” said superintendent Joseph Bond in a statement earlier this week. “The board of education and I have been looking closely at the proposal submitted by the developer. While the application appears benign and is perhaps welcomed by some, as is often the case, the devil is in the details, and this project could potentially be a Trojan Horse.”
The district, he went on to explain, has grave concerns about how the project will impact the students, given the reality of the legislative restraints imposed on the tax levy and the tax relief being sought by the developer. He also stated that there is no revenue to provide relief should the developer’s subjective estimate of 12 students be understated.
“There is no guarantee that the nearly 500 proposed apartments will be rented by the empty-nesters and childless millennials,” he added. “The district would potentially be absorbing an unlimited number of students at an unknown additional cost, without the ability to increase the district’s revenues accordingly.”
The district, he said, will continue to monitor the project closely, as well as others that have been proposed for the area, and will act in accordance with the best interests of the district and its students.
For comparison, New Village in Patchogue, which is a similar development, currently houses about a half-dozen students within the Patchogue-Medford School District. n