By Robert Kinnaird
Hempstead Town Board members recently voted unanimously to reject the rezoning of a lot owned by the Oceanside Jewish Center 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 experienced decreasing membership for a long period now, and the center’s leadership had said they hoped to sell part of the 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.” He had 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.Charles Weinraub, known as “the Handsome Homebuyer,” shared his plans for the Oceanside Jewish Center property in 2019.
Oceanside resident Joyce Lipton took a role in organizing the effort 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 concern or support at two Town Board meetings, one on Feb. 23 and another on March 9. The primary issues raised at both were the possibility of increased traffic on already congested streets, the height of the structure and the potential effect on 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 said, “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 building from a maximum height from 45 feet to 38 feet and 11 inches, as well as moving the structure further from neighbors’ property lines. Planners 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 because of the new facility 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 said they thought the expert testimony on traffic was unreliable, having experienced the traffic in the area firsthand. Deborah Liotta, of Oceanside, said “It’s 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 of the proposed project. “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. One hundred and fifty 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.”
David Salem, another resident, said there were already 11 assisted living facilities within a three-mile radius of the area, noting that “the need for assisted living doesn’t seem to be there.” Salem also explained that he feels for those who attend the OJC, but said 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.”
Town of Hempstead Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, who represents the 4th District, moved to deny the application for rezoning initially, at first saying 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 toward a solution that could keep the OJC as 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.”