TJH Speaks with Village of Lawrence Trustee Uri Kaufman


September 11, 2020 11:30 am
September 11, 2020 11:30 amLeave your thoughts

Uri, how is the race going?

Before we get into it, this is literally the single most important thing that voters need to know: On the ballot, the candidates for Lawrence Village Trustee are presented in two columns. One column has four candidates listed and the other column has two candidates listed.  So it looks like four candidates are competing for one Trustee seat and two are competing for the other Trustee seat. That is not the case. It’s just because of a quirk in New York State law that the ballot was created that way. You can vote for two people in the same column; two people in another column; or one and one. In a perfect world, we would have put all six candidates in one column.

You have been a trustee for four years and school board trustee for nine years before that. What are the issues that you are running on?

Here is why this is such a big election: The sewage plant at the corner of 878 and Rock Hall Road closed several years ago and is now empty.  It’s an almost four-acre site and is very valuable. We have a once-in-history chance to sell it and make a lot of money for the Village, which we can then use to build a much-needed community center at the Country Club. We are not getting a second chance. There is no other four-acre site that the Village owns.

Right now, there are three visions for what to do with the site.  One vision is to make a public park, which is not crazy, but it’s not the best location, among other issues. A second vision is to build eight houses. That is what [Mayor] Alex [Edelman] wants. The third plan, which I support, is to repeat the success of the Regency and build 120 high-end condos on the property.

There are people who oppose that plan, though.

I was on the school board that sold the former Number 1 School to the developers who built The Regency. We took a lot of flak, back in 2008. A lot of people thought that there would be crazy traffic – bear in mind that it’s right next to the busiest intersection in the Village.  None of the dark prophecies came true. There are no issues with traffic, no issue with noise, sewage, storm water, or anything. All I hear are compliments about the Regency. By the way, to the extent that there is traffic at the corner of Rockaway Turnpike and Central Avenue, it is because the County installed a left turning signal that slows everyone down.  They did this without consulting with the Village.

I want to repeat that success. The Regency was 144 condos; I want to do 120 condos at the sewage plant. So, it’s a smaller project on a bigger piece of land and is on a six-lane highway instead of a two-lane road.

How much will the Village get for the property if a multi-unit is built there?

We will probably get at least $20 million for the property.  

Where does that number come from?

I have a verbal offer from a New Jersey developer for $20 million.

Wasn’t there a market study that put the value at $13 million?

Correct. There was an appraisal that said it would only be worth $13 million. I don’t know what the guy was smoking when he arrived at that conclusion, but it is ridiculous. Here is the plain arithmetic: The Regency sold for $32 million in 2008, adjusted for inflation that is around $38.5 million today. Do you want to say it’s worth half the Regency?  Fine, I can accept that.  He’s saying it’s worth a third!  That can’t be.  As I said, I have a lot of interest at $20 million or more.

But it was a legit appraisal, though.

Yes, it was a legit appraisal but the guy is just wrong. I have a verbal offer for twenty.

Who is that offer from?

I’m not authorized to say but it’s from a well-known developer.

Is that a developer that has anything to do with building the Sixth Town?

Nothing whatsoever.

What would the Village net if the property is split into eight homes?

Alex thinks that he can get $1 million per lot, but I have to disagree.  When you buy a knock-down, you are getting all the existing infrastructure. The sewage plant has no infrastructure.  So whoever builds there will need roads, sidewalks, streetlights, electricity, water, sewer, internet, telephone, cable television, etc.

Whenever you do an appraisal, you look for what comparable properties sold for, what we in the business call “the comps.”  The best comp for the sewage plant is the Woodmere Club, which sold for $80,000 per lot. Now, tell me that the sewage plant will go for double…triple that. You are still at no more than $250,000 per lot.  There are only eight lots. so that’s a total of just $2 million.  You can’t build anything with that.  

There is some concern about the aesthetics of a multi-unit.

Well, it will more or less match Sh’or Yoshuv, which is a commercial site in everything but name.

How tall will this structure be?

Three or four stories.

There is a flooding concern because you want to have open green space and you want every yard to share and take some of the water, so what happens with that?

In New York State, anytime you disturb more than one acre of land, you have to file a storm water protection plan and you have to show how you’re going to “eat the water.”  It’s all studied to make sure that there is enough capacity to handle the water.

People have a very bad taste for commercial development right now because of what is happening that the Woodmere Golf Course.

First of all, what they are trying to do at the Woodmere Club is very different than what we are trying to do at the sewage plant. In Woodmere, they are building houses, which has ramifications for school buses, carpool, etc. Our project would be high-density development targeted towards seniors. They are not doing carpool; there are no school buses; they are in Florida part of the year. There is no strain on any local resources. It’s a pleasure. That is why most communities love senior-targeted development.  Most importantly, the Woodmere Club is on Broadway, which is a two-lane road with a yellow line down the middle.  It can’t handle more traffic.  The sewage plant is on the 878, which is a six-lane highway – the Cedarhurst-Roslyn Expressway that never was completed. There are no traffic issues there.   

What about the families who live in the immediate vicinity of the proposed development? It’s understandable that they would be opposed to this.

I think those that are the most concerned with this project are the eight families that live directly across the street, on Rock Hall Road.  I am concerned about them as well. We will try to do our best to mitigate this for them. However, when balancing the needs of eight families versus those of 30,000 people, I feel compelled to side with the 30,000 people.  And, with all due respect, let us not forget that they purchased homes across the street from a sewage plant.  I promise it will be better than a sewage plant. 

The 30,000 that you are putting on one side of the scale, who are those people?

They are all the people living in the greater Five Towns area. We will allow Village residents and non-residents to join the country club, with a discount to Village residents given that it is their tax dollars that are building the facility. Think about having a facility with 2 swimming pools— a lap pool and a teaching pool— as well as a basketball gym and an indoor jungle gym for the kids.  We will have that, weight rooms and a lot more.

You would envision this being open to anybody?

Anyone who purchases a membership in the country club.  

What would be the cost of this aquatic center at the club?

I am envisioning a 20-thousand-foot facility costing about $500 a foot, and that is about $10 million. If I can get $22 million for the land, that leaves $12 million and with that, I can possibly buy a beach club in Atlantic Beach. One of the beach clubs was recently for sale for $14 million but I think that he could be negotiated with.

You want to buy a beach club in Atlantic Beach? Is that to produce revenue or is it meant as an enticing amenity?

It’s both.  A study we ordered said it will help restore the financial health of the Country Club, which now loses a lot of money.  But it will also be a great amenity for everyone in the Five Towns who joins the Country Club.

Would that be open to the 30,000 people as well?

Absolutely. Anyone who has a membership in the Country Club would be able to use it.

So then it’s not a Village of Lawrence amenity, it’s an amenity for the 30,000 people.

Yes. There are 6,500 people living in Lawrence. There are 30,000 people living in the wider Five Towns and Far Rockaway.  But again, Village residents will get a discount.

Onto another topic, there have been rumors that in the past few years, taxes have been raised in the Village. Is that true or is it not true?

Taxes went down, not up.

Here are the figures: in the past four years, inflation went up 7.6 percent; taxes went up 5.6 percent. Since it is below the rate of inflation, in real terms, you got a tax cut. Now, there was a charge that taxes went up 17%. Where did that come from? Taxes didn’t go up 17%. The tax “rate” went up 17%. What happened was, for a complicated set of reasons, Nassau County reduced property assessments. So when assessments are reduced, you have to raise the tax rate to get to the same revenue. 

So even if one were to call that a tax raise, which it’s not, that is not the Village, it is Nassau County. Correct?

Yes, it is the Nassau County Legislature. But let me be clear, the 17% that they changed did not raise the taxes, it merely changed the way they calculate the taxes.

What is your position on free parking for Lawrence residents?

It’s not feasible. It will cost the Village up to a half million dollars per year. We make that in meters and parking tickets.  We would be subsidizing parking, and residents would have to pay the difference in property taxes. Why should someone who doesn’t park have to pay for someone who does?

The other reason that you have parking meters is because it’s a shopping district and you want people pulling in and pulling out. If you didn’t have parking meters, people could just drop their car there and leave it all day, which would mean that there would be less parking for shoppers.

What is your position on burying the power lines?

It’s a budget buster!  It would cost millions of dollars and would probably not result in fewer outages. In Harborview, where I live, the lines are buried and I lose power just like everyone else.

There was some criticism of the Village’s response after the recent storm and the ensuing power outage.

We worked as hard as we could to get power back. We have a special portal with PSEG, and we were pounding them. Relative to what went on in Connecticut and other communities in Long Island, we didn’t do that bad. Obviously, losing power is a horrible thing, but this is an issue for PSEG.

Uri, for your time and good luck in the upcoming elections.

Thank you so much.  


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