While Jerry Wolkoff’s 15-year-old plan to build 9,000 apartments at Heartland Town Square seems on the verge of finally getting a shovel in the ground, a muddle remains whether his mammoth project needs to include 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent of the apartments as affordable housing.
Islip town board in its rezoning approval last month mandated that Wolkoff make 10 percent of the units in his project affordable. In doing so they overturned a Suffolk Planning Commission condition for approval, which would have required that 15 percent be workforce housing.
Commission officials say that while the condition may be have been rejected, the town cannot overturn the county law, approved earlier this year, which mandates that a developer who wants to hook up to a county sewage treatment plant must include 15 percent affordable units in their project.
That law, sponsored by Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue) was aimed at encouraging developers to construct more affordable housing by waiving as much as 100 percent of the sewer connection fees — which cost from $10,000 to $14,000 per unit — by making up to 75 percent of the project affordable. The law also lowered the threshold of the affordable mandate from 20 percent to 15 percent.
But some say Wolkoff may have to comply with a 20 percent affordable mandate because he signed a sewer connection agreement with the county at a time when that requirement was in place. That connection agreement reserves the 1.6 million gallons in daily capacity at the Bergen Point sewer plant that his project will ultimately need.
County Attorney Dennis Brown said he is reviewing both the town rezoning and county law but has yet to determine which level of affordable housing is required. “We don’t have a final answer,” he said. However, Legislative Counsel George Nolan and his predecessor, Paul Sabatino, believe Calarco’s law prevails.
Wolkoff, 81, said he believes the town zoning decision should apply, but he is willing to go along with the 15 percent the county may require. But he added his connection agreement was made so long ago, he does not believe there was any requirement for affordable housing when it was first made. County officials Friday could not provide details of the original agreement.
George Meyer, Islip planning commissioner, said the county law and the town zoning decision are not in conflict. He said the town’s decision requires Wolkoff to build 10 percent affordable housing, based on an income standard of 80 percent to 100 percent of the local median family annual income — $62,000 to $71,000 for a family of four. The county workforce housing standard makes those earning 100 percent to 120 percent of the median local income — $93,000 to $106,350 annually — eligible.
Meyer said the town set a lower income level because Wolkoff is marketing his units to “older empty-nesters and younger millennials” with less money. He said Wolkoff could meet the 10 percent town requirement and comply with the county law with those eligible under higher county income limits.
While Wolkoff still faces some final skirmishes with the county planning commission, he said it may still be two years before construction starts because he must now do designs for streets and utilities, including sewers, before housing construction can begin. He must also get final approval from the county sewer agency and the county legislature on a hookup to the sewer plant.
Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) who voted against Calarco’s bill, said he opposed lowering the affordable mandate from 20 percent to 15 percent as counterproductive. But Krupski, also a member of the sewer agency, added the county must treat Wolkoff the same as other developers who may have signed connection agreements in the past. “In the end, you have to do what is fair,” he said.