Oceanside Jewish Center fails to gain approval for rezone
Hempstead Town Board members voted unanimously on Tuesday the 9th to reject the rezoning of a lot owned by the Oceanside Jewish Center (OJC) for business that would have been developed into an assisted living facility, had the vote passed. The land was and will remain zoned for single family housing.
The OJC sits on four acres of land, and roughly two and a half acres were on the table for rezoning. The OJC has been experiencing decreasing membership for a long period now and was hoping to sell some of their land in order to keep the OJC open. The developer the OJC was working with, Charles Weinraub, known on social media as “The Handsome Homebuyer,” posted a YouTube video explaining some basic information about the lot in question and his plan for the property in September 2019, before he had settled on an assisted living facility as his final plan, and the renovations he was proposing for the OJC.
Weinraub could not be reached for comment since the vote.
Oceanside resident Joyce Lipton took a role in organizing to prevent the rezoning, administrating a Facebook group known as “The Oceanside OJC Development Community Oversight Group,” which encouraged concerned residents to get involved and attend the town board’s meetings. The group has since been renamed to “Oceanside Civic Alliance Association” and has around 1,300 members.
“We opposed the rezoning because the project was going to take up so much space there that it would have backed up right against the yards of people in the community,” Lipton said. “There was no outreach to the neighbors about what they would like to see.”
Before the vote, community members were able to voice concerns or support at two Town Board meetings, one on February 23rd, and another on March 9th. The primary concerns at both were the possibility of worsening the already congested traffic conditions in the area, the height of the structure, and the “character” of the neighborhood.
Between the two meetings, the developers and architects readjusted their plans to fit better into the community. Attorney William Bonesso stated that “in response to a number of comments that had been elicited at the hearing and before the hearing, the applicant and the architect went to the plan and made modifications.”
These adjustments included lowering the peak of the build from a maximum height from 45 feet to 38 feet and 11 inches, as well as moving the structure further from neighbor’s property lines. They also increased the number of parking spaces from 134 to 150.
Bonesso represented the petitioner for the rezoning and cited expert testimony that traffic was not supposed to worsen in the area due to the new development and explained how the plan was submitted to the Nassau County Planning Commission which gave the plan a “local determination, which is as close as they come to recommending approval,” according to Bonesso.
After Bonesso’s testimony the floor was opened for the community to speak on the topic.
Many who lived in the community felt that the expert testimony on traffic was unreliable, having experienced the traffic in the area firsthand. Deborah Liotta, an Oceanside resident, said “it is going to be congested, and I don’t feel that anyone addressed this properly by just making a statement that there won’t be any congestion. I’m opposed to this because I see [the traffic] out my front window.”
Joshua Margolis, an Oceanside resident and member of the OJC, came out to speak in support. “I feel that some people are spinning a narrative the OJC is doing something horrible that is a huge inconvenience,” Margolis said. “The OJC has been serving the community for 70 years. By asking people to vote ‘no’ you are closing the door on a house of worship. 150 families, my family, my daughters to be bat mitzvahed, my son and my late wife are all OJC members. We’re asking for the opportunity to continue to serve this community in Oceanside.”
Another resident by the name of David Salem explained that there were already eleven assisted living facilities within a three-mile radius of the area, saying that “the need for assisted living doesn’t seem to be there.” Salem also explained that he feels for the concerns of those that attend the OJC but explained that there are other Jewish temples in the community where conservative Jews would feel “comfortable and welcomed.” He also described the proposed project as a “three story monstrosity.”
Representative Anthony D’Esposito of the Fourth District moved to deny the application for rezoning initially, first making a comment, saying that he “feels communication must continue, as it is clear that there are traffic and parking concerns raised that have not been adequately addressed.” The vote was unanimous.
OJC president, Adele Murphy, has since expressed a desire to continue working towards a solution that can keep the OJC a viable congregation. “We thought this would be a positive thing for the community,” Murphy said. “The developer met with the community on more than one occasion and tried to make changes that would be more palatable.”
“We are partners with our community and we want to remain and continue to be a part of it.”