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Downtown

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Downtown Kings Park. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

There’s renewed hope among Smithtown town officials that they might be able to pave a parking lot to bring Kings Park downstreet one step closer to paradise — or at least revitalization.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) asked his town council members to consider moving forward with getting a real estate appraisal of two vacant lots off Pulaski Road in Kings Park for future use as municipal parking at the Feb. 20 work session. The issue will go before the town board Feb. 22, at 7p.m. for approval.

“[The town attorney] believes that things may have changed,” Wehrheim said. “This might be a good opportunity to look at it.”

The two adjacent wooded lots measure approximately 12,800 square feet, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo, and are located south of Park Bake Shop off the intersection of Pulaski Road and Main Street.

This is the second appraisal the town will solicit of the properties owned by Matthew Lupoli, as Smithtown officials previously considered purchasing the land in 2013-14.

A petition started by Park Bake Shop owners, Lucy and Gabe Shtanko, in 2013 received more than 600 signatures from Kings Park residents asking town officials to purchase the lot for municipal parking. Wehrheim said a 2014 appraisal determined its fair market price at $230,000, but Lupoli wasn’t interested in selling at that time.

There is a Smithtown Town municipal parking lot across the street from the Kings Park Fire Department on Main Street, next to the Kings Park branch of the public library. But truth be told, Kings Park could possibly use a little more.

The western portion of Main Street — dubbed “Restaurant Row” — is the one area that could possibly use more municipal parking, according to the results of a 2018 market analysis study of downtown Kings Park presented by Larisa Ortiz, urban planner and principal of Larisa Ortiz Associates, to Smithtown Town Board Jan. 25.

“The municipal lots are inconvenient for restaurants,” reads the 62-page report.

The Restaurant Row area, which includes several eateries such as Cafe Red and Relish, averages 4.7 parking spots per 1,000 square-feet of retail space. This is less than the two other areas of Main Street, known as the “civic heart,” near the Kings Park library and Long Island Rail Road station; and “car-centric retail,” which is centered around Tanzi Plaza and the Kings Park Plaza shopping center.

Ortiz’s other suggestions for improving the current parking situation in the downtown area include restriping several existing lots — such as Relish’s — to accommodate more spaces and increase their efficiency.

“When we all ran, we promised to help the downtown,” said Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R). “We need to work on it.”

Smithtown United Civic Association published the above master plan aimed at revitalizing Main Street and the downtown area on its Facebook page Oct. 6. Photo from Smithtown United Civic Association

A small group of Smithtown citizens have come together to draft and present a plan they hope may lead to big changes for Main Street.

The Smithtown United Civic Association unveiled a detailed conceptual plan for downtown revitalization Oct. 6 on its Facebook page. The group is asking residents to review the proposal and provide feedback via social media before they present it to town officials.

Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed when Smithtown residents came together earlier this year after two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocated $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of Smithtown school district administration headquarters on New York Avenue to the town for a sewer treatment plant to support a condominium development. Small said the two events set in motion real opportunity for revitalization of the town.

“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” he said. “There’s a lot of vacant shops and properties. We live in a wonderful town. The schools are wonderful, we love our homes, but it’s our downtown business districts that are deeply suffering.”

Small, a retired engineer who held an executive position at a utility company, said for approximately six months the group assessed the community needs and drew inspiration from surrounding towns including Huntington, Patchogue, Sayville, Bay Shore, Farmingdale and Babylon for changes they’d like to see in Smithtown.

Smithtown United’s plan for the western downtown area focuses on several key points including consolidation of the town offices into the New York Avenue school building and retaining the sports field behind it for public use.

“It’s the last green space that remains in all of downtown,” Small said. “I would consider that an anchor for the western edge of redevelopment. It would be tragic to see that property lost to dense development.”

The civic supports the town’s acquisition of the property in exchange for selling off its other buildings scattered across the business district, but discussions of the deal have been tabled by the Smithtown school officials. The plan also proposes several existing downtown storefronts be made into two-story, mixed-use buildings with retail on the first floor and apartments above. These housing options, according to Small, would be attractive to young adults and senior citizens. Behind the existing New York Avenue school district property, the plan calls for construction of a new sports and community center.

“We need a place for our kids to go in the evening,” Small said. “There needs to be a community space for our residents and young adults.”

The conceptual design also calls for several changes to Smithtown’s existing roadways, including a rotary at the intersection of Main Street and New York Avenue and rerouting Edgewater Avenue to run parallel to Main Street. This would cause Edgewater Avenue to empty onto Maple Avenue, and there would be a new set of village townhouses built on the southwest corner of the new intersection.

To further increase available housing, the proposed plan suggests the construction of three-story, transit-oriented housing near the Long Island Rail Road train station and municipal parking lots.

Initial feedback on the plan from residents on the civic’s Facebook page has been a mix of positive and negative, along with offers to help refine it. Supporters have praised the organization for taking action, while critics expressed traffic concerns.

“Main Street is already undersized for what it is used for,” said John McCormick, 29, of Smithtown. “[The] parking does not look to be sufficient for customers of the first-floor shops and people renting out upstairs apartments.”

McCormick, a young homeowner, feared adding townhouses and apartments would change the character of the local community and the plan’s possible impact on the school district.

Smithtown resident Michael Tarquinio, 20, said the plan was a step in the right direction but needed to be more innovative.

“They need to stop thinking with a Robert Moses mind-set,” Tarquinio said, who is studying environmental science at the University of Maine. “I’m all for it, but you can’t wipe out your heritage and start fresh. You need to know where you came from to know where you are going.”

He said he believes successful downtown revitalization will require the civic to work with town, county and state officials to improve roadways and mass transportation options to reduce traffic.

Small said he agreed the proposed overhaul of both the business and residential space in downtown Smithtown required cooperation at several levels of government. It would only be possible if sewers can be brought to the downtown area.

“Anyone who is going to invest money into redevelopment won’t unless there is adequate sanitary sewer conditions,” Small said. “It’s essential.”

The civic group has tentative plans to present its proposal to Smithtown officials at the Oct. 26 town board meeting at 7 p.m. at town hall.

Miller Place art teacher Julia Vogelle helped form The Brick Studio and Gallery nonprofit. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Who better to bring vibrancy and revitalization to downtown Rocky Point than a group of local artists? With the support of elected officials, a new nonprofit organization is leading the charge to help enrich, educate and electrify the Rocky Point community and surrounding areas.

The Brick Studio and Gallery is an art collective of more than 20 local artists and instructors with aspirations to grow and develop into a full-fledged community studio and hub.

Spearheaded by Miller Place High School art teacher Julia Vogelle and professional ceramicist Justine Moody, the group blossomed around the time Stony Brook University’s Craft Center and ceramics studio closed for renovations in January 2016, leaving potters and artists without a space to do what they love.

Pottery making will be offered at The Brick Studio and Gallery. Photo from Julia Vogelle

Vogelle and Moody, who shared dreams of opening up a cooperative to bring art back into the community, met in the wake of the Craft Center shutdown and enlisted the help of the “homeless” artists to form the organization.

Since then, the project has grown, culminating in a Kickstarter campaign with an ambitious goal of $18,000 to turn a dream into a reality. With 120 backers, their goal has already been exceeded, raising a total of $18,150.

The money will cover the start-up costs to find a location and equip and supply the studio with 14 pottery wheels, two electric kilns, kiln shelves, clay, glazes and ceramic tools. According to the fundraiser page, the studio “has the potential to begin a renaissance in historic Rocky Point, with other artists and artisans joining in bringing life to other empty buildings” and plans to open in early spring.

“My vision is to have this cultural center energize and bring all the money back into the hamlet,” Vogelle said. “Rocky Point has a lot to offer. People 16 and up can come; we’d have services for students, seniors, veterans and anyone who would like to work. I want to look at Broadway in Rocky Point as ‘artist’s row.’”

In addition to pottery, glass and jewelry making, the studio will be a venue for documentary showings, live poetry, trivia nights and  live music.

Moody expanded on the grand vision.

“I think it’s going to become a destination place … I don’t know that Rocky Point has one, and there are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own,” Moody said.

She’s hoping it could be a place to attract locals during the summer to take lessons, and others from outside the community on Friday nights, saying she envisions big events on weekends and other pop-up events throughout the year.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) believes The Brick has the potential to be a tourist attraction that could boost Rocky Point’s foot traffic and revenue — much-needed since the state built the bypass, which encourages traffic to go around the area, hitting downtown businesses especially hard.

“There are a lot of towns here with a tremendous group of creatives who don’t really have a place to call their own.”

— Justine Moody

“So many of our residents come in from the Long Island Expressway, from Sunrise Highway, and they look to go east from the North Fork, and my hope is that maybe they’ll turn left and go west to experience what Rocky Point and Shoreham have to offer,” Anker said. “There are so many high-level artists that live in the area and this will hopefully give them a way to stay local and promote their craft to the public.”

Anker has been involved in North Shore revitalization plans since 2011, participating with the Rails to Trails project and the clean-up of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, and said that art is not just trendy.

“We underestimate how important art is, it needs to be cultivated,” she said. “It’s part of our culture and it has an educational component. It will definitely benefit downtown Rocky Point.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), who contributed $100 to the art collective’s Kickstarter campaign, said she’s so excited about the studio and points to Vogelle and Moody’s hard work and dedication.

“They’re very dedicated and committed and they’re not looking for somebody else to solve their problem … grass isn’t growing under feet at all and it’s hard not to pay attention to that,” Bonner said.

As a 30-year Rocky Point resident, the councilwoman is hopeful that the artists can bring people back to downtown Rocky Point and trigger change.

Vogelle feels the same, stating that she believed that the art can bring value to homes and surrounding businesses.

“If you put art into a community, people want to move in,” she said. “If you put music in town, people want to gather around and enjoy it. A cultural center like this always connects with schools in the district and it will also help people realize there’s so much culture that’s hidden. And anyone can get hooked on ceramics — the elderly, veterans, teens. Once you touch mud, you never go back.”

Lead Mike DelGuidice sings and plays the piano at the Mike DelGuidice & Big Shot concert for the 2015 Rocky Point Concert series. File hoto by Giselle Barkley

There is a traffic advisory out for a road closing in Rocky Point.

On Aug. 30 at 7 p.m., Mike DelGuidice and Big Shot, a Billy Joel tribute band, will be performing at St. Anthony of Padua Church as part of the final Downtown Rocky Point Summer concert series.

Every year, this performance attracts thousands of people from Suffolk County and the surrounding tristate area.

The Downtown Rocky Point Summer Concert series allows resident to enjoy free musical performances and also helps support local businesses. Organizations such as Long Island Cares, Suffolk County United Veterans, the Rocky Point Rotary, and the North Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce will also be in attendance to provide information about their programs and services.

Be advised, due to the anticipated attendance, the Suffolk County Police Department will be closing Main Street in Rocky Point from Rocky Point Landing Road to Broadway at 5:30 p.m. The road will reopen at the end of the concert.

The Village Way restaurant in downtown Port Jefferson is closed. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The Village Way restaurant closed its doors for the last time on Oct. 25, after decades operating in Port Jefferson.

Restaurant owner Alice Marchewka said in a phone interview that her landlord didn’t renew the restaurant’s lease, and she was not given an explanation for the decision.

The property owner declined to comment when reached by phone last week.

Marchewka, who ran the business for the last 10 years, said she did not yet know what she’d be doing next.

The Village Way, nestled on Main Street between Chandler Square and Mill Creek Road, served American cuisine, had an outdoor dining area and had live music and karaoke. It had operated in the village for more than 35 years, at one point going by the name “Chandler’s Pub.”

A farewell message posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page last week said, “It’s been a challenging 10 years but one I do not regret. We have had so many loyal customers that have become friends and part of the Village Way ‘family.’”

Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up. Photo by Elana Glowatz

By Elana Glowatz

Old Mill Creek is almost back to its old self.

Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up, enticing a duck to swim in it Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Old Mill Creek and its banks have been cleaned up, enticing a duck to swim in it Tuesday. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Restoration work on the troubled waterway in downtown Port Jefferson is nearing completion, and its look has drastically changed. Previously choked with vegetation, the sloped banks of Old Mill Creek have been cleared out and replaced with native freshwater plants, and Holbrook-based contractor G & M Earth Moving Inc. has added rock supports.

“These are the exact type of plants that belong along a freshwater stream like this,” village Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s going to be very interesting to see what it looks like next spring.”

The project, which began earlier this year, is geared toward improving water quality in the creek, which discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor. Work included removing built-up sediment that was impeding water flow; installing water filters; and repairing a blocked pipe that channels the creek underneath Barnum Avenue but in recent years had caused flooding during high tides and storms.

Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez
Old Mill Creek has been polluted and dirty for a long time. Photo from Steve Velazquez

Water quality is important at Old Mill Creek because it affects the health of the harbor. But over the years the creek has been battered by invasive plants, flooding and pollution. The former Lawrence Aviation Industries, an aircraft-parts manufacturer in Port Jefferson Station, was the site of illegal dumping for many years and the hazardous chemicals traveled down-gradient through the soil and groundwater, with some of it seeping into Old Mill Creek.

The village’s restoration project includes filtration, and D’Abramo said one of the final steps to completing the work is installing a catch basin along Barnum Avenue to collect stormwater runoff before it rushes into the waterway.

Old Mill Creek starts on the west side of the village, near Longfellow Lane and Brook Road, passes the Caroline Avenue ball field and streams under Barnum. When it emerges on the other side, it goes past Village Hall and turns north, running under West Broadway and into the harbor.

D’Abramo expects the restoration to be completed before the end of this year. In addition to installing the catch basin, the contractor is also replacing a brick walkway along the side of the creek.

A view of the downtown Kings Park area. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Kings Park’s Chamber of Commerce and Civic Association have joined forces to seek out improvements to downtown Kings Park.

The Kings Park Chamber of Commerce has been working for years to try and revitalize the downtown. It has now partnered up with the civic association and together they have hired Vision Long Island to do a community vision prospectus with hopes of creating a bucket list of items that could transform the community.

“For a long time it has been a sore subject that our downtown is struggling as it is,” said Anthony Tanzi, president of the Kings Park Chamber of Commerce. “We’re hoping to create a vision of what they’d like to see. Hopefully everyone feels that they’re vested in the process. Then we will take that plan to the town board.”

According to Tanzi, this includes a series of public meetings where they will meet with community members to try and get the broadest representation of what the community wants. Tanzi said he hopes to see residents flooding those meetings and sharing their desires for downtown Kings Park. He also said he wants to engage as many groups as possible, including school districts, fire districts and more, to get a diverse amount of opinions.

“I want to hear all the wants and dreams,” Tanzi said. “Whether it’s for more restaurants, housing, apartments or brick sidewalks.”

The next meeting was set for Oct. 24 at William T. Rogers Middle School on Old Duck Road at 10 a.m.

Tanzi said that the chamber and civic are each paying $5,000 to Vision Long Island, and Vision is underwriting the final $5,000 for its overall $15,000 fee. Tanzi said he hopes Vision Long Island will identify Kings Park’s marketability and assets, highlight the resources and then couple that with residents’ desires for a new downtown.

“Then, hopefully, the Town of Smithtown will have to make a commitment to implement these changes and identify sources of funding.” Tanzi said.

Vision Long Island will be meeting with the town later in October, according to Tanzi, and said it hopes to have a full plan within the next six months.

Wastewater management and high taxes are two specific problems Tanzi said downtown Kings Park faces currently.

“We don’t have the ability to move forward because of the lack of sewers,” Tanzi said. “This makes it difficult for someone to come and want to invest in downtown.”

Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he agreed and has written to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) expressing how desperately Kings Park needs sewers.

“I am writing you today to implore you to do all that is in your power to obtain funding to expand sewer access in the hamlet of Kings Park,” Trotta said in the letter. “Downtown Kings Park, with its railroad station just off Main Street and a beautiful state park in the heart of the town is ripe for economic revitalization.”

Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, said that this issue has been relevant in the civic association for years.

“Every year we give out membership forms, and on the forms we ask each member to list their top three concerns,” Lehmann said. “For the past four or five years downtown has been the number one concern.”

Lehmann also said the conditions of buildings in town are a concern as well as parking.

“We don’t have the type of businesses to drive customers out to shop here also,” Lehmann said.

He did say that some restaurants on Main Street are actually doing very well, including Ciros, Cafe Red and Relish. “But we’d like to invite more,” Lehmann said. “And sewers would really help with that.”

Lehmann also said downtown should have a focus on housing opportunities. “We want affordable housing opportunities,” Lehmann said. “It would be great for our kids who are just coming out of college.”

More than anything else, Tanzi said that resident participation is the most crucial factor.

“If we all fight for it and spend time and everyone feels that they’ve been heard, I think they’ll be more inclined to march to town hall and say what they want,” Tanzi said.

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Parking spots in the Brookhaven Town Marina lot were given to Port Jeff Village as part of a 2015 agreement, but the deal alienated parkland, according to the AG's office. Screen capture

Port Jefferson Village could add 50 more spaces to its metered parking arsenal, drawing them on asphalt in the town’s marina lot.

The village is leasing the spots as part of an agreement with Brookhaven Town regarding the historic First National Bank of Port Jefferson building at the corner of Main and East Main streets.

Town officials are selling the former bank — and the attached building on East Main Street that used to house the Brookhaven tax receiver’s office — to local developer Agrino Holdings LLC, which has approval from the Port Jefferson Planning Board to put retail space on the first floors and apartments above. The developer plans to renovate the tax receiver’s office and restore the bank building, a historic landmark.

But downtown Port Jefferson has a perennial parking problem, with a constant space shortage that can make it difficult for new developments to meet requirements in the village code. To offset the lack of spaces at the site of the mixed-use project, the town has been working with the village for more than a year on a parking space swap — leasing to the village some spots at the town-owned marina lot two blocks away.

The original plan involved the roughly 30 existing spaces that wrap around the old Suffolk County Water Authority building across West Broadway from McDonald’s. But Trustee Larry LaPointe explained at Monday’s board of trustees meeting that it would have involved “a spaghetti of easements and curb cuts.”

Instead the village will get land on the western end of the marina lot, near Beach Street, that it will restripe and meter. LaPointe said the size of that section will allow the village to create 50 new parking spaces, whereas the previous arrangement would have merely transferred ownership of 30 spots.

Revenue from the village’s other parking meters will cover the costs of restriping and adding the new meter.

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Trustee Bruce Miller says despite a vote in favor of the document on Monday, he opposes the village’s comprehensive plan. Photo by Elana Glowatz

After years of work and arguments, Port Jefferson’s controversial village development plan has become final.

The board of trustees unanimously adopted the comprehensive plan at a meeting on Monday, but Trustee Bruce Miller said in an interview the following morning that he plans to retroactively change his vote at the next board meeting.

Miller said he got “bogged down” during the board’s discussion about its agenda items, and didn’t mean to vote in favor of adopting the plan.

The comprehensive plan is a guideline for future development in Port Jefferson Village, largely focusing on the waterfront commercial area downtown and the short but troubled uptown corridor that runs between North Country Road and the Long Island Rail Road tracks. It aims, for instance, to revitalize upper Port by making it more pedestrian-friendly and bringing in more apartments. Downtown, the plan includes adding recreational and green space near the water and widening Main Street.

Residents and former members of the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee, with the support of Miller, have long sparred with the administration over the plan, citing fears that it would add too much density to what they want to be a quaint village, snarl traffic even further on busy roads and bring in more cars than there is space to park them.

Miller echoed those concerns on Tuesday, and said he also opposes adopting the plan for procedural reasons — he said he hasn’t yet seen a findings statement, which is a document certifying that the village met the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act in its study of the plan’s environmental impact.

The village board approved that findings statement at Monday’s meeting.

Still, there have been voices of support for the plan, including from the other four board members and from other residents. And recent approval from the Suffolk County Planning Commission was the final stamp the village needed before adopting it.

While the commission issued a list of recommendations relating to the plan’s impact on traffic, density, taxes and parking, the village sent a response letter in which it disagreed that more study was required on most of those items. To the Planning Commission’s suggestion, for example, that the village conduct “an analysis of the impacts of increased rental housing” in Port Jefferson, the village responded in May that “it is unclear how the type of ownership status of housing units alone would impact community character, and the suggestion that because a property is a rental property that it would then have a negative impact on the community is unfounded.”

The village’s response also noted that the apartments would likely serve single adults and couples without children, which is “the same demographic that … Long Island is seeking to retain, as the young contribute to our workforce and the [retirement-aged residents] continue to enjoy recreation and spend using their discretionary income.”

Suffolk County Planning Director Sarah Lansdale wrote in an email later last month that the village gave the issues “proper procedural review” and took “a hard look at the issues raised by the commission.”

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