If the vision of a small group of developers comes to pass, a little bit of the red hot hotel industry will be coming to Babylon Village, extending a trend in the sector to find new locales to develop into travel spots.
Plans call for a 70-unit hotel, along with two additional mixed-use buildings, to be developed on the current site of a bus company, just off Deer Park Avenue on George Street.
Joseph Buzzell, a Melville-based attorney representing the developers, told GreaterBabylon that villages like Babylon are the future of hotel expansion.
“A lot of hotel guests are fatigued of being in a parking lot on the side of a highway,” he said.
Making a case for the proposed project, Buzzell explained that hotels in downtown areas outside of cities are where it’s at right now. This makes sense as hospitality companies strike back at competition from online companies like Airbnb, which offers residential options closer to where people want to be at a cheaper price.
“Your amenities are the village,” he added.
A businessperson coming into town can eat at a different restaurant every night. Or a wedding guest can enjoy all of the options a location in the village offers, including easy access to the south shore beaches.
“You can stretch your legs and walk around,” he said. “It’s all right there. You get the experience not just of the building you’re in.”
The location is also a five-minute walk to the Babylon train station, which Bezzell says is another draw.
“That is a great service,” he said. “The Babylon line is the most traveled train line in Suffolk County.”
Like many new developments cropping up on Long Island, proximity to mass transit is a huge draw for people who want to be in the suburbs in a village setting but need to access a train to work in the city.
The developers, identified as Ross Cassata, Roberto Nicolia and George Tsunis, all have extensive experience in commercial property development.
Closing on the parcel hasn’t been completed yet. The site is located on the corner of George Street and Deer Park Avenue and is home to John Bosh Bus Company, which is contracted with the school district for busing services.
Removing the bus company is seen by the developers as an improvement to the walkability of the area.
“The bus company is actually an impediment,” said Bezzell. “You want something that adds to the pedestrian-friendly experience and the bus company is the opposite.”
The current iteration of the proposal includes the 70-room hotel, two other buildings both with retail units on the ground floor and a total of 30 apartments above, consisting of 10-one bedroom apartments and 20-two bedroom apartments. A restaurant is planned for the retail portion but Bezzell said it will not take up a bulk of the space.
Jack Jack’s Coffee House is located on the site and the plan is to preserve the retailer by offering space in one of the planned units.
“The clients have spoken with Jack Jack’s,” said Bezzell. “The feedback is very good.”
He stressed that nothing is in writing as of yet.
In addition, plans call for a 12,000-square-foot courtyard with access to Deer Park Avenue that Bezzell described as a public plaza with seating areas and an amphitheater.
The site does not include the Cold Stone Creamery on the corner of the property, which will stay in place. Bezzell imagines that families can take ice cream to the courtyard to sit on a beautiful day or local workers can use it for lunch breaks.
“It’s in a really good spot,” he said.
Kelly Peckholdt, president of the Babylon Village Chamber of Commerce, said that the site would be a good addition to the village in that area.
“The lot is being sold anyway we might as make something nice out of it,” she said. “It’s great for people coming in for weddings or vendors from out of town.”
Peckholdt said that the closest hotel to the village is at least a 20-minute drive away.
Preliminary planning on the project has taken more than a year and the process of submitting site plans and renderings to the village planning board for approval is just starting now.
“The developers came to me last September and showed me and another board member this concept of having hotel apartments and retail,” said Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino.
Scordino told them to take the presentation to the public for comment. Bezell said that since then the plans have gone through many revisions with public input taken into consideration.
“We had a group meeting of about 400 people,” said Scordino. “There was a good interchange of pros and cons.”
Scordino said people commented on the look of the building and wanted to see more of a seaport-style to the architecture.
Bezzell called the architecture of the buildings “first-class.”
Traffic was also a point of discussion. The developers had a study prepared.
“Traffic conditions would be no worse,” Bezzell said. “Existing conditions are what they are but they should not be made worse.”
The current proposal is one that he said will ultimately be submitted to the village for permits with very few tweaks
Even though she thinks that the hotel is a welcome addition to the village, Peckholdt said that it might be a little big for the space.
“The current proposal as it stands is ambitious,” she said.
Scordino agreed, repeating to GreaterBabylon something he had said in an April meeting.
“My thing is when people ask for the most that they want that never happens,” he said. “You’ve got to trim it down. It’s like trying to stick an elephant into a teacup, you can’t.”
The village has enlisted the Town of Babylon to help with services like legal and environmental review. But a town spokesperson said that the project is 90 percent on the village to manage.
The concern about the size of the project in all aspects has become a matter of perspective.
“For the town it’s not a big project,” said Bezzell. “For the village it’s a big project.”
The length of the approval for the project is still up in the air. There is no current time frame to get shovels in the ground.
“How long the application process will take remains to be seen,” said Bezzell.
According to Peckholdt, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the developers.
“Certainly there was a lot of opposition out there,” she said. Concerns included pressure on current parking infrastructure and traffic. Others said that residents were concerned with the apartments adding to the village’s schools and code enforcement burden.
“I am a firm believer as a business owner having traffic, whether car or foot traffic, is a positive,” Peckholdt said.
Bezzell said that the developers have already invested in a solution for parking.
Originally they thought to put the parking underground but that idea was nixed because of groundwater issues.
The developers then went into contract to purchase what they considered an “underutilized” parking lot across Deer Park Avenue to the south with space large enough to accommodate their needs.
The lot itself, according to Bezzell, is well-designed and in good condition. A laundry mat is currently housed on the parcel but Bezell said they have no plans yet for the buildings except to widen the access point, which the developers see as a tight fit – possibly contributing to its underuse.
The developers are insistent that there will be a branded hotel in the space, and not a boutique. An announcement might be forthcoming but no contract has been signed as of yet.
The developers also plan to build a hotel in Huntington on a smaller piece of land. The project will not include additional amenities as with the Babylon project.
“Just a hotel,” Bezzell said.
He said it’s possible both Huntington and Babylon will be the same brand of hotel.
Despite the fact that there is a long road ahead, Scordino is positive.
“Conceptually it’s a great idea,” he said. “It makes for a good vacation destination right in the village.”
Top: A view of the parcel of land John Bosh Bus Company currently presides on just off Deer Park Avenue on George Street. (Credit: Nicholas Esposito)