Judge Throws Out Seasons Lawsuit

By Andrew Wroblewski

awroblewski@longislandergroup.com

A rendering depicts one of 43 residential buildings proposed to be built as part of the Seasons at Elwood, a 256-unit senior housing development planned for the 37-acre Oak Tree Dairy property in East Northport.

A rendering depicts one of 43 residential buildings proposed to be built as part of the Seasons at Elwood, a 256-unit senior housing development planned for the 37-acre Oak Tree Dairy property in East Northport.

A Suffolk Supreme Court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the Town of Huntington filed by opponents of the Seasons at Elwood, a proposed 256-unit senior housing development for which the town board had approved a zone change last year.

A group of six plaintiffs from across the town filed an Article 78 preceding in September 2014 after the town board approved the zone change a month prior, allowing the 55-and-over community planned for the 37-acre Oak Tree Dairy property in East Northport to move forward.

The plaintiffs alleged across seven causes of action that the town board’s action constituted illegal spot zoning; that the town violated State Environmental Quality Review Act; and that the town did not take “a hard look” at the potential environmental impact of the zone change.

In a ruling dated Nov. 24, judge Joseph C. Pastoressa sided in favor of the town and two co-defendants, Garden City-based developer BK Elwood LLC and property-owner Oak Tree Farm.

“Based upon the facts in the record and the relevant law, the court finds that the respondent Town Board complied with the substantive requirements of SEQRA in that it identified the relevant areas of environmental concern with regard to the proposed rezoning, took a hard look at them and made a reasoned elaboration of the basis of its determination,” Pastoressa’s decision reads.

As for the rezoning of the property, Pastoressa found that the plaintiffs did not “establish a clear conflict with the comprehensive plan [of the town]” and therefore “the zoning classification must be upheld.”

Pastoressa added that while population density of the neighborhood would be increased by the development, a “sizable portion” of the property would be preserved “as open land, provide senior housing and provide a number of affordable units.

“Thus the determination to rezone the subject property was in compliance with the overall policies outlined in the comprehensive plan.”

Jan Burman, president of Garden City-based Engel Burman Group, parent company of BK Elwood, said Tuesday, “We’re very happy with the decision. We think it’s an appropriate decision. Now we can start to move forward.”

Added Huntington spokesman A.J. Carter: “We look forward to construction of a development that will serve our senior population and provide tax benefits for the entire community.”

Wendi Herman, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said Tuesday that she is “very disappointed” with the decision and that the plaintiffs are “contemplating an appeal.”

“I think we were very thorough with what we put before the judge, but I don’t think he addressed it all in the way that he should of. We’re very disappointed. It’s a very important issue to Elwood, obviously, since something of this scale has never been done in this hamlet and we did not feel that it was appropriate to be done in this particular location.”

The Seasons at Elwood proposal was first introduced in March 2012 and has been the cause of public dispute ever since. Public hearings held at Huntington Town Board meetings have drawn both vocal supporters and opponents. Pastoressa’s ruling noted that Huntington received 7,700 letters and emails regarding Seasons from residents prior to a June 17, 2014 public hearing. There were 2,700 in support and 5,000 against, the decision said.

BK Elwood first proposed 482 units before reducing the total multiple times over a two-year period. By July 2014, it trimmed the size of the Seasons at Elwood to 256 units spanning 43 residential buildings.

In order to begin construction at the Oak Tree Dairy property, which is on Elwood Road to the southeast of Elwood-John Glenn High School and northwest of Elwood Park, developer BK Elwood must go before the Huntington Planning Board for site plan approval and building permits. Burman said he’s hoping to get approval within “the next few months.”