JimTsunis-600x400Long Island Business News – Like most homebuilders, Jim Tsunis wasn’t putting up anything during the throes of the recession. But he wasn’t exactly sitting idle, either.

Tsunis and his development firm, the Hauppauge-based Northwind Group, was busy laying the groundwork for a burst of new multifamily projects. Now, with the economy on the rebound, Tsunis is moving ahead with projects totaling more than 530 age-restricted residences in six Suffolk County communities.

“While the real estate market was down, Northwind Group’s plan was to put properties into contract, subject to approvals, which normally takes two to three years,” Tsunis said.

The latest is a 124-residence, over-55 rental development on 13 vacant acres in Selden. The Town of Brookhaven held a public hearing Tuesday on Northwind’s request to rezone the property on Middle Country Road as a planned retirement community.

Other senior housing projects already under construction by Northwind include 52 for-sale condominiums in Eastport, where the first phase of 16 residences have sold out, and 43 for-sale condos in Port Jefferson, more than half of which have been sold so far.

In July, Northwind expects to break ground on 148 townhomes on 23 vacant acres in Bayport, and this fall the developer begins construction on the Preserve at East Moriches, a 70-residence luxury rental community, also restricted to those 55 and over.

The demand for senior housing on Long Island is expected to continue climbing over the next several years as baby boomers head toward retirement age in record numbers. The number of Islanders over 55 grew by 1.2 percent between 2010 and 2011, and now represents 27 percent of Nassau and Suffolk residents, up from 23 percent in 2000.

Although the aging of the boomers is a national trend, Long Island has a higher share of people over 55 than other parts of the New York metropolitan area, and significantly higher than New York City’s 23 percent.

“There’s no question that the over-55 market has been stronger over the last few years,” said Mitch Pally, the CEO of Long Island Builders Institute.

Pally credits the slow and steady improvement in the area’s overall real estate market for allowing the 55-and-up crowd to sell their homes and scale down into new condo and rental communities like those being built by Tsunis & Co.

“They tend to go from single-family homes to these multifamily developments,” Pally said, “which is why many of our builders are building them.”

Another reason: Senior housing is the path of least resistance for developers who seek zoning changes and the approvals of elected officials and local civics, since they place no additional burden on schools while enhancing the tax base. Local merchants also generally welcome over-55 projects, since they generate added shoppers.

John Rose, who owns the Starbucks property next door to Northwind’s proposed rental development in Selden, and the Cella Bagels across the street, said he and other merchants are looking forward to a future ribbon-cutting.

“There are more than 30 local businesses within a short walk and they rely on walk-in traffic,” he said.

The local community has rejected a few proposals, including a Lowe’s home improvement store, for the vacant lot that has become a favorite with vagrants and vandals.

“I’m hoping there will be more support to build something useful,” Rose said. “There’s nothing more useful than having a place for seniors to live as opposed to having them leave the area.”

By: David Winzelberg