Wednesday, December 14, 2005

AvalonBay and Long Island Sound

The Avalon Communities development company engenders mixed feelings locally. I suppose that’s understandable. Like Toll Brothers, Avalon is a big, publicly-traded land developer with the muscle and financial resources to pretty much get what it wants. But while Toll Brothers obliterates the countryside by building faux-mansions on half-acre lots, Avalon packs dozens, if not hundreds, of apartments into small parcels in already-developed areas. To me that’s an important distinction – it’s better to build in developed areas than to sprawl across the landscape.

There’s more to it than that of course. If you’re going to build apartments in metropolitan New York, you’d better be making some of them affordable. Avalon does that in Connecticut where, as someone noted yesterday in a comment to this post, the company deftly uses state affordable housing laws to force communities to accept multifamily housing. It did this in New Canaan, for example, on the site of an old hardware store very near the train station. Although some people (my wife, for example) may quibble with the aesthetics, it’s not a terrible project, it’s not out of character with downtown New Canaan (which has a lot of attached housing), and it meets at least some of the characteristics of so-called smart growth.

Bryan Brown, in another comment to yesterday’s post, noted that Glen Cove happily embraced an Avalon project and that the proposal had no local opposition. (In a version of the friend of my enemy is my enemy, Bryan also points out that an Avalon VP “took time out of his busy schedule” to write a letter to FERC in support of Broadwater’s LNG proposal. “If you were on the fence about Avalon before, perhaps their lobbying for Broadwater will push you over,” Bryan says, although whether he means me or others isn’t clear.)

But Avalon’s success and reception in other towns is not reason to look at other proposals uncritically. Kyle Rabin, of Friends of the Bay, makes a number of good points in his comments to the Oyster Bay Town Board, which held a public meeting last night to figure out what to study in the environmental review of a 300-plus unit complex that Avalon Bay wants to build there.

Any new development in the Sound’s watershed will result in more sewage, and more nitrogen in the sewage. Nitrogen of course is the nutrient that triggers the Sound’s biggest ecological problem – hypoxia, or the drop in dissolved oxygen concentrations in summer. As you can see from this image, hypoxia is a severe problem off Oyster Bay.

The local sewer district tried to address the problem by adopting a policy that essentially said that the remaining capacity in the sewage plant would be shared by all property owners in the district, and that no individual owner would be able to use more than his or her share. Rabin writes:

The Sewer District Board decided that it was imperative to have a policy that protected the rights of all property owners within the district regardless of when someone would develop their property. Otherwise, approved rezoning applications that result in a more intense use of the property than currently allowed (based on wastewater generation) would use up available treatment plant capacity. Consequently, other property owners at some future point could find themselves in a position where they could not develop their property as allowed by current zoning because of the lack of available treatment plant capacity. All future applications that come before the District would be reviewed in accordance with the District’s new policy.

AvalonBay would use 5 to 10 percent of the remaining capacity, Rabin says, which is more than its fair share.

Another example is housing density. In developed areas, density is good, generally. The environmental costs and impacts are smaller if you put a lot of people on a small amount of land rather than spreading them out across many acres. But how much is too much?

There is no question that high-density housing has an important role to play in this area and Long Island in general, but AvalonBay’s 300-unit proposal is overkill. It’s equivalent to Wal-Mart proposing one of their superstores in this community. AvalonBay’s current approach represents the ‘big box’ mentality that is afflicting many parts of Long Island.

AvalonBay, a publicly traded company with shareholders to please, is using a cookie cutter approach when in fact they should be thinking ‘outside of the box’ and proposing a development that fits in better with the small town character of this community.

There’s a lot more to this, of course, and there are a lot more opinions and points of view than just Friends of the Bay’s. The group’s website though is a good place to start.


Blogger john said...

a letter to Newsday regarding our living experience at the Avalon at Glen Cove (photos and video of this horror are available upon request):

August 8, 2005

Mr. Timothy Knight

Dear Tim,

How are you? I trust well. I hope that you ultimately found limited difficulty in operating the plasma TV and related components and that you are enjoying life at The Wyndham.

After selling my apartment to you last year, I elected to rent initially before my wife and I decided on a mutually agreeable location to buy a home. I was fairly limited by time to find a short-term and quality place to live. Based on the events of the past year plus, I decided to write you to determine if the information to follow would be of interest to you professionally. If so, perhaps you could pass it along to one of your reporters.

In mid March, I discovered the Avalon at Glen Cove. At this time, the building was completed structurally, however, the apartments themselves were mostly incomplete. My wife and I selected a penthouse apartment (#1522) which was to be available on June 1st, 2004. In the meantime, we accepted an apartment on a lower level (#1250) that would be ready on April 15, 2004.

I selected the Avalon based, in part, on the shell that I was shown during my pre-purchase visits there. Entering the lobby, you are (usually) greeted by friendly concierge and the quality of the material and decor in the common areas are somewhat impressive. Immediately to the right, upon entry, the management offices are clean and nicely furnished. Directly ahead is a sitting room with a wet bar, fine furnishings and sitting area with plasma TV. This room opens out to a very nice and large built-in pool with grill area. Additionally, there is a nice conference room near the lobby along with a gym, theater and computer room. All in all, the image you do get upon entering the complex is that it is as advertised - A Luxury Living Experience. What we and so may others wound up with was a terrible living experience that I am so thankful is over. In the following pages, I will provide you the full details of our time spent at the Avalon at Glen Cove along with supporting photos. Additionally, we prepared a complete video of the many problems encountered there. The video is available upon request.

On our move-in date in April 2004, my wife and I were trapped for nearly 2 hours in a broken elevator. During this time, our movers were left unsupervised and unaware where to put our furniture. The delay cost us a significant amount of money. Further, a large box was either stolen or mishandled by Avalon management.

We finally became settled in apartment 1250 with the understanding that we would be moving to apartment 1522 by June 1st as the initial apartment was far too small for our needs. The problems at the Avalon were immediate but staff and management always assured us that they would be addressed and resolved to our satisfaction.

This “luxury” apartment, which cost us well over $3,000.00 per month, had linoleum floors in the kitchen and baths, a cheap, nylon carpet that stained from simply walking on it, cheap, composite cabinets, AC/heating units that were drafty and loud and windows that were also drafty. Further, in July 2004, I experienced, for the first time, what generally happens when you attempt to open a window. You have a 50/50 chance of having that window fall in on you. It does not hold very well in the frame. I would up with a huge welt on my arm from that experience.
Further, The Avalon had daily problems with their fire alarms. The alarms in the apartments and throughout the complex would suddenly sound, at all hours of the day, for no reason. The intensity of the ring was ear piercing and could happen at 2 PM or 2 AM. The problem was encountered the entire time we lived there.

Considering all of these problems with apt. 1250, we were assured they would all be resolved and we should have patience with them in their “settling phase”. With June 1st was approaching, we decided to cope with the daily inconveniences. Unfortunately, on May 28, 2004, I received a call from the management office and was told the move to apt. 1522 would be delayed a month.

Each problem we encountered intensified during the next 30 days. The linoleum tile began peeling in the bathroom and kitchen area. We also encountered our first plumbing problem. The toilets began failing. Even with a few sheets of toilet tissue getting a proper flush was nearly impossible. Water would generally swirl weakly in the bowl and ultimately, a plunging was necessary to clear the bowl.

Again, given all the problems, we patiently waited the 30 days til we could move to the penthouse level with the hope that these problems would be in the past. In late June, I began the process of moving cable, phone and electric services to the new apartment. Additionally, I disconnected my DSL phone service which I utilized to receive heart studies (via internet) to my home. Once disconnected, this service would require weeks to reconnect. Realizing this, I made sure that I had my order in with Verizon for the new apartment.

On June 28, 2005, just 48 hours prior to our move, I received a call from the property manager that the move would be delayed yet another month. I am sure that you can imagine all of the personal and business related problems that this caused me. I won’t go into all of them but the level of incompetence at the Avalon was staggering. Again, we remained crammed into this apartment and ultimately, the 5th floor apartment was finally completed on September 17, 2004. This was to be the day of our move-in.

In fact, we did move to apartment 1522 on 9/17/04 and my wife and I hoped that this would be the resolution to many of the problems we experienced in apt. 1250. We not only were incorrect about that hope, we were unaware that the worst was yet to come.

At nearly $ 4,700.00 per month, the penthouse apartment at the Avalon came with ceramic tiled floors, granite kitchen counters, gas fireplace and stainless appliances. In addition, there was a highly touted patio roof deck. The nylon carpet, noisy AC/heat units and windows were the same as those found in apartment 1250.

When we realized that conditions at Avalon were not better, not getting better and were actually getting worse, we began documenting them with photos and video. From here, I will provide the photos with a description of the condition(s) associated with it. The problems encountered were specific to our home while others were community specific. I will present them, to the best of my ability, in chronological order:

In addition to these conditions I will point out that a utility bill at the Avalon was rarely under $500.00 per month and on two occasions, our utility bill neared $1,000.00 for a single month.

Of note, conditions which we were subjected to were realized by all the other residents at The Avalon. As we were one of the first to rent living space there, we saw the population grow and met many wonderful and successful people. As time passed, we discovered that many other residents were experiencing the same, if not worse, conditions at Avalon. Numerous people broke their leases outright and still, under the threat of legal action, moved out. Others were “surviving” their experience there and leaving at the conclusion of their lease.

Further, the “quality” of the type of residents moving in appeared to be declining during our last 6 months there. It was rumored that the original prices were being reduced to fill apartments. Additionally, I was told section 8 deals were being cut with the county. Quiet floors were being replaced with loud parties, the distinct smell of marijuana and one apartment was rented to someone who was running a fully operational sound studio from a residential apartment

Clearly, our overall experience was a disaster and we, along with so many others, felt defrauded.
It became impossible to continue living at the Avalon. In April 2005, I retained an attorney and needed to resolve the matter in court. My wife and I finally were released from our lease and happily relocated in the Flower Hill area. This disastrous living experience is behind us.
I’d be happy to discuss any question you might have regarding this matter.

Yours truly,

John W Both

9:00 PM  

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