Garden City demands kill condos

By: David Winzelberg on June 25, 2010

Already approved by the Village of Mineola, a proposed 285-unit condominium project will likely be turned into rental apartments to prevent a neighboring village from ordering changes to the development.

The nine-story condo building pitched by Polimeni International was thought to be a done deal last year when Mineola Mayor Jack Martins and the village board voted 5-0 to green light the plan. But the project site on Old Country Road is within 300 feet of the Garden City border, giving that village shared jurisdiction over its subdivision approval. Garden City made some demands, prompting Polimeni to take a defiant detour.

Company Vice President Michael Polimeni confirmed that the $165 million development, dubbed the Winston, is going rental because, he explained, no subdivision is needed for rental apartments. The move effectively eliminates Garden City from any further say in the project, although Polimeni suggested the village has said too much already.

“They wanted it two stories lower and pushed back about 15 feet, which would have cut the project in half,” Polimeni said of Garden City’s demands. Polimeni added that the increased setback of the U-shaped building eliminated several units that were to be built above it. The developer said Garden City asked for a $20,000 fee – to be replenished as needed – to pay for a new environmental review, even though the Winston had already been through the process.

Mayor Martins characterized Garden City’s interference as unique, and said he doesn’t understand how that village can ask for an additional environmental review when they were part of the first one.

“They had full opportunity to be heard in the review process,” Martins told LIBN. “To try and undermine our village’s decision-making process is absurd.”

Garden City Mayor Robert Rothschild said his village “has the right to give its opinion” on the development because of its proximity. In the switch to rentals, Rothschild said Polimeni has figured out a way to get around Garden City’s objections about height and density.

“It’s a business decision he’s made,” Rothschild conceded.

Since financing would be more readily available for rentals in today’s lending climate, the economics are better for rentals now, Martins added.

Originally slated for 285 condos, the Winston would be redesigned to accommodate about 300 apartments, according to Polimeni. While the condos would have been two-bedroom and three-bedroom units, the apartments will be studios, and mostly one-bedroom and two-bedroom units.

Martins said the site of the Polimeni plan, about a block from Mineola’s Long Island Rail Road station, is the right spot for this level of density. Because the Winston would be surrounded by office buildings, he said vehicular traffic wouldn’t be an issue, but pedestrian traffic will increase and further enliven Mineola’s burgeoning downtown.

Martins said Mineola’s village board originally insisted having owner-occupied residences in the Polimeni project, but considering the economic downturn and the challenges in securing financing for 285 new homes, the mayor said rentals will work too, as long as there’s some action soon.

“If we’re going to change the conditions of the project, we’d like to see a commitment that they will break ground in a certain amount of time,” Martins said.

Polimeni said demolition of existing buildings and site preparation could start this fall. The project includes a makeover of the 117,000-square-foot office building next door – also Polimeni’s – to match the exterior of the residential development.

Since rental apartments are new to his company, Polimeni said partnering with a multifamily specialist on the Mineola project is a strong possibility.

Mineola has scheduled a public hearing for July 14 to consider the switch from condos to rentals.