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.