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Nov 10, 2010 1:52 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Serenity Estates Developer Tweaks Speonk Application

Nov 10, 2010 1:52 PM

The developer behind a contentious application to build 60 condominiums for senior citizens in Speonk unveiled a dramatically revamped plan at a Town Board meeting on Tuesday, one that now envisions 36 condominiums with no age restrictions for residents, plus a medical complex, a small recreational center and a restaurant on 15 acres.

After six public hearings dating back to early February on the original application, better known as “Serenity Estates,” the Town Board voted unanimously to close the hearing on Tuesday.

The revised plans, developer Barry Bernstein said, were drawn up in response to concerns raised by community members who complained that his original project was too dense. The new application was submitted to the town clerk’s office just before Tuesday’s public hearing.

Mr. Bernstein said his latest application reduces the density of the overall project and adds other elements, including a $250,000 cash payment to the town. The money, he said, would be used to construct some sort of community project in the area.

Unlike his original application, the 36 condos that Mr. Bernstein wants to build will not be restricted to senior citizens. He also pointed out that the medical complex would feature a mix of medical and professional offices. It would also include a facility that would provide emergency care, elder care, rehabilitation and a pharmacy.

Additionally, the size of the recreational center that would be open to condo owners will be cut in half, from 10,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. He said a smaller facility would be needed with the smaller project. Mr. Bernstein also wants to build a small restaurant that would primarily serve the occupants of the medical complex.

The revised application will still require a special change of zone, known as a planned development district, on the 15-acre property on North Phillips Avenue, which is currently zoned 1-acre residential. The revised plan for a PDD, Mr. Bernstein said, would take on a new concept of mixed use instead of solely residential use. PDDs are zoning tools that allow developers to bypass existing zoning restrictions if a proposed project has a specific community benefit.

Mr. Bernstein said the cash payment to the town, combined with the offering of medical offices, meet the “community benefit” requirement to grant him the PDD. But Town Board members, who recently worked to clearly define acceptable community benefits that would have to be offered before it considered such a zoning change, challenged him on that point.

Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said Tuesday that she does not think that the construction of medical offices qualifies as a community benefit under the revised legislation; the Serenity Estates application is the first such application being reviewed by the Town Board with the new legislation in place.

“Are you saying those are community benefits?” Ms. Fleming asked, regarding the cash payment and the medical offices. “In my view, I don’t think that necessarily constitutes a community benefit.” Town Councilwoman Nancy Graboski expressed similar sentiments, noting that she would like to see a benefit that extends “above and beyond the project itself.”

Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst asked Mr. Bernstein how he arrived at the $250,000 number. He said he decided to contribute about $7,000 for every condo unit that he hopes to build. “It’s a number that I think comes up to an amount that would be able to create something that’s meaningful,” Mr. Bernstein said.

In an interview last week, Speonk-Remsenburg Civic Association member Andrea Spilka said her group was not satisfied with the revised plan, describing it as “grandiose.” She said her organization believes the developer should stick with the as-of-right zoning on the property, which allows him to construct 13 single-family homes there.

“I’m hoping that he does hear what the community is saying to him loud and clear,” Ms. Spilka said.

At the public hearing on Tuesday, George Lynch, a Quiogue resident who also belongs to the Citizens Advisory Committee-West, said his group does not support the original application. He added that he must reserve opinion on the latest plan, pointing out that it was just unveiled.

“We are still of one voice and asking that this petition be denied,” Mr. Lynch said.

The fact that Mr. Bernstein is looking to develop land that sits adjacent to the Speonk solvent plume, a swath of contaminated groundwater, has been raised during past hearings. On Tuesday, Ms. Fleming raised the issue once again, asking the developer if he planned on building the condos as far away as possible from the contamination. Mr. Bernstein responded that he has not altered those plans, and noted that he is prepared to hook up the condos to public water and install vapor-proof barriers below their foundations to mitigate any potential medical issues.

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