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Residents oppose Wheatley Heights apartment complex at hearing

Christopher Black, president of Concerned Taxpayers of Wheatley

Christopher Black, president of Concerned Taxpayers of Wheatley Heights/Dix Hills, a civic association, speaks out against a Wheatley Heights rezoning proposal at a Babylon Town planning board meeting Monday, May 2, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Dozens of Wheatley Heights residents showed up to a Babylon Town planning board hearing Monday night in opposition to a proposed development of a working farm that would bring hundreds of apartments to their community.

Gustave Wade, owner of Colonial Springs Farm, is seeking to rezone 16.09 acres of his property from single-family home zoning to multiple-residence zoning. Wade wants to build 264 one- and two-bedroom rental units on the southern portion of his 32-acre site, the last working farm in the town.

Rental prices have not been set but Marwa Fawaz of VHB in Hauppauge, senior project manager on the environmental report procured by Wade, said they could range from $1,900 to $2,300 per month, with 20 percent of the units deemed affordable housing and costing about $1,400 per month.

The application was amended from the one Wade submitted more than a year ago seeking to rezone the whole property. Residents, who have opposed Wade’s requests for rezoning, said the density is too much for the tiny hamlet to handle.

“Anytime you live across from apartments, 264 units, it doesn’t bring anything to the community; it takes away from those who have built their homes from scratch,” said Christopher Black, president of Concerned Taxpayers of Wheatley Heights/Dix Hills, a civic association.

Wade’s attorney, John Wagner of Hauppauge, compared the development to co-op and senior complexes nearby, but residents pointed out those are much smaller — 79 and 25 units respectively — than what Wade is proposing.

“It’s really comparing apples with oranges,” civic member Sandra Thomas said.

Wagner said the density was necessary to make the project economically viable for Wade. “My client believes 264 is the appropriate amount to make a reasonable return on this project,” he said.

Residents bristled at this assertion, with one calling Wade’s project a “money grab.”

“If we’re talking economics, you need to weigh their gain versus our loss because our property values will definitely be impacted,” Charles Goodman told the planning board.

Wade did not speak at the hearing, nor did any supporters of the project. A traffic expert testified that there would be minimal impact on the community but the civic association hired its own expert who has a report stating there would be a significant impact.

Wagner said the development would meet a need for rentals in the area and bring numerous benefits, including more than $1.2 million in additional tax revenue, of which more than $763,000 would go to the Half Hollow Hills school district.

Residents, however, scoffed at Wagner’s assertion that the apartments would bring only 38 additional students into the district.

Fawaz said she used a standard methodology to arrive at the number but planning board member Nathan King challenged her on the method.

“Demographics change,” he said. “There’s an influx of people coming into Long Island now.”

The planning board is accepting comments on the proposed zoning change until June 19.

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