The corner of Warner and Lincoln Avenues near the Roslyn railroad station will have a different look a few years hence. On March 23, the Village of Roslyn Board of Trustees unanimously voted (5-0) to approve a request by 281-301 Warner Avenue LLC to erect a mixed use building consisting of four to five stories with 54 rental units, The ground floor will be taken up by retail space. There will be 23 one-bedroom and 31 two-bedroom apartments.
The board also approved the environmental impact statement’s conclusion that the project would have no impact.
The first step to transform the property came in July, 2018, when Roslyn resident Jerry Karlik and J. K. Equities bought the .85-acre parcel at 281-301 Warner Ave. for about $4.2 million and later submitted a proposal for a mixed-use building in what was then an area zoned commercial. The strip mall, constructed in 1949, would be razed to make way for a multi-story building.
Last October, the village board voted to change the area adjacent to the railroad station to transit mixed-unit (TMU) in order to encourage transit-oriented development (TOD).
In a March 2020 memo, planning and real estate consultants Phillips Preiss wrote of the area: “The Long Island Railroad’s Roslyn station is located a short distance to the south of the southeast corner of the Village of Roslyn. There is an existing small business district in the portion of the Village closest to the train station, along with other nonresidential uses followed by multifamily residential. This area is well separated from any single family residential uses in the Village of Roslyn. Given its setting, existing conditions and proximity to Roslyn station, it may be an appropriate location for new transit-oriented development.”
Under the new TMU, the area is zoned for a gross density of 30 units/acre, meaning by right the project would be limited to 27 apartments. This was the size that most residents who weighed in at numerous public hearings, as well as the Roslyn School District, favored.
But as a number board members stated at the March 23 Zoom meeting, 27 apartments would not be economically viable for the developer. It first asked for 72 and was negotiated down to a final figure of 54. This number was made possible by zoning incentives written into the code that allow developers to overcome limitations such as height and density by offering a range of incentives. 281-301 Warner Avenue LLC agreed to streetscape improvements and more importantly, 20 percent workforce housing, meaning that 11 apartments will be rented at lower than market rates. Under the Long Island Workforce Housing Act, developers can exceed density limitations if they set aside at least 10 percent of the units at affordable rates.
The property is 179×208 feet. Its fair market value in 2021 was about $2.8 million and its owners paid about $115,000 in school and general taxes.
Representatives from VHB, environmental consultants based in Hauppauge, gave their final presentations before the vote.
Patrick Lenihan took on residents’ concerns about parking spillover, stating that the project met code requirements for parking spaces, and “we don’t foresee any issues related to parking.”
He made note of the school district’s latest letter asking the village to consider only granting density up to 30 units per acre.
“Effectively, that would reduce the units to 27 from 54,” Lenihan stated. “As I’ve said, the traffic associated with the project has been shown to have little impact with 54 units, so the reduction to 27 would in fact only remove an average of one vehicle every six minutes from the roadway network during the highest of the peak periods, which occurs on Saturday for the residential portion.”
David Wortman, senior environmental manager at VHB said, “A full environmental assessment form and supplemental analyses addressing a range of environmental topics have been submitted for the board’s consideration. The result of the analyses is that the project does not have the potential to result in a significant adverse environmental impact. It looked at things like water usage, sanitary waste generation, community facilities and services, among various other topics. Those are related to the specific density and program of the proposed development. The proposed action would not result in a significant adverse impacts to the environment.”
Michael Sahn, the attorney representing the developer, reiterated that “the applicant is committed to the highest level of environmental remediation for the conditions at the site. The applicant is also committed to a 20 percent affordable workforce housing allocations for the units that are proposed. And the applicant is committed to build the project as presented with the architectural plans and elements that we’ve discussed. And to follow through on all the commitments that have been made to the village during the course of the hearings with the proposed incentive bonuses and the community amenities that have been proposed.”
The school district said its demographers gave an estimate of up to 14 additional school-aged children that the apartments, at full build-out, would add to the district.
Wortman pushed back against the district’s figures. He claimed the studies, as part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), suggested that between 2 and 7 students would be added, “which we submit will be imperceptible among the current enrollment of 3,194 students in the Roslyn School District.”
Representing the district at the March 23 meeting was attorney Carrie-Ann Tondo of Ingerman Smith LLP of Hauppauge.
“The district fully appreciates that the board is charged with approving or disapproving or modifying projects that are proposed in the village,” she said during public comment. “And while we understand the applicant may not be concerned about the cumulative impact of all developments, the village must consider this cumulative impact.”
She mentioned a Jan. 18 letter from the district to the board outlying its objections, and raising health, safety and traffic concerns. In a Feb. 12 letter to village, the district quoted a study by its demographer asserting that there is no net benefit—including tax revenues—to the district resulting from the project.
Tondo also argued that if the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) grants the expected developer requests for tax breaks and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT), the district will be impacted. She asserted that the wider economic impact of possible tax credits should be studied before the project is approved.
The district also requested that the board take into account the DEC review of the environmental remediation before moving forward and further study the environmental impacts.
Residents Maureen O’Connor, Nancy Shores and Ronald Smith all spoke against the size of the project. Smith also reiterated his concerns with parking and traffic.
Sahn was asked by Mayor John Durkin to respond and stated that the several presentations by the developers’ reps “had addressed those concerns in regards to traffic, density and impact on school system. I don’t think there was anything new that was presented that we have not already addressed, and we would rest on the record presented so far.”
Durkin stated, “We were aware of the problems that the people in the area had [with the project], we think we’ve taken that into consideration. I think we were very deliberate in our process. We didn’t rush through this.”
Deputy Mayor Marshall E. Bernstein said, “I favor this application. I believe it’s in the very best interests of the village.”
He went on to claim that “the site has long been an eyesore and will be replaced by a beautifully designed building. Together with improvements to the streetscape and the sidewalks it will make it one of the most visually pleasing places in the county.”
Bernstein affirmed that the project had the support in the Roslyn business community and Chamber of Commerce and will increase the tax base,
“We have to do what is best for our community and take into account the realities of today. Not some additional hypothetical issues that the school board might bring up,” he concluded before casting his vote.
Trustee Marta Genovese said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m in favor of the project. On balance it will be a benefit to the community. Though I would certainly have preferred to seeing a smaller building on that site. We don’t have a developer who could put a 30-unit building and have it be viable.”
She added, “We’re lucky that we have a developer who’s committed to doing a quality project. Developers haven’t knocked down the door to do something on this site, which has been a problem for some time, both from an environmental point of view and from the appearance.”
Trustee Craig Westergard has been on the board for 20 years and is the former president of the village’s Landmark Society. He noted the numerous historic structures in the village, but also looked “forward to good architecture being developed in the community.”
Of the proposed project he said, “I don’t feel it’s a detriment to the community. It’s going to be another wonderful addition to our village. The building is going to be magnificent, and I’m behind it 100 percent.”
Trustee Sarah Opal said, “I’ve only lived here 11 years and I’ve been looking at this ugly property fro 11 years and wondering when things are going to change. Craig [Westergard] has been looking at this for 30 years and wondering when things are going to change. Things can’t change unless you change them, and change is hard. This is our chance to actually do something.”
She made the argument that the proposed apartments were perfect for young professionals who would otherwise leave Long Island.
Opal understood why people didn’t want change, and took the attitude of “But we like how it is,” observing, “Yes, but in order to breathe life into a community and to keep thriving you need to bring new people into the community.”
She concluded, “I’ve been rah rah from day one for this project. Thirty years we’ve been looking at that property. It’s time for a change. Come on, people.”
Durkin admitted he was nervous about the project. He’d been on the board since 1995 and had seen many developments come and go and was familiar and sympathetic to the criticism of “it’s too big.”
“It will have an impact on the village and it will shape and change the nature of our village,” he said of 281-301 Warner Avenue, “But I believe this project, as those other projects, will have a very positive impact on the village as we go along.”