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Residents decry rentals for Whaleneck Drive in south Merrick

Nearly 1,000 sign petition saying 'no' to proposal


A petition opposing a development complex proposed by Southern Land Company, which is seeking to build 140 mixed-use rental units at 3000 Whaleneck Drive in south Merrick, had garnered nearly 1,000 signatures as of press time Tuesday.

The Herald Life reported last month that Southern Land, a Nashville-based firm, is in contract to buy the eight-acre property — subject to permitting and rezoning approvals by the Town of Hempstead — to construct five three-story buildings and waterside promenades at the site of the Whaleneck Marina and the restaurant Salt. If approved, the project is projected to increase the property tax base by $16 million over the next 20 years.

Southern Land principals have held a series of public hearings to brief local residents on the proposal and gather community feedback. One of those hearings, held Sept. 16, was expected to attract 20 to 30 people, but roughly 200 turned out.

The initial lack of a public-address system caused a contentious environment, with residents loudly voicing their concerns across the mask-wearing crowd and causing arguments over who should speak first. As Southern Land’s senior vice president, Dustin Downey, attempted to describe the details of the project, the majority of attendees shouted “no” in unison.

“The community doesn’t want this,” one resident cried.

“Speak for yourself,” replied another.

Hewlett Avenue resident Paul Healy, who started the Change.org petition, took the floor to convey his concerns. “The proposal of multiple apartment buildings with several stories in a single-home residential community was a blaring siren to all of our residents,” he later told the Herald. “We recognize this is a peninsula design, [which] can’t support a development like this.” (See box.)

South Merrick Community Civic Association President Joe Baker initially supported the plan, but after hearing from the community, he changed his mind, saying, “I don’t think we’re ready for something like this.”

One concern voiced by residents at the hearing was traffic. Neighbors contended that the addition of 140 units — or, more precisely, the renters who would occupy them — would cause congestion on Hewlett Avenue, which residents said was already heavily trafficked as one of the area’s main thoroughfares.

Susan Schochner, who lives on Brighton Way, a one-way street between Whaleneck and Hewlett, said she was concerned that her block would be used as a cut-through if the complex were built. “More traffic equals more accidents; there have been so many times where people have turned down my block the wrong way,” Schochner said. “I don’t want the hustle and bustle of the city here.”

Downey told the Herald that the firm was still committed to the Whaleneck project “in some form,” and would hold a Zoom meeting in the coming days to continue to answer questions from community members.

“It’s too early to discuss exact changes, but we may do fewer but larger units to generate less traffic,” he said. “We can’t improve the street all the way to Sunrise Highway, but we’ll try to mold the project to where it’s a little less traffic-intensive.”

Downey also indicated at the hearing that Southern Land has yet to submit its plans to the Town of Hempstead. In a statement to the Herald, Hempstead Town Councilman Christopher Carini said he would not support the project unless local residents approved of it.

“These conceptual plans, if ever submitted to the Town of Hempstead, would face multiple hurdles, including the Town Board [having] to approve a complete rezoning,” Carini said. “I will do everything in my power to protect the suburban quality of life we have and enjoy here on Long Island.”