By Danny Schrafel
Engel Burman Group has agreed to once again reduce the size of The Seasons at Elwood, a 55-and-over senior lifestyle community proposed to be built on the 37-acre Oak Tree Dairy property.
The move to trim 84 units and 13 residential buildings from the 360-unit, 56-building proposal introduced in late February follows several weeks of meetings coordinated by Supervisor Frank Petrone between Engel Burman Group President Jan Burman and representatives of the Elwood Taxpayers Association and Preserving Elwood Now (PEN), two civic groups that strongly opposed The Seasons in its more dense iterations.
The resulting 256-unit proposal, which calls for 43 residential buildings, reduces the density to approximately 6.8 units per acre from nearly 13 per acre in the earliest version. The developer is allowed up to 14.5 units per acre in the R-RM Retirement Community District which Engel Burman is seeking for the parcel.
A vote on the proposed zone change could come as soon as the Aug. 19 town board meeting, town spokesman A.J. Carter said. Four votes are required to pass the zone change because protest petitions filed by PEN in mid-June were deemed valid.
“We’re hopeful and expecting they’ll be voting in favor of it,” Burman said.
Petrone said Tuesday that the new number is “a middle ground we can live and work with.”
“I don’t think there’s one person who’s going to say that they’re happy with this,” Petrone said. “But they understand you’re not going to get much lower than this, and given what is in front of you, you have a piece of land that eventually someone’s going to develop.”
The new unit count represents the fourth time Engel Burman Group has downsized the proposal. When the Garden City-based developer introduced The Seasons in March 2012, it contained 482 units before being reduced to 444 later that year. It was trimmed to 396 in January, then 360 in late February before the most recent cuts.
“Two meetings ago, the Taxpayers and PEN said they would endorse 256 units if we could,” Burman said. “It was based upon my being able to accept what they said they could live with.”
However, Jim Cameron, president of PEN, stressed they are not advocating for the new proposal.
“We are not endorsing or supporting this current proposal, which is the rumor around town,” Cameron said Tuesday. “We have negotiated this as far as we can, and have expressed to our membership that it is up to them to contact the decision makers at Town Hall.”
If the zone change is approved, new plans will be filed and finalized during the town and county planning process, Burman said.
Throughout the more than two-year process, the Engel Burman Group has pledged to invest nearly $1 million in traffic infrastructure upgrades to Elwood Road. That sum has held steady as the unit count decreased, and the commitment remains, Engel Burman attorney Michael McCarthy said.
But Burman said some of that money may be redirected, if Petrone requests it, to a one-time gift to the Elwood School District, whose school board has formally opposed the development. The board continues to do so, said its president, Joe Fusaro.
Initial plans called for a gift to the schools of up to $1 million; an email to community members following the most recent Seasons meeting hosted by Petrone at Town Hall now puts that sum at $500,000.
Petrone said the funds for that contribution could be drawn from the traffic infrastructure commitment, possibly by moving an entrance to The Seasons so it is not directly across from Hammond Road and by tapping Suffolk County’s assistance in making traffic improvements.
“That may change the infrastructure expense, and the county may be doing some other stuff we can coordinate with,” Petrone said.
But Fusaro said taking Engel Burman’s money now would be like charging something on a credit card that you can’t afford when the bill comes.
Although the developer proposes attaching a 55-and-over age restriction to the land as a covenant, the school district’s primary concern, Fusaro said, is that Town Hall cannot make an ironclad guarantee that the project will never add children to district schools.
“We have to look all the way down the road. If three, five, 20 years down the road that [55-and-over covenant] changes, and we have to build schools to accommodate the influx, it’s a disaster,” Fusaro said.
Word of the apparent compromise proposal comes about two weeks after Councilwoman Tracey Edwards said the 360-unit proposal was “too dense” in an interview with Long Islander News following the July 15 town board meeting. Her vote is critical to passing the zone change for The Seasons because a four-vote supermajority is required to ratify it.
Councilwoman Susan Berland said the new offer merits a close look from town board members, but she wants to continue soliciting feedback.
“When they’re entitled to 14.5 [units per acre] and now, this is under 7, it’s certainly a number that has to be seriously considered,” she said.
Councilman Mark Cuthbertson said he too was awaiting more community feedback on the revised plans. Edwards did not return calls for comment by press time.
However, Councilman Gene Cook remains opposed to The Seasons at the new unit distribution, and said he objects to how the new plans were brokered.
“When it comes down to unbalance and unfairness to our taxpayers, absolutely [I am opposed],” he said Monday. “When the supervisor is doing backroom deals instead of letting everybody know what’s going on, it’s a shame on this town board.”
Petrone said that he did not consult Cook – or other town board members, for that matter – and said he planned to do so as the next town board meeting draws closer. However, he said consulting with Cook would have accomplished little.
“Gene Cook is not somebody I consult with in terms of trying to develop confidence,” he said. “I just don’t because I’ve had the experiences now where Gene doesn’t want to be involved or Gene just takes the opposite position. He’s critical of everything and supports nothing.”