About 400 people showed up for Wednesday night's sometimes raucous public hearing in Long Beach about tax breaks for a proposed apartment and retail complex next to the boardwalk.
Many of the nearly 50 people who testified during the three-hour hearing were opposed to the request by developers iStar Financial Inc. and AvalonBay Communities Inc. for $128.6 million in tax breaks from the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency.
Most of the savings would come from a 25-year deal on property tax bills, according to the companies' application for aid obtained by Newsday under the state Freedom of Information law.
IStar and AvalonBay have proposed a $273 million project for the Superblock, a parcel between Broadway and the boardwalk that has been vacant since 1985. It consists of two 15-story towers with 522 luxury oceanfront apartments, 11,500 square feet of retail shops and parking. The developers have said that without IDA help the project cannot be built.
"How do you expect the taxpayers to take on the burden of iStar's tax bills?" said Kathleen O'Leary, a laid-off information technology worker living in Long Beach. "I have struggled to maintain my home and pay my taxes. If I, as a 22-year taxpayer, cannot get a break , why should iStar get one?"
IStar executive Karl Frey said the Long Beach City Council has endorsed the amount and duration of the tax breaks. "The Superblock is an unpolished gem," said Frey, who argued that "every major residential construction project" receives similar incentives.
Of the four current and former politicians who spoke, three opposed the tax breaks and one called for the use of union construction workers exclusively.
Former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, who lives in nearby Lido Beach, said, "I want to see something built on the Superblock, but not something that takes $100 million out of taxpayers' pockets."
Harvey Weisenberg, who represented Long Beach for 25 years in the Assembly, agreed, saying many residents of his hometown are struggling to pay taxes and rebuild after superstorm Sandy.
Organizations endorsing the incentive package include the Long Island Builders Institute and Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce. Opponents include the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce and three local civic associations.
IDA officials emphasized that they have made no decision on whether to back the project. Executive director Joseph J. Kearney said the IDA board wouldn't take up the tax breaks proposal for about 45 days.
Should the IDA decide to grant tax breaks, he said, the amount is subject to negotiations.
Last year, the City of Long Beach approved the project and the city's local development corporation has promised the developers $1.5 million off the mortgage recording tax.
The city also is receiving from the developers $4 million for infrastructure improvements, including new sewer and water lines in the area.
The IDA breaks would be on property taxes and sales taxes.
IStar and AvalonBay, in their aid application, estimated the average household income of apartment tenants would be $142,000 per year. Household income in Long Beach averages $85,000, according to the most recent Census data.The developers have promised to create 468 permanent jobs that pay, on average, $30,000 to $45,000 per year.
Among the local residents who testified, many more opposed the tax incentives than backed them.
"I cannot see how the City of Long Beach can ask us to take on this burden," said Nancy Golden, whose family has lived in the seaside city for 90 years.
But Dan Ryan, who owns a local real estate company, said the developers aren't asking for something special and would remove a blighted parcel in the heart of Long Beach. "That lot has been vacant too long," he said. "Something needs to happen there."