OB Officials Delay Condo Approval
By David Crohn

The Ocean Beach Village board decided this week to take a closer look at how a proposed bayfront condominium could affect the surrounding environment.

It was a small victory for critics of the project, who had been pressuring the board to consider the damage they say the condo could cause to the quality of life on the eastern end of town.

“If it’s not environmentally sound, then to hell with it,” said the developer, Rick Kushner, who wants to buy the property and building at 932 Bay Walk.

But the Corneille Estates resident is waiting to buy until the village board grants him a special permit to build a 5,272-square foot condominium in place of the 2,869-square foot apartment building there now.

In front of a packed house at its monthly meeting last Saturday, the board decided not to vote on the permit and instead asked Kushner to file his half of an environmental assessment form (EAF), which the board will complete and then submit to the state.

“There has to be an environmental assessment or else there might be a violation,” said Trustee Bill Wingate, who made the EAF request on behalf of the board.

According to New York state law, the village is required to consider the environmental consequences of any project that may have anything more than a minor impact.

The board resolved to meet Saturday to complete its half of the study.

“We want to do this in a timely manner,” Wingate said. “We don’t want to hold up Mr. Kushner any longer.”

Kushner’s contention has been that his plans, which call for a structure that’s shorter than the current building but closer to the bay, constitute an “in-kind” replacement that didn’t require an environmental assessment. The condo will have room for more people—which means more solid waste—as well as several rooftop HVAC units.

But Patricia Stretch’s lawyer, Vincent Messina, had a different take.

“Does this village want to set a precedent that doubling the size of a structure would be an ‘in-kind replacement’?” said Messina, whose client owns the neighboring building, home to Matthew’s restaurant and several apartment units.


Building Crisis?

Still other critics point to a larger problem. They see this as a symptom of an impending crisis of overdevelopment in the village and want officials to revisit village codes.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” said year round resident Nancy Roberts.

Trustee Steve Einig—one of two trustees who will abstain from voting on the permit—agreed.

“The codes need to be rewritten. We need to do this immediately,” Einig said.

He said he doesn’t want to see the village overrun with large buildings and stressed that it would be unjust to make an example of a single project that has been designed according to current codes “just because we feel like it.”

Kushner modified his plan several times before the Ocean Beach planning board okayed it. The board reviews permit applications and then makes a recommendation to the board of trustees for final approval.

The public hearing phase of last week’s meeting was one of the most animated in recent memory. Nearly a dozen residents stood up to denounce the project, but several people defended it. Resident Jamie Winkler praised Kushner for stimulating home ownership in the village by building relatively affordable places to live.

“There’s nothing to be gained by perpetuating rentals,” Winkler said, adding that homeowners have an increased stake in village affairs.

She also spoke to one fact that those on both sides of the issue could agree on: “The building there now is an old, ugly eyesore that needs to come down.”