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 had officially withdrawn its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.”