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Elwood Orchard

Developer withdraws application for Elwood Orchard hours before public hearing; vows to revise plans

More than 650 Huntington residents attended the May 17 town board meeting to take a stand against Villadom Corp's proposed development. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A developer’s decision to pull its proposal to build a 486,000-square-foot commercial development off Jericho Turnpike did nothing to stop hundreds of Huntington residents from coming out to participate in a three-hour rally against downzoning in their community.

Town of Huntington officials announced May 17 that Villadom Corp. had officially withdrawn its
application for the proposed Elwood Orchard project, hours before the public hearing was scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. at Elwood Middle School.

Huntington town officials received a May 17 letter from, Syndicated Ventures, LLC, the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, indicating it was withdrawing its request for a change of zoning application from R-40 to C-5 and C-6 in order to construct a mixed commercial development on Jericho Turnpike, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

We are the messengers who say we don’t want Villadom’s project in any form.”
– Gail Jospa

“As there is no longer an application in front of the town board, the public hearing for this project is canceled,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said to the more than 600 gathered. “While the applicant may submit a new application in the future, they would need to start the entire process from the beginning, submitting a new plan to the town, having it reviewed by the planning board, which then would make a recommendation to the town board regarding the scheduling of a new public hearing.”

There was a thunderousround of applause from the hundreds of residents holding bright yellow “Stop Villadom” signs or wearing T-shirts reading “Stop Villadom Mall.” There were 99 public speakers who signed up to talk, many of whom demanded answers and sought to hold the town board accountable.

“We are here tonight speaking for thousands of Huntington residents, taxpayers and voters,” Gail Jospa, of Dix Hills, said. “We are the messengers who say we don’t want Villadom’s project in any form. We don’t want anything Mr. [Kris] Torkan has to offer.”

Elwood resident Andrew Kaplan recalled how he first learned Great Neck-based developer Kris Torkan, president of Syndicated Ventures and Villadom, had proposed to build a mixed-use commercial development in Elwood while attending a Feb. 28 planning board meeting.

Shocked, Kaplan said he and Lisa Bloomstein were calling a March 11 meeting at Half Hollow Hills Library with 22 of their neighbors to organize an opposition.

His actions speak louder than his words. Pulling the Villadom application proves his commitment to the Town of Huntington.”
– Maria Mediavilla

“That night we started a petition,” Kaplan said. “A friend opened a Facebook page, we sent an email to everyone we knew in our email boxes. In a week we had 1,000 signatures, and we come here tonight with 10,0000.”

Many spoke out against the downzoning of the proposed 49-acre site from R-40, which permits single-family homes on one-acre pieces of property, to C-5 and C-6 commercial zoning, which permits for shopping districts and general business.

“The last administration downzoned every piece of property that came before the board,” Commack resident Nancy Gambi said. “There’s not a need for this, we should not downzone our property anymore.”

Many residents pointed to The Seasons at Elwood, a community of 265 units for senior citizens, which is currently under construction, as downzoning granted by the former town administration.

“Most of us have elected two of you as you promised us to stop the overdevelopment that was happening in Huntington,” said Becky Marcus, a Huntington resident and a trustee on Elwood’s board of education, pointing to the newly elected Lupinacci and Councilman Ed Smythe (R). “We want, the people in this room, want equal protection under the laws — the zoning laws.”

Several speakers suggested concerned residents should consider seeking the services of a professional land use attorney should Villadom resubmit a new application in the future.

Maria Mediavilla, daughter of the property owner, spoke up in defense of Torkan and the project.

“The developer is a man of great integrity that cares about the community,” Mediavilla said, over boos as Lupinacci called the crowd to order. “His actions speak louder than his words. Pulling the Villadom application proves his commitment to the Town of Huntington.”

Mark Smith, Villadom’s spokesman, said the developer intends to continue revising and revamping his proposed plans.

“What you see here behind me is not a fluke. This will be here at every turn, at every decision.”
– Patrick Deegan

“In the next ensuing months, we will be directing our design professionals to make modifications to the plan, while at the same time, we will continue our community outreach,” Smith said.  This is a very special parcel of land, upon which something wonderful and community oriented can be developed. We intend to build that plan. Withdrawing our application at this time provides us with sufficient time to prepare that new plan to better serve the community.”

Many Huntington residents issued calls for the members of the town’s planning board to resign or be replaced, so they would not oversee Villadom’s next application.

“The planning board gave recommendations to the developer on how to amend the project,” Dix Hills resident Tracy Kleinberg said. “They are appointed to work for the constituents, not out-of-town developers. Replace them and appoint new planning board members whose views are more aligned with the new direction of town board.”

Community members were more than willing to step forward with ideas for the future of the land, including the town purchasing it to preserve as open space parkland or creation of a town ecology site to work in conjunction with Manor Farm Park and Berkley Jackson County Park.

Many speakers made clear they are not interested in entertaining any future proposals from Villadom, no matter how scaled back.

“What you see here behind me is not a fluke,” said Patrick Deegan, calling to the crowd. “This will be here at every turn, at every decision.”

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Editor’s Note: After this article was published, Villadom Corp. completely withdrew its application for a change of zone for the proposed Elwood Orchard project. Read more here. 

Sitting outside the home of Huntington resident Janice Buckner, her quiet yard is heavily shaded by trees. There’s the sound of a bird singing somewhere in the surrounding forest. She fears Town of Huntington officials may allow the trees to be torn down to make way for a commercial development, at the cost of her tranquility, the wildlife and most important to her – the water quality.

“The Town of Huntington is the guardian of this land,” Buckner said. “How can they let someone develop next door to the park and pollute the park’s water and my water?”

My hope is not just to stop Villadom, I want to see that land protected and preserved.
– Janice Buckner

Buckner, 67, owns three acres of property on Manor Road surrounded on three sides by the 135-acre Berkley Jackson County Park. It’s a few hundred feet down the road from Villadom Corp.’s site for a proposed 486,380-square-foot mixed-use commercial center. The developer has filed a request to be heard by Huntington Town board to change the zoning on nearly 50 acres from R-40 residential to C-5 and C-6 commercial. Buckner said she plans to fight it and is prepared to sue if necessary.

“My hope is not just to stop Villadom,” she said. “I want to see that land protected and preserved.”

A self-identified conservationist, Buckner first attempted to sell two acres of her property to Suffolk County  to add to the neighboring county park.

“It is my desire to see the land conserved,” she wrote in a June 2013 letter to county officials, expressing concern for the local wildlife and water quality.

Buckner said she had to turn down the county’s offer of $60,000 for the land, which was appraised to have a value of $178,000 to $180,000, as a single mother raising two daughters who was facing home foreclosure. She also contacted Peconic Land Trust, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve Long Island farms, natural lands and heritage, to see if they were interested inpurchasing it.

Following a neighbor’s advice, Buckner turned to selling the density flow rights, or total gallons of sewage  permitted to be  produced by a development, for the back two acres of her property to the Town of Huntington in October 2014 for $320,000, which helped stave off impending foreclosure. She kept ownership of the land, but because of the rights sale, it cannot be developed.

Elwood Orchard will comply with all state and local water protection standards, and the proposed use does not present an adverse impact on groundwater.”
– Mark Smith

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the town has a program under which a property owner can make a portion of their land into a conservation easement and sell the flow rights, allowing those much-needed credits to be bought up by a commercial or residential developer.

In Buckner’s unique case, her property’s rights were sold directly to the town. Her January 2015 contract of the conservation easement with the town includes restrictions against dumping trash or liquids and cutting down trees or plants.

The 2015 contract with the town states her land has potential environmental value, and Buckner said she believes, by association, the entire swath of virgin forest that extends onto Villadom’s property. She pointed to a section of the 2015 contract that states “a portion of which as ecological, scientific, groundwater recharge, scenic, educational, recreational and/or aesthetic value in its present state as natural area.”

She said she is bewildered that Huntington officials are considering a developer’s plan for a mixed-use commercial and retail center with a 90,000 square-foot fitness center that would be larger than Nassau Coliseum. She said she fears it would pollute the land and underlying aquifer she’s tried to conserve.

“Elwood Orchard will comply with all state and local water protection standards, and the proposed use does not present an adverse impact on groundwater,” said Mark Smith, a spokesman for Villadom.

Smith said the proposed plans will include an on-site treatment system to reduce nitrogen discharge into the local groundwater and will be subject to future review and approval of the Suffolk County Health Department. In addition, the proposal calls for 12 acres of the land to be kept as a greenbelt.

In light of the new information received by the town, the May 17 public hearing on the Villadom project must be adjourned.”
– Chad Lupinacci

Buckner isn’t the only one expressing concern. Robert Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District sent an April 20 letter to Huntington Town officials asking for a list of questions the water district raised on the project dating back to 2013 be answered. The list includes more details on the on-site sanitary wastewater treatment plant.

Huntington Planning Director Tony Aloisio said if the zoning change is approved, the developer would have to submit a more detailed site plan to the town’s planning department and Suffolk County Planning Commission.

Buckner is focusing her energy on organizing a rally against Villadom’s proposal. Huntington town officials announced the May 17 hearing was adjourned after the developer requested a chance to amend its application at 1:10 p.m. May 16.

“In light of the new information received by the town, the May 17 public hearing on the Villadom project must be adjourned,” said Lupinacci. “The hearings may only be rescheduled to a later date at the discretion of the town board.

Buckner may have to wait longer to find out if the town will grant the zone change, but she’s prepared

“I’ve spoken to a lawyer,” She said. “I know that I have a case.”

An artistic rendering of the proposed Elwood Orchard. Graphic from Villadom Corp

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Town of Huntington officials announced Thursday afternoon that Villadom Corp. has officially withdrawn its application for the proposed Elwood Orchard.

Huntington town officials received a May 17 letter from, Syndicated Ventures, LLC, the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, indicating that it was withdrawing its request for a change of zoning application from R-40 to C-5 and C-6 in order to construct a more than 480,000 square-foot commercial development on Jericho Turnpike, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

Lembo said as the developer has completely withdrawn the application the May 17 hearing is officially cancelled.

The announcement came a few hours after Huntington Councilman Ed Smythe (R) put out a statement challenging the legality of Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s (R) decision to adjourn the May 17 hearing on Villadom Corp’s proposed mixed-use commercial development Elwood Orchard to be constructed on Jericho Turnpike. Smythe said the hearing’s adjournment would require a vote by the town board.

“The Villadom public hearing is going forward today as scheduled unless the applicant withdraws it, gets a court-ordered stay, or finds three council members to vote to adjourn it,” he said in a statement.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. May 16, Lembo sent out an urgent notice that the May 17 hearing was being adjourned after the applicant for the proposed Villadom development project, sent correspondence to the town at 1:10 p.m. indicating an interest in amending their application.

“In light of the new information received by the Town, the May 17 public hearings on the Villadom project must be adjourned,” Lupinacci said. “The hearings may only be rescheduled to a later date at the discretion of the Town Board.”

Lembo said the that the town attorney was consulted regarding the legality of dismissing the public hearing before the announcement was made.

Mark Smith, a spokesman for Villadom said that based on many discussions with civic representatives as well as modifications that were suggested by the town’s planning board, the developer sat down with interested community members and decided the best course of action at this time was amend the application.

“It is our hope that through continued communication and community outreach we will come together to put forward a proposal for Elwood Orchard that will greatly benefit the community and the local economy,” Smith said.

Smith would not immediately share details on who or what groups Villadom Corp. met with that have led to this change.

Members of the Stop the Villadom Facebook group were discussing plans to continue their planned rally against the Elwood Orchard project at Elwood Middle School, even after the announcement was made the hearing would be adjourned.

 

An artistic rendering of the proposed Elwood Orchard. Graphic from Villadom Corp

Breaking News as of 3:09 p.m. May 16: Huntington Town officials have adjourned the May 17 hearing on Villadom Corp’s proposed Elwood Orchard. More details to come. 

Huntington Town officials have laid down the ground rules for the crowds expected at the Villadom mall hearing this Thursday.

Residents will have the chance to voice their opinions on developer Villadom Corp’s proposed plans to build a 486,380-square-foot mall on Jericho Turnpike May 17 starting at 7 p.m. at Elwood Middle School.  It will be the first town board meeting to be held outside Huntington Town Hall.

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R), during his 2017 campaign for town office, had proposed rotating where town board meetings are held in an attempt to increase accessibility to residents. He said he felt the strong community interest in Villadom Corp.’s proposal provided a good opportunity to try relocating. Elwood Middle School’s auditorium has more then double the legal occupancy of Huntingotn Town Hall, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. 

The proposed plans for Villadom mall, named Elwood Orchard by the developers, has drawn widespread interest and vocal objection from Huntington residents. Several public officials including newly elected state assemblyman Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills) has spoken out against the project.

Based on the anticipated crowds, Huntington town officials released the following guidelines May 14 for how the hearing will be conducted:

  • The official Town Board Meeting Agenda will be conducted prior to the Villadom public hearing. The Villadom project is not on the May 17 Official Town Board Meeting Agenda as a vote may only be conducted within 90 days after the public hearing.
  • The Elwood school district will not permit public access to school grounds prior to 6 p.m. due to ongoing school activities. Town of Huntington Public Safety officers will coordinate on site with Suffolk County police to maintain a safe and orderly environment for the event as per the district’s request.
  • Access to Elwood Middle School will be permitted via the Elwood Road entrance only.  The Kenneth Drive entrances to the school will be closed as a security precaution.
  • The public is encouraged to carpool due to parking limitations at both Elwood Middle School and  John H. Glenn High School. Normal afterschool activities will be ongoing at the high school until approximately 9 p.m.
  • As a large number of speakers are anticipated at the hearing, people wishing to speak must sign in with security upon entering the middle school. A number will be assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis. There is no preregistration to speak.
  • The maximum time allotted for each speaker will be determined at an early point in the meeting based on the total number of participants wishing to speak. The applicant, developer Villadom Corp. will open the hearing with a presentation as is standard format, followed by the public speakers.
  • Reserved handicap seating will be located in the front rows of the left and right sides of the auditorium, individuals requiring handicap access (including speakers requiring handicap access) may stay seated in that section.
  • Speakers will be called up to assemble in groups of five (speakers numbers 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, etc.) in the far left and far right aisles, where there will be reserved seating for each group of five speakers in the aisle seat of the first five rows. Once finished speaking, speakers will return to other seats in the auditorium, opening up the reserved seats for the next five speakers. 
  • If the auditorium is filled to maximum occupancy, audio from the meeting will be broadcast to people assembled outside the building.

For those interested in attending, Elwood Middle School is located at 478 Elwood Road in Elwood. The town advises that due to the change of location, live streaming of the town board meeting will not be available. The meeting will be broadcast on Optimum 18 and FIOS 38 as well as be posted on the town’s website within 24 hours of the meetings completion, according to Lembo.

Follow TBR News Media on Twitter and Facebook for coverage of the event May 17. 

An artistic rendering of the proposed development on Elwood Orchard site along Jericho Turnpike. Rendering from Villadom Corp

Town of Huntington officials have decided to use the public hearing on contentious plans for a proposed Elwood mall as the trial run for taking town board meetings on the road.

Huntington Town board members voted 4-1 to reschedule public comments on the proposed Villadom Mall to a May 17 town board session that will be held at Elwood Middle School.

“This will be our test case,” Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

Lupinacci, during his 2017 campaign for town office, had proposed rotating where town board meetings are held in attempt to increase accessibility to residents. He said he felt the strong community interest in developer Villadom Corp’s proposal to construct a 486,380-square foot mall with mixed retail and office space on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood provided a good opportunity to try relocating.

“I once again stand in strong opposition to the Villadom project…”
— Steve Stern

“The middle school auditorium has more seating,” the supervisor said. “I am sure it will be a long hearing of several hours of comments.”

Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) was the sole vote against relocating the Villadom hearing, citing security concerns and potential confusion for concerned residents.

Many area residents voiced their opinions on the proposed mall at the April 10 town board meeting. The first among them was former Suffolk County Legislator Steve Stern (D-Dix Hills).

“I once again stand in strong opposition to the Villadom project and overdevelopment in our area which will have a tremendously adverse impact on the aquifer, already heavy traffic and the quality of life,” Stern said.

He said the Suffolk County Legislature previously voted against Orchard Park, a prior proposal to build 360 luxury apartments in addition to retail and office space, on the same site as Elwood Orchard, Villadom’s proposed project.

“There are doomsday predictions of traffic counts, megamalls and tax breaks that are non-existent.”
— Robert Rocklein

Robert Rocklein, a member of the civic group Huntington Matters, said he is supportive of Villadom’s plans.

“I see the glass as half full, not half empty,” he said. “I see a lot of benefits that could be bestowed on the community.”

Rocklein said he believes residents’ fears of the mixed-use project have been created by information circulating on social media. He once viewed a similar development in Short Hills, New Jersey whose tenants he said have given more than $1 million a year to community organizations and groups.

“There are doomsday predictions of traffic counts, megamalls and tax breaks that are non-existent,” Rocklein said. “Elwood school district stands to have the most to gain, but also the most to lose.”

An online petition started against the proposed Villadom Mall has gathered more than 4,000 signatures in the last three weeks. Residents have voiced concerns about the potential environmental impact of the development’s storm water runoff on drinking water as well as potentially increased traffic on Jericho Turnpike, Old Country and Deer Park roads.

The Greater Huntington Civic Group, a nonprofit organization of multiple civic associations in the Town of Huntington, will be hosting a public meeting with the developer April 18 at 7 p.m. prior to the town hearing. The event will be held at the Huntington Moose Lodge, located at 631 Pulaski Road in Greenlawn.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said public hearing set for May 15 may be pushed to June

An artistic rendering of the proposed development on Elwood Orchard site along Jericho Turnpike. Rendering from Villadom Corp

Though its little more than plans on paper, Huntington residents are furiously voicing their opposition to a proposed Elwood megamall.

More than 3,000 people have signed an online petition in the last week whose aim is to stop the proposed construction of the Villadom Mall off Jericho Turnpike. The proposed development on what is known as the Elwood Orchard site is being headed by Great Neck-based developer Villadom Corp.

“Over the years the project keeps coming back to life, the zombie project,” Huntington resident Patrick Deegan said. “Hopefully, this is the last time this project comes up.”

The petition is in response to Huntington Town Board scheduling a public hearing on the mall proposal. The meeting was originally scheduled for May 15 at the Huntington Town Hall, though Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said that most likely the meeting will be moved to sometime in June and will be hosted in the Elwood school district.

The developer has proposed to construct a 486,380-square-foot mall with retail and office space including a fitness center on the 50-acre property. The Elwood Orchard website claims the development will create 750 jobs during construction and 950 permanent jobs once completed.

Over the years the project keeps coming back to life, the zombie project.”

— Patrick Deegan

A representative of Villadom was not available for comment.

Residents are afraid of what environmental impacts the proposed development could have on the area’s drinking water.

According to a draft environmental impact statement filed for the project with the town in 2015, the stormwater runoff is not anticipated to contain significant amounts of pollutants. Though several petitioners reject that claim and say that because the area is at a high elevation — 284 to 296 feet above sea level — there is risk of pollutants getting into the water system from construction and vehicles.

“All this water flows to the south. With a 2,000-car parking lot, with 50 acres being disturbed, do you not think this is going to affect the quality of that well?” civil engineer Paul Besmertnik said. “It may not cause a problem in the first year, but the problem is cumulative and every year it adds up to more and more.”

Bob Santoriello, superintendent of the Greenlawn Water District, said it can take up to 20 years for stormwater runoff or groundwater to reach the wells, at which point the real impact can be determined. 

“What man does today the future generations will find,” Santoriello said. “But if they properly design it, if there is a proper sewage treatment plan that is allowed by the county, then I don’t think there would be a great impact.”

Residents have also expressed fear of what could happen to the already congested roadways in that area of Elwood, especially on Jericho Turnpike.

Petitioners point to an independent study published by Greenman-Pedersen Inc. in 2016. The traffic study said that the northbound approach of Old Country Road at Deer Park Road would “operate at an unacceptable level of service.”

You always want to have a balancing act between the financial benefits and the environmental impact.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I think a well-executed study without the flaws found in the developer’s study would have produced even worse implications on the traffic impact.” Huntington resident Andrew Kaplan said about the environmental impact statement: “But we don’t need additional analysis to tell us that a project of this scale will only exacerbate an already recognized material issue affecting our quality of life in Huntington.”

The proposed mall would add approximately 1,339 more drivers on the surrounding roads during the evening rush hour. The developer has proposed some of these traffic problems could be mitigated by building additional lanes for cars making turns onto the property.

“When you have something like this, you’re always looking at impacts, whether its traffic, environmental or community-wise,” Lupinacci said. “You always want to have a balancing act between the financial benefits and the environmental impact.”

In order to move forward with construction, the developer requires approval of a change of zone application by the town. Residents say Huntington officials would have to change the town’s comprehensive plan and alter its zoning laws.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) said that he is skeptical about any rezoning request.

“Whenever an applicant seeks a zone-change classification, they come out of the gate with the heavy burden of persuading me why it should be granted,” Smyth said. “However, I am keeping an open mind until after the public hearing.”

A public hearing on the proposed mall will likely be pushed back to June, according to Lupinacci. The supervisor encouraged concerned residents to attend.

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