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Downtown Revitalization

Smithtown school district's administrative Joseph M. Barton building on New York Avenue. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Smithtown might finally be coming together, literally. Town officials are getting appraisals of town-owned property as a first step toward consolidating town departments under one roof.

“We need to consolidate, no doubt about it,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Though how we do it depends on how much it’s going to cost the taxpayer. We’re going to look for the most economical way to do it.”

At a May 8 meeting, Smithtown’s Town board unanimously approved retaining the services of Mineola-based Michael Haberman Associates Inc. to perform appraisals of four town-owned and operated buildings. The cost of the appraisals is not to exceed $10,000, and Wehrheim said it will be a few months before the town has results.

I don’t see [ the New York Avenue building] as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

– Tom Lohmann

The properties to be evaluated to determine their real estate value are: 40 Maple Ave. in Smithtown, where the town comptroller and assessor offices are; 124 Main St. in Smithtown, currently home to the engineering department and department of environment and waterways; 23 Redwood Lane, which houses the building department and its neighbor, 25 Redwood Lane, which contains both the planning and community development department.

Wehrheim said that the properties chosen for appraisal are already costing the town money for annual maintenance.

“Those structures are pretty old buildings,” he said. “They require a lot of maintenance in terms of heating, air conditioning, … etcetera. We’re gonna save that much money right off the bat for the taxpayer.”

Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said that one of the big perks that will come with consolidation will be residents will no longer have to travel a good distance to meet with several different town departments.

We need to consolidate, no doubt about it.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“The other part is one stop shopping,” Lohmann said. “You got to go down to the town clerk, you got to go to the town attorney, the tax receiver’s office, you have the tax assessment, it wouldn’t be a big difficulty. If you have all those entities here you’re not running around all over the place.”

Some town-owned properties are not included in the appraisal because they are simply too large to be included or moving their base of operations would be too costly.

“The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate,” Lohmann said. “Public safety you won’t because there is too much money invested just with the telecommunications systems.”

There are currently two options for consolidating, according to Wehrheim. The supervisor said the town is looking again at potentially purchasing the Smithtown school district’s administrative offices, the Joseph M. Barton Building on New York Avenue, for moving town hall. The second option is for the town to build an extension onto Town Hall itself.

The highway department’s got big operations, the parks department’s got a big set of operations, waste services is large, those we can’t consolidate.”

— Tom Lohmann

Smithtown United Civic Association, led by President Tim Smalls, presented a proposed plan for downtown revitalization that pushed for Smithtown town government offices being consolidated into the New York Avenue building.

Lohmann said that he believes the school-owned building is not feasible because of its need for extensive renovations.

You’re talking about over $2 million to do cleanup and an abatement there, then a redesign,” he said. “I don’t see that as a plausibility at this moment in time.”

David Flynn, the town’s planning director, said consolidation is not as big a deal for his department in the age of computers and easy telecommunication.

“Of course, it will make some difference, but in the current world where people use phones and computers for communication it means less than it would of 20 years ago,” he said. “Would it be more convenient to meet with somebody, sure.”

Whether or not Flynn and his department moves is all going to come down to comparing the costs of keeping the buildings or consolidating them.

“It all depends on running out the costs for both scenarios, how much the cost is for heat, light, water and other kinds of maintenance,” he said. “I think you estimate it either way and see what the costs are.”

Smithtown United Civic Association member Mark Mancini. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

A conceptual plan for revitalizing downtown Smithtown has community support, but faces a number of serious challenges.

Smithtown United Civic Association debuted its proposal for western Main Street’s revitalization Jan. 25 before the Smithtown Town Board to find solid community backing. Yet, elected officials and business leaders note there are serious challenges to its implementation.

Mark Mancini, a Smithtown resident and architect, presented Smithtown United’s conceptual design for Main Street which focuses on the preservation of the Smithtown school district’s New York Avenue administrative building and its fields. Public outcry halted plans to demolish the building for a 251-unit apartment complex in 2017.

“It became pretty clear that we have to take steps first as a community to make something happen on Main Street that we all can deal with,” Mancini said. “We are going to develop no matter what you might think or what you may want. Everything changes.”

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) assigned $20 million from the state budget for the installation of sewer mains in Smithtown, which Mancini said brings opportunity for development that residents need to have their say.

The first step in the civic association’s plan is to preserve the New York Avenue building and its property as open green space.

“I consider it a diamond in the rough in the Smithtown downtown Main Street area,” said Bob Hughes, one of the 10 members of Smithtown United. “I would like to see it as a downtown central park, to make it a destination.”

Pasquale LaManna, president of the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club board, said he backed the proposal as it preserves the fields for recreational use. LaManna said the Smithtown Kickers is the third largest soccer club on Long Island with more than 2,000 children who play at New York Avenue.

“It’s extremely vital for us to have the green space,” he said.

Smithtown United calls for Smithtown elected officials to purchase the New York Avenue building from the Smithtown school district and use it to consolidate all town departments and services in one location.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said negotiations between the town and school district over the potential sale of the New York Avenue property had broken down in late 2017, after an appraisal determined a fair market price would be $6.8 million. The supervisor was hopeful that these negotiations could be picked up in the future.

“If the community in that area is amicable to having those discussions about developing the property, I think the school board would get back engaged,” Wehrheim said.

Other key components of the revitalization plan call for the construction of mixed-use retail stores with apartments above on the south side of Main Street with transit-oriented housing alongside the Smithtown Long Island Rail Road station.

Jack Kulka, a real estate developer and founder of Hauppauge Industrial Association, strongly supported the construction of apartments in a new “mixed imaginative zoning” code.

“If you are serious about revitalizing downtown Smithtown, you are going to have to increase the density of population in downtown Smithtown,” he said. “You need to have creativity. I think the concept, which is very important, of having residential next to the train station … has to come to Smithtown.”

Kulka stressed that Smithtown United’s plan would not work if town officials didn’t utilize the $20 million set aside by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install sewers in Smithtown. Wehrheim agreed on the importance of sewers, stating that it is moving forward, but said he has also scheduled meetings with different developers in February.

“I have meetings set up with a couple developers, whose names I cannot divulge, to see if there are other developers that now have an interest in looking at the conceptual plan Smithtown United drew up and see if it’s feasible to embark on a project,” Wehrheim said. “That’s the first step.”

Downtown study results suggest improving existing parking, better storefront signage and promotion

Larisa Ortiz, planner and principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, presents the study results Jan. 25. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh.

Kings Park’s downtown is going to need more efficient parking, better walkways and a facelift if it wants to experience a revitalization, according to the latest studies.

Larisa Ortiz, urban planner and principal of downtown planning firm Larisa Ortiz Associates, presented the results of a market analysis study focused on what’s needed to revitalize downtown Kings Park at a Jan. 25 Smithtown town board meeting. While getting funding to sewer downtown Main Street has been a long-term priority, there are several key points business owners and the town could begin working on, according to Ortiz.

“What we found is that you don’t have just one downtown,” Ortiz said. “Kings Park is actually three distinct areas.”

The study broke down King Park’s downtown into the three areas: “restaurant row,” including Park Bake Shop, Cafe Red, Relish and Ciro’s; “the civic heart,” the area near Kings Park library and the Long Island Rail Road station; and “car-centric retail,” which revolves around Tanzi Plaza and Kings Park Plaza shopping centers.

In a survey of residents and business owners, Ortiz said one of the most common complaints was the lack of parking for customers in the downtown areas.

“There’s more than enough parking at the civic node where we have a municipal lot,” she said, with similar findings in the other two areas slated for revitilization. “It feels like it’s tight, but when we look at the parking ratio there’s sufficient parking there.”

Rather, Ortiz said the study suggested the municipal lot is inconveniently located far from restaurants and stores, and that several parking lots could be restriped to fit more vehicles for better efficiency.

“If I had one surprise, I thought there would be a lot more parking required than what was recommended by the market survey,” Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “ We need some, but not as much. In that analysis, there were some parking areas, municipal and commuter parking lots not being 100 percent utilized.”

Ortiz said her firm’s analysis showed Kings Park shoppers have a difficult time crossing Main Street, particularly at the intersection with Church Street near the Kings Park branch of The Smithtown Library.
“If people can’t cross from the library to Main Street, you have lost customers,” the urban planner said.
Ortiz’s other suggestions were to improve sidewalks and pedestrian crossings, and consider relocating the farmer’s market held in the municipal parking lot — 60 percent of whose customers are from out of town — to a new location on the south side of Main Street.

“It was exciting to see that the Kings Park farmers market creates stronger economic spillovers and benefits our local businesses,” said Linda Henninger, president of Kings Park Civic Association and founder of the farmer’s market.

Other suggestions for downtown improvement included encouraging business owners to upgrade the look of their facade, changes to town code to allow for better signage for businesses and creation of a restaurant group for group marketing and greater exposure.

“This market study is another tool which will be useful in our continued effort to revitalize Kings Park’s downtown,” Henninger said.

Next, Wehrheim said Kings Park Chamber of Commerce and civic association will work to combine the market study results with the revitalization plan previously made by LI Vision to come up with a final conceptual plan.

The full presentation made before Smithtown Town Board can be viewed on the Kings Park Civic Associations website at http://www.kingsparkcivic.com.

Presentations to be held on Kings Park market analysis, Smithtown United's Main Street proposal

Smithtown United Civic Association will publicly present its proposal to revitalize western Main Street Jan. 25, 7 p.m. at town hall. Rendering courtesy of Smithtown United Civic Association.

Smithtown’s new town administration is pushing forward with a strong emphasis on downtown revitalization for 2018.

A special report and final marketing analysis of downtown Kings Park will be unveiled at the Jan. 25 town board meeting set for 7 p.m. at town hall.

Larisa Ortiz Associates, a Jackson Heights-based market analysis and community-based planning firm that put together the report, gave an initial presentation to Kings Park community members in November 2017, but has since updated it with further input and recommendations from residents.

“As a result of this preliminary research, we have a greater understanding of the key elements, marketing opportunities and how to implement a plan that will deliver a thriving downtown business district,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), who resides in Kings Park.

Key findings expected to be discussed include how there’s sufficient demand to support additional retail spaces, the critical role of restaurants and bars, and improvements to walkability. The market analysis findings also suggest adding new residential buildings to Kings Park, if sewer improvements can be made, to increase the spending power of its local economy.

Tony Tanzi, president of Kings Park Chamber of Commerce, said the preliminary report in November was encouraging news for Kings Park.

“It’s actually quite eye-opening some of the things it found, some of what we had suspected it proved out,” Tanzi said. “It’s educational in that you’ll learn a good bit about what the potential can be for Kings Park and other hamlets in Smithtown overall.”

The hamlet of St. James and its residents may take a particular interest in the Kings Park analysis, as they push forward with their own downtown revitalization project. The Community Association of Greater St. James invited Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, as a guest speaker at its Jan. 22 general meeting.

“You will have to have some hard discussions on what you want your business district to look like,” Alexander said to St. James residents. “You need to create clarity on what you want your downtown to be.”

Smithtown Town Board approved a $2.3 million bond at its Jan. 9 board of water commissioners meeting to replace water mains along Lake Avenue, the first step toward reconstruction of the Lake Avenue business district. Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said the water main installation is slated to start May 1, with the goal of installation by June 30 and road reconstruction starting in July.

“I think everyone has the same idea about St. James downtown,” Nowick said. “It’s not multilevel housing but an active, vibrant downtown.”

Breathing new life into a downtown business district is also the aim of Smithtown United Civic Association. President Timothy Small will also publicly present the civic group’s proposed plan for the New York
Avenue Smithtown school district property and western Smithtown Main Street to the town board Jan. 25.

Smithtown United’s plan for the downtown area focuses on key points including consolidation of the town offices into the New York Avenue school building, retaining the sports fields for public use, road improvements and construction of transit-oriented housing. The group is seeking public feedback on the
proposed plans.

Blighted buildings and empty storefronts in upper Port Jefferson could soon be addressed through various grants. File photo by Kevin Redding

With a master plan in place to breathe new life into the area, Port Jefferson Village is pushing for millions in state funds to give some long overdue Uptown Funk to residents.

The village, in an effort to get moving on much discussed upper Port Jefferson revitalization, has recently applied for a combined state grant of $9.46 million through the Consolidated Funding Application — $7.06 million from Local Waterfront Revitalization Program and $2.4 million from Empire State Development.

Initially hoping to secure up to $10.5 million through New York State’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative, Port Jeff lost out on that grant last week when Hicksville officials received the funds to renovate and revitalized their own downtown area.

However, Port Jefferson village officials applied for funding through the state’s Consolidated Funding Application so they could still get agency funding individually by project for several desired initiatives in the area surrounding the Long Island Rail Road station in what’s commonly called upper Port.

If awarded, the funds will contribute to the village’s face-lifts along the intersection of Perry Street and Main Street and about a block north of the train station.

The multiphased project known as Uptown Funk has been building momentum since 2014 and aims to transform blighted properties, better connect residents to work, make the streets more walkable and vibrant and provide an overall better place to live, especially for younger residents, according to Village Mayor Margot Garant.

At the beginning of 2017, the village secured $500,000 from Empire State Development through Restore New York Communities Initiative to help demolish a blighted building, and a grant of $250,000 from Suffolk County as part of its Jumpstart program for transit-based improvements around the train station.

Garant said the latest ask for millions of dollars is for good reason. The pending grant is considerably more money than the village has received in the past, though the mayor said she feels it is necessary due to a drastic change in Port Jefferson’s marketplace.

“[Rail] Realty built 76 brand new apartment units last year that got rented out in lickity split time — housing is desperately needed,” Garant said in a phone interview. “We only put in for $500,000 last year because we weren’t ready. Now we are.”

The mayor said among those who will benefit from the project are Stony Brook University students, who are just a train ride away.

“Those people need housing, those students need a place to be, they need a sense of community,” she said. “We’re ready with shovel in the ground projects and I’m hoping we get a piece of the pie. I need the state to recognize that these projects are ready to go.”

On the long list of projects in the upper Port master plan, Garant said, are new gateways, parking lot renovations, major streetscape improvements, blight studies and the implementation of new sidewalks and streetlights. Many of these are currently underway using the previously awarded funds.

“Whatever they give me, I’m going to put to work,” Garant said. “One of the reasons I decided to run again for my fifth term was I wanted to see the planning we’ve done, the money we’ve spent and the effort the community has put into planning this come to fruition. We’re right on the cusp of that.”

The village’s grant writing manager Nicole Christian, of HB Solutions LLC, said all the village’s projects aligned with the requirement set by the region, and she said she believes the village stands a good chance of at least getting partial funding.

“I think Uptown Funk is going to skyrocket this village through its stratosphere,” Christian said. “It’s a destination for young people, families, tourists, I think it’s a fantastic investment for the community. And I think the state knows that too.”

She said the application is currently under agency review and they should have an answer by November.

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Pumping nitrogen into our local waters can contribute to fish kills and have other nasty environmental effects. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

There is no need more basic than clean water. We need it in its simplest form to survive, but we also need it to be clean so that it can sustain the animals and plants we eat and support the environments we live in. So why aren’t we trying harder to avoid pumping it with toxins?

Tens of thousands of dead bunker fish have recently washed up on eastern Long Island, killed by low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Algal blooms are a cause of those low oxygen levels, and that’s where we come in — the blooms, in turn, can be caused by excess nitrogen in the water. How does that nitrogen get there? It can come from our septic and sewage treatment systems and from the fertilizers we use on our nicely manicured lawns, to name just a few sources.

We may not be able to avoid using the toilet, but we can easily refrain from dumping fertilizers with harmful chemicals into the ground and our water supply. But many of us are operating on obsolete waste systems and our governments should be making it a top priority — in action, not just rhetoric — to move communities over from septic to sewer.

This is undoubtedly a costly process, but it has benefits beyond the immediate. For example, sewer systems enable and encourage development, which is important for all of the downtown areas we are working to revitalize. Revitalized downtowns could help keep young people on Long Island, reversing the brain drain that is the source of such frequent sound bites for our politicians.

Shoring up our water management plans would create a ripple effect throughout so many other important items on our political and social agendas. Without clean water, none of these ambitious improvements will be achieved. We are calling for a heightened awareness from both our neighbors and our public officials not to let our water initiatives run dry.

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