ROTTERDAM — Plans to build a multi-faceted senior citizen community off Helderberg Avenue have been withdrawn by the developer in the face of opposition from residents and some Town Board members.
Developer Lou Lecce pulled the application for the Whispering Pines senior complex at the end of a two-hour Town Board public hearing on the project Wednesday night. It was the second hearing in three weeks at which many Helderbeg Avenue neighbors spoke against the concept.
“It’s off the table. We’re done,” Lecce told the Town Board, after a series of verbal exchanges between Town Board members and the audience.
Lecce said the project he proposed was a good one, but he didn’t believe any new analyses he could present about traffic impacts or other issues would overcome the opposition of the crowd.
“You were never going to convince this crowd of anything except what they wanted to believe,” Lecce said.
The developer said he still plans to buy the 96-acre golf course, but he will take some time and come up with a plan for something already allowed under the town’s zoning for the property — most likely, a single-family residential development of 100 to 115 homes.
“I’m going to step away and get my thoughts together,” he said.
In its most recent version, Lecce’s plan was to turn what is now the Whispering Pines golf course into a 521-unit senior citizen complex that would have included small single-family homes, apartments and some long-term care units.
“I love the concept,” said Councilman Joseph Villano. “There’s a place we can have it; it just doesn’t happen to be here.”
The people who live in the neighborhood said they were worried about increased traffic and how a large senior citizen complex would change the character of the neighborhood.
As originally proposed by Lecce in January, the Whispering Pines project would have included 680 units and an urgent care center, in addition to small retail uses intended to serve people who lived in the community. Nine holes of the golf course would have remained. The town Planning Commission reviewed the plan and recommended its approval, sending it to the Town Board for a decision.
In response to criticism of the housing density, Lecce in May reduced the size of the project to 521 units and eliminated plans for the urgent care center. Those changes were announced at a May 24 public hearing, which also lasted about two hours, with many of the speakers being neighbors who opposed the project.
After Lecce withdrew his application, the Town Board by a 4-0 vote rejected a new senior citizen zoning district that was tailored to the Whispering Pines proposal. Town Supervisor Steven Tommasone, who has been a major defender of the Whispering Pines project, abstained.
Lecce said he spent a significant amount of money on the application and supporting studies, and making the project any smaller wasn’t economically practical, given the cost of bringing a sewer line under the State Thruway to serve the development and bringing water to the site.
Lecce Group Chief Operation Officer Shane Mahar said he heard on a daily basis from senior citizens who were interested in moving into the complex, if it had been approved and built, and he believes seniors townwide were supportive.
“We know there is a need in the community of Rotterdam for a facility like what we were proposing,” Mahar said.