By 5TJT Staff
It’s hard to embrace change. For over 100 years, Five Towns residents enjoyed the bucolic view of acres of grassy turf on which to play golf, host events, and enjoy pleasant walks or runs along Woodmere’s golf course. Most residents were blissfully unaware that the Woodmere Club was losing money and that the property had never changed from residential zoning.
The owners sold the property to real-estate developers Robert Weiss and Efrem Gerszberg, eliciting outcries and fears of overdevelopment. Weiss and Gerszberg have decades of experience building beautiful properties that fit in with their environments, and their Willow View Estates plan calls for 284 single-family lots. There was an alternate plan for a senior living condo development and 20 acres of open space which was previously reported in this paper. However, it fell on the deaf ears of the politicians, even though there were over 150 reservations for those types of units.
Neighbors of the property, in particular, besieged their elected officials with demands to ban development. The Town of Hempstead held a meeting filled with boos and sneers at a Cameron Engineering proposal for fewer houses and more grassland. Elected officials recognized that compromise was not possible and continued to issue illegal moratoriums to stall the process. Then a survey was sent to the residents by the Town of Hempstead asking if they would agree to a tax increase to purchase the land as a park. The overwhelming majority responded in the negative.
The developer, in coordination with Town of Hempstead, Village of Lawrence, and Village of Woodsburgh, proceeded with the review of the proposed 284-lot subdivision plan before the Nassau County Planning Commission (“NCPC”), which included a review under New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”). They had completed a substantial part of the SEQRA review process, having spent almost two years and nearly $2 million on fees, plans, and studies, including the completion of a full draft environmental impact statement (“DEIS”) that analyzed the environmental consequences of every component of the project pursuant to the mandates of SEQRA. The NCPC deemed the DEIS complete on May 14, 2020, and, at that time, published the DEIS for review by the municipalities as involved agencies and for comment by the public.
Instead of participating in the review process, the Town of Hempstead, Village of Lawrence, and Village of Woodsburgh voted in late June and early July 2020 to designate a new “Coastal Conservation District – Woodmere Club” zone. The zone was formulated for the municipalities by the same engineering firm that created a Proposed 2018 Golf Course Zone, which would have permitted 125 single-family lots. The newly enacted “zoning” reduced the permitted density on the property from the previously permitted 284 single-family residential lots to just 59, a loss of approximately 80%, or 255 lots. It also takes away the developers’ ability to develop 80% of their acreage.
The developers see many constitutional violations and legal flaws in the Coastal Conservation District and brought a federal lawsuit requesting the Coastal Conservation District be declared null and void or that the municipalities involved pay the company approximately $200,000,000 for taking their land without compensation.
The consensus seems to be that we all want to avoid overdevelopment and the fearful flooding in its wake, traffic headaches, taxing of limited resources. But last year the Town of Hempstead allowed new zoning in Lawrence and Inwood for a major commercial and residential development. The Village of Lawrence is strongly considering building a senior living residence on the site of the former sewage treatment plant.
The Willow View developers had a proposal to provide a Regency-like development on more than four times the acreage of the Regency with a 20-acre park donated to the community. This Plan B offered the community open space and much-needed senior living. The Plan B complex would significantly reduce traffic due to the general reduced driving patterns of seniors and the absence of school buses.
Working together usually yields the best results. The Willow View developers are urging residents to not allow their elected leaders to rack up millions of dollars in useless legal fees to fight a potentially losing battle with tremendous exposure to damages (there are already three different law firms hired to defend the litigation). It would seem that a better course of action would be to negotiate a solution that provides a much-needed asset for our growing and aging community. Save the money, save the time, and let’s work together to make the Woodmere Club property a beautiful locale once again.