Controversial Villadom Project Heads for Hearing

The controversial Villadom retail project on East Jericho Turnpike is scheduled for a public hearing May 17.

The $80-million proposal for what developers call Elwood Orchard would require an amendment to the town’s comprehensive plan, Horizons 2020, as well as a zoning change.

A corner of the 56.01-acre property at the intersection of Jericho Turnpike and Manor Road now houses a small strip mall, while another 6.73-acre section has a single-family home that will be unaffected by the proposal and will be subdivided from the larger parcel. The remainder of the land is undeveloped, covered with steep slopes and woods in part and home to once-mined sand piles that show the traces of ATV tracks.

Steve Spucces leads meeting.

The proposal for calls for 49.28 acres of the site to be re-zoned C-5 in support of a 486,380-square-foot commercial center on Jericho Turnpike. The C-5 designation is a planned shopping center mixed-use commercial development, a change from its current zoning of R-40 residential and C-6 general business. The development is within the Elwood School District and the Greenlawn fire and water districts.

This is the third proposal for the site since 2000 that seeks expanded commercial use and a higher density of development than the property’s current zoning allows. A housing proposal was rejected partly because it did not meet comprehensive plan guidelines, and the Town Board asked the Planning Board to prepare a proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan.

In 2016, the Planning Board adopted a planning staff report that recommends the “appropriate amendment to the Horizons 2020 Comprehensive Plan based upon potential development scenarios for the property would be an eastward extension of the Commercial, Major Commercial Corridor/Mixed Use, and Minor Commercial/Mixed Use Activity Center land use classifications.” 

On Feb. 28, the Planning Board recommended to the Town Board that the proposed wording was appropriate based on the potential development scenarios. It extends the Major Commercial Corridor / Mixed Use designation  to cover the next intersection up from the commercial developments at the intersection of Park Avenue and Jericho Turnpike.

“The most significant potential environmental impact from recommending the property for commercialdevelopment would be the increase in traffic,” the resolution notes. The Planning Board “therefore recommends that any land use development plan for the property include a variety of mixed land uses, which may include but not be limited to retail, personal care, service, office, residential, residential care or civic uses in order to lower overall traffic generation and especially to minimize peak hour traffic generation.”

The Planning Board also recommended that due to the project’s size and central location, “appropriate mitigation for any development plan of significant size should include a community benefit such as public parkland, community space, or other municipal or civic use.”

The project has approximately 2,807 feet along the north side of Jericho Turnpike and 667 feet on the east side of Manor Road. Development would be oriented east-west, parallel to Jericho Turnpike, with the plan showing four entrances to the mall, three on Jericho and one on Manor Road. The development’s main entrance sign will be at the middle entrance on Jericho, where developers propose adding a traffic signal and near where Old Country Road enters Jericho. The plan calls for re-grading part of the site to create a “bench” with drainage running to the south. A retaining wall will be required at the rear of the property because of the steep slope.

A single, large retail structure will be located at the rear of the property, with parking and 7.85 acres of wooded steep slope remaining behind it. Plans call for a two-story fitness center at one end with first-floor retail and second-floor office space in the other areas, including a 6,500-square-foot spot for the Elwood Library.

Five smaller standalone structures will sit along Jericho Turnpike. Four of those will be one-story high, while the fifth one on the corner of Jericho and Manor will be two stories high with retail on the first floor and office space on the second floor.

Protesters gathered Saturday near site of project.

Area community groups appear to be split on the proposal. A group called Stop the Villadom Mall is circulating a petition on Change.org which, as of April 19, had almost 5,000 signatures. A community group called the Greater Huntington Civic Group and the Elwood Taxpayers Association appear to support the proposal but, based on comments at an April 18 community forum attended by number of people not affiliated with those groups, other residents expressed their opposition and complained they had not been aware of  meetings with the developer.

Janice Buckner, a singer-songwriter who lives about an eighth of a mile from the proposed mall, opposes the project on grounds of increased traffic and possible groundwater contamination. “A traffic study says there will be 1,400 more cars per hour,” she said. “Jericho is already backed up in rush hour, starting at 3 p.m. The size of this mega-mall is half a mile long. That’s incredible.”

Buckner’s other main concern is the impact on the water supply of increased drainage and septic tanks in the proposed plan. “All that water would go into the aquifer – there is no sewer. And water has no boundaries,” she said. There’s already empty retail space along Jericho, she noted, including a vacant grocery store across the street. “Nobody needs another mall,” Buckner said. She plans to sing a protest song at the May 17 hearing, putting her lyrics to the tune of “This Land Is Your Land.”

Developer Kris Torkan of Syndicated Ventures in Great Neck, which is proposing the Villadom plan, told the audience at the community forum he will work to accommodate wastewater disposal concerns. The sanitary disposal design has not been finalized because plans are still under review, he said. “We will do what’s required in accordance to state law,” if sewage treatment is required instead of septic by the Suffolk County Health Department, Torkan said.

He also noted his engineers were in contact April 17 with the Greenlawn Water District over its concerns about what it termed the project’s underestimation of water consumption of 33,600 gallons per day and a request for dedicated land for a future well site.

Torkan did not return a call seeking additional comment. He told the audience at the forum he has signed a 99-year lease with land owner Sal Mediavilla.

Three informational public hearings are set for May 17 — no votes are scheduled that evening. Town board members will consider comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) , the proposed amendment to the Horizons 2020 Comprehensive Plan, and the zone change application.

The Elwood Middle School hearing is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Objecting to Villadom plan

photos by Pam Robinson

 

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