Peter Dejana, a local businessman and philanthropist, may soon find himself at the center of another bruising battle with a community. This time in the village of Baxter Estates.
Dejana’s company, Harbor Properties LLC, is proposing a 23 unit, four-story apartment building for the intersection of Shore Road, Harbor Road and Bayside Avenue. The structure would sit on a 0.789 acre parcel in the village and be comprised of one, two and three bedroom units for people 55 and over. It is planned that all apartments will have water views.
On the site now is a small building that has been used at various times as a bank, a village hall and now a church. Dejana has owned the property for 30 years.
Harbor properties has been in preliminary discussions with the village board for more than a year, but a public forum held earlier this month was the first time many village residents heard about the project, and those who attended did not seem happy.
More than 50 people packed the meeting room at the library. Those who spoke opposed the project. Speaker after speaker said the project’s scale and architecture were inconsistent with the character of the village. They also pointed out additional problems: congestion in an already overpopulated area, dangerous traffic patterns, lack of crosswalks across Shore Road and lack of adequate parking for residents and guests.
People living on Bayside Avenue were particularly vehement, saying their property values would be significantly diminished by a solid structure blocking their views of the water.
David Wasserman, the project’s manager, acknowledged that variances for height and density would be sought, but “wherever possible the building complies with village code,” citing 1.4 parking spaces per unit.
David Mamina, the architect for the project, said the Grand Floridian Hotel at Disneyworld was his inspiration for the building. This brought chuckles from the audience since residents had already disparaged the architecture for its Disney World qualities. One resident said it looked like Disney’s idea of what Baxter Estates should look like.
Richard Brody, a long time resident of Baxter Estates who lives on Bayside Avenue, said, “There is no way for them (the developer) to address the parking issues. Where will visitors park? People move to Baxter Estates because it is a ‘tony,’ quiet village. This is totally out of whack with the village.”
Wasserman, trying to avoid confrontation, reminded residents that the parcel is zoned for commercial development and the project had already been scaled down in height and size based on discussions with the village.
“We want to obtain feedback from the community and provide accurate information to residents,” Wasserman said.
He also said there would be benefits to the village, but did not elaborate.
One resident said that a smaller scale office building would be preferable to the “solid wall being proposed.”
Village officials stressed that they have had only informal conversations with the developer and had not even agreed to hear the proposal.
Dejana, who was at the meeting, said the only people who spoke against the project were those living on Bayside Avenue.
There are approximately 250 homes in Baxter Estates. Only a small percentage of home owners were represented at the meeting, which could mean lack of communication, disinterest or tacit approval of the project.
This is not the first time Dejana has found himself at the center of a community firestorm. Last year his plan to put a garbage transfer station on West Shore Road adjacent to residential communities, parkland and pristine natural habitats had local residents and preservationists demonstrating at town board meetings. That proposal was set aside by the town board.