Babylon Town has ordered a mediator be used to help settle a more than decadelong dispute between Wheatley Heights residents and a farm owner who wants to build hundreds of apartments on his property.
At a special town board meeting held at 8 a.m. on June 15, Supervisor Rich Schaffer tabled the rezoning of Gustave Wade’s property. Wade wants to turn 16.09 acres on the southern end of his 32-acre Colonial Springs Farm into an apartment complex with 264 rental units. Nearby residents and their civic association, Concerned Taxpayers of Wheatley Heights/Dix Hills, have been vocal in their opposition to the plan.
“I’ve tried many times over the years to have the civic and the applicant meet, to no avail,” Schaffer told the packed boardroom. “Now we’re going to do it mandated by the town board ... we’re putting an end to this discussion one way or another.”
The town is hiring former Nassau County Legis. David Mejias, who has a family law and personal injury firm in Glen Cove, as the mediator. The town will pay Mejias $475 an hour.
The move, unusual by a town, is not Babylon’s first experience with mediation. The town hired Mejias in 2013 to mediate relocation payment grievances between residents of North Amityville’s Frontier Park mobile home community and developer R Squared Real Estate Partners of Plainview. R Squared paid Mejias for that work.
Wade has been trying to redevelop the farm since 2001 and said the apartments are needed to address a shortage of housing for young people.
Residents say the small, single-family home community cannot absorb the density of Wade's proposal. The nearly two dozen people who spoke in opposition — none spoke in favor — said the apartments will result in increased traffic and environmental issues.
Wheatley Heights resident Karen Isaksen-Taylor said the “very fabric of this community would be torn apart” by the project. She also questioned the scheduling of the special meeting.
“To have a meeting like this at 8 o’clock in the morning, even though it’s in the light of day, it feels to us like it’s in the dead of night,” she told the board.
Civic leaders said they only learned about the meeting, scheduled by the town in April, a week prior and were caught off guard. Schaffer said the weekend meeting was an attempt to “try something new” and bring the community out to voice its concerns.
Both civic leaders and Wade expressed skepticism that the mediation will work, with each noting longstanding animosity from the other.
“I don’t know where this is all going,” Wade said, adding that “a mediator doesn’t vote” on the project.
“We’re willing to attend to show good faith,” civic president Chris Black said.