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Elwood Residents Speak Out Against Oak Tree Development

Traffic flow, congestion top list of concerns for residents opposed to the development of a 482-unit, 55+ site on the Oak Tree Dairy property.

Residents concerned about traffic flow and congestion on Elwood Road expressed outrage and skepticism at a presentation Thursday night given by representatives from the Engel Burman Group, which is under contract to purchase the 37 acre property. Plans to turn the site into a two story, 482-unit condominium community for 55+ owners known as The Seasons at Elwood would require a zone change from R-40 to R-RM. The property currently has a variance for commercial use.

At a in March hosted by the Elwood Taxpayers Association, traffic consultant Bob Eschbacher had said access to the property would be at a light installed between Hammond Road and Shelby Road. Right and left turning lanes would also be added.

However, at Thursday night's Elwood Board of Education meeting, he said the light would actually be installed opposite Hammond at the county's request. That drew the ire of several Hammond Road residents, including one man who said, "You're going to devastate Hammond." He disagreed with Eschbacher's studies which showed that the busiest times on Elwood are between 7:15-8:15 a.m. and 5-6 p.m. while retired people are most active between 9-10 a.m. and 4-5 p.m. "How many 55-year-olds do you know who are retired?" he asked. "I'm not buying it."

Another Hammond resident agreed, expressing concern about adding potentially 650 more cars to Elwood Road. "This doesn't pass the smell test," he said, and vowed to fight the development.

Residents of Burr Road were equally concerned. Joan Minkowski pointed out that a large number of drivers try to get to Town Line Road using Burr to avoid traffic on Jericho Turnpike. "It's hard for people to get out of their driveways." Eschbacher said the additional cars wouldn't be noticeable, but Minkowski wasn't convinced. "Trust me," she said. "More cars will be noticed."

Another resident wanted to know what happens to the units once the original owner passes away. Krieger said the 55+ rule is included in the deed, thereby excluding future residents with young children. The woman expressed skepticism that the $450,000 price tag would lure future buyers, and predicted the units would be unsold. "It's going to be a wasteland like Florida."

Throughout the evening, Steven Krieger, a partner at Engel Burman, sought to reassure the community that the process was still very much in the early stages. "We're not here as an enemy We're here to let you know what's going on and to hear what you have to say."

The group plans to spend approximately $1 million on improvements to Elwood Road, including improvements to the sidewalk in front of ; installation of flashing beacons to slow cars down to the 30 mph school zone speed limit; and modernization of the "controllers" which moderate the flow of traffic between lights. 

Michael McCarthy, attorney for the group, said the estimated sales price would range from $435,000 to $500,000 for the 1300 square foot, two bedroom/two bath units. Zoning allows for 14.5 units per acre but Krieger said the number in Elwood would be 13. He estimated taxes for the units at around $5000 but said he thought that number could be closer to $7000.

The Elwood school district could potentially see an influx of $1.7 million in taxes if the deal goes through. The dairy currently pays $109,000 in property taxes per year.

McCarthy said the assessed value of the district, which has dropped from $18 million to $17 million, would see a $745,000 increase based on a unit sale price of $450,000.

Not all residents were opposed to the development. One man said he thought it wouldn't "degrade" Elwood but did think some additional stop signs on Burr and Hammond would be helpful. He also suggested that the road improvements be done first, before construction actually begins. Krieger thought that was an excellent idea.

Superintendent Peter Scordo, as well as  Board trustees, made it very clear at the presentation, which was preceded by a short BOE work session, that they had no influence over the proposal. President Joe Fusaro and Vice President Dan Ciccone both disclosed before the start of the meeting that they had done business in the past with McCarthy but were not currently associated with him. Trustee Andrew Kaplan, whose employer has a financial interest in the Oak Tree Dairy property, recused himself and left the dais to sit in the audience.

Asked for a timeline for the project, McCarthy said the zoning change still has to be approved by the Town. If it's granted, then the next step is a site plan review by the planning board, followed by an application for a building permit. The whole process could easily take 18 months before work begins.

If the project doesn't come to pass, Krieger said the owner of the dairy had told him that he would ramp up operations. 

At the end of the evening, Krieger made it clear he heard residents' concerns, and said he would approach Suffolk County again about moving the light on Hammond back to where it had originally been proposed.

Despite the amount of objections raised, Krieger said after the meeting that he thought the evening went well. "We got a lot of great feedback."

FYI May 07, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Trade you for Matinecock Ct. housing project?
Thunder Buddies May 08, 2012 at 12:13 AM
The Seasons AND Matinecock within miles of one another?! Let the line of cars begin! Elwood Road has already become a traveling disaster weekdays and forget weekends! Unless you turn it into a 4-lane boulevard...good luck getting from 25A to Jericho in less than 20 minutes!
Goin' Commando May 08, 2012 at 04:15 AM
Frankly, it's not possible to widen Elwood to four lanes, & it would also make any proposal much more complicated than a sensible developer would want, since Elwood Road is County Road 10, so that would require not only Town of Huntington approval, but Suffolk County approval as well. So, between the physical impediments, & the County-addition complexity, I doubt that is something which would be proposed. Next, you have to consider the difference in traffic patterns between a community of working-age folks, & a community with (mostly) retired age adults. Those who are no longer employed would have very different driving patterns than those who leave to work, and return from work. One could argue (though I'm not making this contention) that a larger community of primarily retired folks would add less to rush-hour Elwood Rd traffic than a community of single family homes newly-built within that Oak Tree Dairy property. Finally, to consider this purely from the perspective of residents of the Elwood School District, there would be a huge tradeoff between the traffic addition from the proposed over-55 development & the taxes which the owners of the proposed development would pay to the school district. Even if the projected $1.7 million was off by 1/3, that would still be over $1.1 million to help hold down property taxes for residents. In contrast, Elwood residents would still get the traffic from Matinecock, but they wouldn't get a penny in revenue in return.
john m May 08, 2012 at 07:21 AM
Sure would make a better veiw when your stuck in traffic.
Thunder Buddies May 08, 2012 at 02:58 PM
I was trying to make light of the road situation...but it's not really a joking type of situation. Of course there's no room - nor would I think anyone would WANT Elwood Road widened to four lanes! The stop lights, the flashing beacons, the 'zones' are all fancy talk to imply that Elwood Road traffic will be controlled. I understand that there was a time when there was more land than houses in this area and farms and dairies were a part of the landscape. And houses were built over the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and now 2000s to change that ratio to more houses (people and cars) than open fields. The owners of the dairy have a right to sell their land and make money...but let's make a sensible project out of it. I wish the dairy would not threaten the residents by saying they'll "ramp up production" if the project doesn't come to pass. Can they even do that?! Does that bother anyone? It seems that residents are being woo-ed by the almighty dollar. Elwood will benefit from the huge increase in taxes for these new units. That's right now. What about in 10 years? What about when these roads have to be re-surfaced and the lights maintained? Let's think about the quality of life for current residents. And for future years. I'm not saying to not build on the property...but 482 units? C'mon!

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