The Facts on the Meyer’s Farm TDR and Deshon Drive Zoning Change
On May 22, 2012 the Huntington Town Board held a public hearing pertaining to an application to convert Meyer’s Farm into a park area and, changing the zoning at the Tribune parcel, located on Deshon Drive, in Melville. The public hearing was well attended and speakers from both sides of the issue spoke passionately while offering opinions regarding why this is a good deal or not. Proponents of the plan feel that a park is needed at Meyer’s farm as there are no Town Facilities within the immediate area that would otherwise provide such park amenities. Opponents have expressed concern that this project creates 20 units to the acre density at the Tribune parcel and thus paves the way for high density housing to affect the rest of the Town of Huntington going forward as future deals could be structured in a similar fashion.
In an effort to clarify some of the outstanding issues regarding this application, the Huntingtonian would like to provide the facts pertaining to the project. First off the deal consists of two parcels. One being the 8.1 acre parcel at the vicinity of Round Swamp Road and Old Country Road, known as the Meyer’s Farm parcel and the 18 acre Tribune Parcel located in the vicinity of Deshon Drive. Both
parcels are in Melville and fall within the Half Hollow Hills School District. The other key component of the deal is the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) religious organization and the placement of their proposed house of worship. The Town tried to purchase this parcel in the past, for the purposes of preserving open space, but the Meyer’s decided not to sell to them. Just a few years later, The BAPS group purchased the Meyer’s parcel for the purpose of erecting a religious facility. For many years the Sweet Hollow Civic Group, led by Alyssa Taff, tried to work with the BAPS to not build on the Meyer’s Property while working to find an alternate site. The BAPS were very understanding of the concerns of the local residents and were most gracious in respecting the wishes of the surrounding community and worked with the civic group to try and find a solution to this dilemma. Finally the deal that is presently being discussed before the Town Board was agreed to by the BAPS. They agreed that the Tribune parcel would suffice for their house of worship. Meanwhile the Tribune Parcel is an 18 acre site that is slated to be developed with 261 units of housing. Eighteen acres containing 261 units would equate to 14.5 units to the acre which is the maximum allowed by current town code, known as R3M Garden Apartments. The way this deal is structured the 261 units would be clustered within thirteen of the eighteen acres. This is where the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) comes in to play. In order for the BAPS to move their proposed facility from the Meyer’s parcel to the Tribune parcel, as well as clustering the 261 units into the thirteen acres, a transfer of development rights would be facilitated.
The Town will Transfer five acres of development rights from Meyer’s parcel to the Tribune parcel, thus paving the way for the religious facility to be built at the Tribune site. Presently the Tribune parcel is zoned as light industrial. As a result of the proposed zoning change the parcel will be converted to R3M. As a result of the deal the eighteen acre tribune parcel will be subdivided into two separate and distinct parcels. One parcel will be a five acre lot consisting of the religious facility and the other parcel will be a thirteen acre segment consisting of 261 units of housing. No doubt, physically speaking the thirteen acre parcel will be consisting of a 20 units to the acre development.
Now to address the TDR, according to Town Code section 198-118.2, the TDR land from which development rights are to be transferred must have such characteristics that their open space preservation fulfills one of the following: To protect the natural, scenic or agricultural qualities of open land; To enhance sites and areas of special character or special historical, cultural, aesthetic or economic interest or value and; To enable and encourage flexibility of design and careful management of land in recognition of land as a basic and valuable natural resource. According to the Draft Voluntary Generic Environmental Impact Statement (DVGEIS) the Meyers parcel meets the specified criteria. Most proponents of the plan mention the fact that the Meyer’s parcel falls within the West Hills/Melville Special Groundwater Protection Area (SGPA). This is indeed true and according to the SGPA plan it states that the Town of Huntington should facilitate the TDR and their use of clustering wherever feasible, to preserve the maximum amount of open space. Some also state that the Meyer’s parcel is unique in that it is the only parcel with such designation and therefore this covenant could not possibly be replicated in the future thus prohibiting a possible precedent. It should be noted that approximately 15% of the entire land area within the geographic boundary of the Town of Huntington falls within a SGPA zone. This clearly would indicate other parcels of land could conceivably fall under a similar covenant in the future. It also poses a question as to why “The Knolls” in Melville, a 14 unit to the acre development, was built right across from the Meyer’s parcel as it is also within the same SGPA. Furthermore, the way this section of town code is written, environmentally sensitive areas are specifically mentioned, which would conceivably include other critical areas and not just SGPA zones.
Many municipal approvals are required as a result of this zoning change and development. The Town is responsible for the TDR approval, the required change of zone, subdivision approvals and building permits. The South Huntington Water District must approve the proposed developments connection to the public water system and the Suffolk County Department of Health and Public Works must approve the out of district connection to the County’s Southwest Sewer District as the 40,150 gallons per day of sanitary waste from the new Deshon development will be sent to a Suffolk County Sewage Treatment Facility outside of the Town of Huntington. It should be noted that the parcels that are affected by the TDR fall within the same municipal services boundaries to include the same school, police, fire, and ambulance districts. It should be noted that the Suffolk County Planning Commission approved this project at their June 6th, 2012 meeting.
Groundwater contamination is also of concern at the Deshon parcel. According to the DVGEIS, concentrations of Chlorinated solvents were detected at concentrations exceeding the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation water quality standards in four samples.
The contamination probably emanate from an off-site source, of which the contaminate plume has migrated onto the Deshon site. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is not concerned, however, due to the fact that groundwater at this location is about 45 feet below grade.
Another component to this deal is the senior housing component. As stated in the DVGEIS, one person within each unit needs to be 55 or older. So, in theory, this may minimize the amount of school aged children that are added to the Half Hollow Hills School District but it certainly does not prevent it in its entirety either.
Finally, Newsday has expressed concerns that this development will be directly adjacent to their commercial operations and the many issues that emanate from such an operation to include noise, lighting and traffic impacts. Newsday’s operation is a daily one and any prospective buyer should be made aware of this fact. Newsday feels that plans for the development need to include noise barriers, setbacks, sound proof building materials and buffers in order to try and mitigate these legitimate concerns. Newsday also recommends that prospective buyers of the units be made aware of the commercial operation that takes place directly adjacent to the proposed development.