Delayed, Contentious Condo OK’d
By David Crohn

The Ocean Beach condominium—which has stirred up the most controversy that the village has seen in recent memory while prompting officials to take a hard look at the village’s future—has been given the seal of approval from village officials.

After considering the environmental impact, after conferring with the village attorney, after listening to both sides of an argument that was debated in two heavily attended public hearings, there was only one thing left for the Ocean Beach village board to do: vote.

And they did, last Sunday, approving a special permit that will allow developer Rick Kushner to put up a six-unit condominium at 932 Bay Walk. He had planned to buy the building—called an old eyesore by people on both sides of the issue—and the surrounding plot of land but said he wouldn’t until the board ok’d his project.

Kushner said after the board meeting that he didn’t know when he would close on the sale and couldn’t provide a time-frame for when the condo would be built. The seller, Shirley Wersebe of Ocean Beach, was out of town and couldn’t be reached for comment. He has been trying to complete the sale since last fall, and Wersebe said in an earlier interview that she offered Patricia Stretch, an opponent of the plans, first refusal.

His plans call for a two-story, 5,272-square-foot building in place of the 2-and-a-half story 2,869-square-foot structure there now. There will be six units—three on each floor—complete with bedrooms and bathrooms. He has said that he hopes to sell to retired people and young couples who can’t afford to buy a house.

“It just won’t make sense for people to rent [out those units],” he added. Residents who have spoken in support of the deal say that encouraging homeownership by building relatively inexpensive homes is a good thing. Estimates put the price of a unit at about $600,000.

But detractors, some of whom have been fighting the condo with fundraisers, petitions and legal counsel, fear that Kushner’s condo will just be a bigger, badder eyesore than the 1920s-era renters’ shack there now.

Patricia Stretch, who owns the building next door, has also contended that more units will mean more people and more solid waste and noise. Her tenants, the folks at Matthew’s restaurant, say the building will block their view of the bay.

Several weeks ago, Matthew’s sponsored a fundraiser to collect money for legal fees to fight the development. The “Save the Sunset” event raised $1,000, Stretch said. The group also collected about 150 signatures of Fire Islanders who oppose the condo.

The project hopped the latest hurdle put in its way when the board, responding to pressure from Stretch’s lawyer, decided June 17 to ask Kushner to file an environmental assessment form (EAF). The two-part form was filled out by both the developer and village officials.

Ocean Beach Mayor Natalie Rogers—presiding over her last meeting—said the village had hired Chuck Bowman, of Land Use Ecological Survey, Inc., to conduct an environmental review and fill out the village’s half of the EAF. Rogers said that Land Use determined there would be no damage to the environment.

Adopting a solemn tone, Rogers praised residents on both sides of the issue for speaking out at the public hearing phases of the May and June village board meetings.

“We heard from 30 people in a perfectly wonderful way. It was a great show of democracy,” said Rogers.

According to the resolution passed to grant the permit, the board determined that the building would have no “adverse environmental impact” on the surrounding area. Stretch’s attorney, Vincent Messina of Central Islip, said in a letter to the board last month that the project “clearly and directly impacts on [Stretch’s] light, air, ventilation and privacy.”

Kushner, a Corneille Estates homeowner who lives in Manhattan during the off-season, replied. “What people don’t understand is that we make this community better,” said Kushner. He is buying the property in a partnership with his wife, Carol, and Anthony Gaudiso.

For Stretch, the issue is not dead. She said she would evaluate her options with her attorney and determine how to proceed. She declined to comment further.

Some condo critics fall into a second camp: Those who probably would prefer not to see it go up but concede that since it was designed up to code and approved by the planning board and the building inspector, there’s nothing they can do but allow it.

Trustee Steve Enig falls into this category. He, like many others, cites an impending crisis of overdevelopment and says that village codes need to be reviewed and rewritten “yesterday,” as he put it.

Mayor Rogers agreed. “Should some codes be modified? Absolutely,” she said. “But we have to live by the laws as they are written.” The special use permit granted by the board allows Kushner to build a multi-family dwelling. But it’s in an area that has become a kind of de-facto commercial zone, with two restaurants and a bar and hotel nearby.

Kushner scaled back the project several times, revising his plans to appease the planning board, which makes a recommendation to the village board for final approval.

Among the eight stipulations were that the top floor was given a bigger deck.

“This gave more of a view to the people to the east,” said Einig.

Another stipulation is that Kushner agreed to give up a part of his property to Ocean Beach to let the village build a public promenade on the bay