Condo Plan in Garden City Dismays ‘Mews’ Residents


Garden City

THE attached stucco homes on Franklin Court here were built to evoke picturesque English Cotswold cottages. Known as the Mews, they went up beginning in 1908 for the bookbinders from Europe who worked a quick stroll away at Doubleday, Page and Company.

The first 22 houses, with stone-walled gardens on a crescent of land south of the headquarters, rented for $20 a month; another 18, with fireplaces, were added around 1919, said Melissa Ryan, a lifelong Garden City resident.

Until 1986, the company had its headquarters at 501 Franklin Avenue, a brick building surrounded by landscaped gardens designed to resemble Hampton Court in England. Doubleday also built statelier homes for many of its executives, on the west side of Franklin Avenue, on Fourth and Fifth Streets.

Now the Engel Burman Group, a developer in Garden City known for seven Bristal assisted-living facilities on the Island, has proposed building 54 condominium units on a parking lot known as part of the “Doubleday property,” not far from this picturesque area.

The plan — envisioning a 41-foot-high, 450-foot-long stone-and-brick-faced condominium with a mansard-style roof, outdoor swimming pool and below-grade parking — has disquieted property owners.

At an introductory meeting organized with Engel Burman by a civic group called the Garden City Central Property Owners’ Association, many of the 40 residents in attendance expressed dismay.

“What they can’t create here is historical significance, with their prefab look,” said Bridget Coyne, a Franklin Court resident. “They will erase the charm of this area with the colossus that they propose to erect.”

John Wilton, the chairman of the Garden City Merchants, Professionals and Retailers group, acknowledged that the condominiums would “enhance valuations of all properties in the village” and increase the tax base and vitality of the downtown. But, as a Franklin Court resident, Mr. Wilton added that he would like the building to be a little lower and closer to the street, so it “doesn’t affect the sunlight” coming into the homes or the “quality of life on Franklin Court.”

Andrew Cavanaugh, a village trustee, described the rendering of the condominiums as “very pedestrian” and “completely out of character,” an “unimaginative suburban vernacular” that “hasn’t been designed with the particularity of the site in mind.”

“This is not just a suburban village,” he added. “This is a special place” that requires architects to “think outside of the box.”

“Right now the whole property is blacktop,” countered Steven Krieger, a lawyer and a founder of Engel Burman. “We are looking to create more green space along Franklin Avenue,” proposing to set the condos 91 feet from the street, and to landscape an area against an old Long Island Rail Road right of way, which is earmarked for 47 future parking spaces, keeping it green yet available when needed.

Mr. Krieger pointed out that it was not a question of whether Engel Burman would build, but of what. The 90,000-square-foot-condominium it has proposed is an approved use of the property (though the developer must still request variances for height and parking). Its other option would be a 107,000-square-foot office building. Because the commercial market is lagging while demand for downsized units for empty nesters is growing, Mr. Krieger said, the company has taken the condo route. An office building would require more than 500 parking spaces; condos require 122.

Kevin Walsh, a lawyer for the developer, said that the condos would have the lesser impact on the neighborhood. They would represent the last piece of what is known as Garden City’s “green gateway,” a stark contrast to the bleaker suburban landscape in neighboring Hempstead.

But Marie O’Donnell, who lives in an 1870s farmhouse near the Mews, pointed out that there was already an office building nearby at 401 Franklin Avenue, and that she welcomed the slowdown in activity beyond her backyard on the weekends, when office workers went home.

“Think charm, children, community,” Ms. O’Donnell said. If there were new offices rather than a condo, “you would have evenings and you would have weekends” free of the workers.

Engel Burman’s current plan is to price the condos, each with two bedrooms, around $650,000.

But Linda Brunning, another resident, suggested that if the condos were built in the same English style as the Mews, “they would fetch more than $650,000.”

Stephanie Cullum, an associate broker and vice president of Coach Realtors in Garden City, said in a telephone interview that of the two three-bedroom attached homes in the Mews now on the market, one with two and a half baths was priced at $770,000 and the other, with four baths, at $950,000. “Very unusual and special,” was how Ms. Cullum described them, saying they were “sought after by people who want to downsize in Garden City” and young couples.

Mr. Krieger promised changes in the development’s style. A few days after the meeting, he and Jan Burman, the president of Engel Burman, visited Franklin Court and met informally with the village architectural design review board, which suggested making the facade appear to be four buildings, using double-hung windows and slightly altering the color of the brick and stone. The proposal officially goes before the board in the next week.

Original Article from NYT