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Ed Wehrheim

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 Animal Shelter. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

The former director of the Smithtown animal shelter is suing the town, her former co-workers and Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) who she claims were personally hostile in their actions toward her.

Rocky Point resident Susan Hansen, who served as the supervisor of the Town of Smithtown’s Animal Shelter and Adoption Center for under two years, filed a lawsuit April 25 in United States District Eastern Court. Hansen is claiming her First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated when she was arrested for alleged criminal trespassing at the shelter after she was suspended as director in February 2017.

Former Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter Director Susan Hansen. Photo from Sue Hansen

“They caused criminal proceedings, including arrest and prosecution, to be instituted against Hansen, not for any legitimate concerns to seek justice, but rather for collateral and malicious purposes,” reads the lawsuit.

Hansen, who supervised the town’s animal shelter from August 2015 until February 2017, was arrested for allegedly criminally trespassing at the facility during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 18, 2017.

Upon arriving at the volunteer orientation, Hansen said she was informed by her former co-workers that she was not allowed to be in the building and willingly left. She was later arrested by Suffolk County police March 10, 2017.

The criminal trespassing charges against Hansen were later dismissed upon the Suffolk County district attorney’s request.

Hansen claims she began being harassed by Inzerillo shortly after she was elected to the town board in 2016. Hansen said the councilwoman, who serves as co-liaison to the shelter, inappropriately criticized her management style in front of visitors during a Feb. 11, 2016, tour of the facility. This continued through several emails and confrontations, according to the court records, before Hansen had an attorney reach out to former Supervisor Pat Vecchio to address the situation in January 2017 — weeks before she was suspended.

Inzerillo said she had no comment on the lawsuit, stating that she had not yet been served the papers or a chance to read it. Smithtown Town Attorney’s office had no comment on the pending litigation.

The lawsuit also alleges that the town purposefully “hamstrung” Hansen’s work by not giving her the necessary funds and staffing to improve the heavily criticized conditions at the animal shelter.

“They caused criminal proceedings, including arrest and prosecution, to be instituted against Hansen, not for any legitimate concerns to seek justice, but rather for collateral and malicious purposes.”
– Court Records

“Long after Hansen’s departure from the animal shelter, independent animal rights advocates were expressing their opinions that the animal shelter was not being run properly, thus, it is more likely than not that Hansen was correct that conditions at the shelter (which were abysmal long before Hansen arrived) were caused by upper management’s failure to assist the animal shelter …,” reads the lawsuit.

Hansen had taken over the shelter from former director George Beatty, who stepped down in June 2015, after more than 30 years. His resignation came after heavy criticism from Smithtown residents who alleged he was doing an inadequate job and the conditions animals lived in and how they were cared for at the shelter were unacceptable.

It cites the town increased the shelter’s budget by 14.6 percent in 2017 once Hansen was gone.

As of April 30, town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo confirmed the town has spent $76,086.10 on upgrades to the shelter since February 2017. These upgrades include renovating the former director’s offices into a meet-and-greet area, a complete renovation of the veterinary office, new dog beds and replacement of the cat condominiums. The town has also promoted two part-time animal control officers to full-time positions, according to Garguilo, accounting for some of the budgetary increase.

The town does have plans to replace the water main leading to the town property — also the site of the firematic training grounds and senior citizen center — to improve service. This would allow for future installation of a fire sprinkler system in the animal shelter, Garguilo said. There are also plans to construct a TNR building to house its trap, neuter and return program in 2019.

Lake Avenue business district's water main work slated to begin in May will be postponed

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By Kyle Barr

The assessment for sewers in St. James Lake Avenue business district may be arriving on the town doorstep soon.

It’s only been days since Smithtown Town Board voted April 10 unanimously to pay $24,000 to H2M Architects + Engineers to provide a study of whether installing a dry sewer line is economically viable. Yet, George Desmarais, the wastewater department manager at H2M, said the assessment would be finished in about a month.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A,” Desmarais said.

“What we’re looking at right now putting a [sewer] district within the commercial area, which would be just south of Woodlawn Avenue between Patricks Way, north of Route 25A.”
— George Desmarais

He went on to explain the study will look at how much sewage wastewater is produced by the commercial business district to determine what is needed, and the cost of installing dry sewer mains at the same time as the water mains.

At a public meeting hosted by the Community Association of Greater St. James, Desmarais and town board members discussed the sewers and other upcoming projects for St. James.

Although the town board has $2.4 million set aside for water main installation from its 2018 capital budget, Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) stated that the town is still looking for additional funding for the dry sewer lines.

“What we do not have, what’s not budgeted for is funding for a dry force main for future sewers,” Wehrheim said. “I have been in discussions with higher levels of government to go after some funding methods on how we might possibly come up with enough funding to do that.”

Wehrheim said he had a sit-down meeting with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) to discuss possible sources.

Wehrheim asked St. James residents to agree with putting off the  water main project, originally slated to begin in May,  for one year so they could install everything, including the dry sewer lines, all at once. He said it would be more economical for the town and better for businesses.

“All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way,” he said.

The planned dry sewer lines will be gravity fed lines using the areas natural slope, according to Desmarais. The pump station for the sewers is planned to be a 30×30-square-foot area, but the exact location of the station has not yet been determined.

All this is being done while the roads are still open, while the concrete is up, because we’re not going to do it any other way.
— Ed Wehrheim

Wehrheim previously stated he was looking to negotiate with Gyrodone LLC to use the treatment station it proposes to build on the Flowerfields land, the property off Route 25A in St. James that is often used to host community festivals.

“If we do the concrete and asphalt, we’re just going to spend the money haphazardly and then 10, 15 years again, they are going to come back and say ‘we need more money’” Smithtown Highway Superintendent Robert Murphy said. “We have to do this smart.”

Deborah Powers, owner of Hither Brook Floral and Gift Boutique in St. James, was concerned that the construction would disrupt her business when work would be done on the roads and sidewalks.

“I’ve been through roadwork before, I know what it’s going to do, and it’s not going to be pretty,” Powers said.

Wehrheim mentioned that the town was looking at means of doing the construction without interrupting daily business.

“We’re looking at the percentage cost for doing the paving at night. I think that’s something that very much will be feasible,” he said. “The other thing that we’re looking at instead of having this be spread out among contractors, is to see if we can come up with enough funding by putting this out as one request for proposal and have a larger contractor come in who can subcontract the work so that would speed up a project like this.”

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine send joint letter to state representatives

Huntington riders may experience some problems with upcoming station work. File photo by Rohma Abbas

The spark of hope given to electrifying the North Shore branch of the Long Island Rail Road last November convinced local leaders to take up the charge.

Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) has joined with other town supervisors to urge state lawmakers to moved forward with a feasibility study on the electrification of the LIRR service line from Huntington Station east to Port Jefferson Station. Currently, trains on the line east of Huntington run on diesel fuel.

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven,” Lupinacci (R) said. “For the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”

“It will have a strong affect on Huntington, Smithtown and Brookhaven, for the commuters in all three towns this is something that’s critically needed in the area.”
—Chad Lupinacci

On April 4, Lupinacci along with Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine (R) and Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) sent a joint letter to New York State Legislature’s Long Island delegation to express their support for the feasibility study due to potential economic and environmental benefits. They cited that the Port Jefferson and Huntington branch lines have the highest ridership, about 18.7 million annually, of any line in the LIRR service territory, according to the most recent LIRR Annual Ridership Report released in 2015.

“For decades this project has been a concept that could not reach the critical mass necessary to become a reality,” reads the April 4 letter. “However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved — including where to site the train cars.”

The letter details the beneficial impacts electrification of the Port Jeff branch would have for each of the townships.

In Huntington, the five stations — Greenlawn, Northport, Centerport, Fort Salonga and Commack — would benefit from additional transportation options and commuters heading east, according to Lupinacci.

Wehrheim stressed in the Town of Smithtown the infrastructural investment is a key pillar in the revitalization of Kings Park, Smithtown and St. James business areas. The town has invested significant funds in this year’s capital budget to these areas.

However, we believe the time is now given the many roadblocks that
prevented this project from moving forward have now been solved.”
— April 4 letter

In Brookhaven, Romaine said electrification of the rails would foster revitalization of Port Jefferson Station and allow for an easier commute to Stony Brook University, which has approximately 40,000 students and staff members. He also noted it would help ease traffic congestion on local roadways in the communities near SBU.

The project has received support from groups such as the Long Island Association in the past, and a more recent push from state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). LaValle met with Metropolitan Transportation
Authority board member Mitchell Paley last November, wherein the sides agreed to pursue a feasibility study to determine the potential cost and impact of electrifying the line out to Port Jeff.

“I believe it’s something we could get done,” LaValle said, in a November interview with TBR News Media. “I think it’s critically important that we can demonstrate to communities with specificity where electric substations are going. Communities need to know that before we make that decision. I’m supporting electrification that starts in Port Jeff but also goes through Smithtown and Huntington.”

Calls and initiatives to electrify the line east of Huntington go back to at least the 1980s. According to an article by researcher Derek Stadler published by the Long Island History Journal in 2016 entitled “The Modernization of the Long Island Rail Road,” in 1984, electrification of the branch was included in a nearly $600 million MTA spending package that was meant to serve as a five-year plan for LIRR improvements. However, the plans were postponed indefinitely just two years later due to a budget gap.

“This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”
— Chad Lupinacci

The establishment of a one-seat ride from Port Jefferson to Penn Station has long been a goal for elected officials and LIRR riders as well, though that would require electrification as diesel engines cannot travel to the Manhattan station. In the mid-90s, a brief pilot program was tested on the Port Jeff line using dual-mode locomotive cars that could run using both diesel engines and third-rail electrification. According to Stadler’s research, in 2000 it was estimated that electrification east of Huntington could cost as much as $500 million.

“You are looking at several millions per mile of track,” Lupinacci affirmed. “This is a good time to put it out there. Now you can have serious conversations for next [budget] year.”

There is renewed hope that with a newlyannounced LIRR president, Philip Eng of Smithtown, that a feasibility study willEd be funded.

“New leadership brings in a different perspective,” Lupinacci said. “I think this is a good situation for us to be in with new leadership taking over the helm.”

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Smithtown Town Board will consider seeking approval to purchase property behind Park Bake Shop for municipal parking. 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 Animal Shelter faces public criticism of its kennel conditions. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Sara-Megan Walsh

The Town of Smithtown’s decision to shut down the Smithtown Animal Shelter’s Facebook page is the latest controversy to bombard the already problem-plagued center.

Smithtown resident John Urbancik openly criticized town councilmembers’ decision to take down the shelter’s Facebook page earlier this month at the Nov. 7 town board meeting.

“Before you took down the page, you weren’t promoting the animals,” Urbancik said at the board meeting. “Put it back up and promote the animals. If you want the animals out of there, you need to promote them.”

Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said the site has been temporarily taken offline alleging that public commenters harassed and cyberbullied town employes by claiming they had failed to provide adequate care for the shelter’s animals.

Shelter dog Dinah was recently adopted. Photo from George Speakman

“It was destroying the self-esteem of the staff who work there every day,” she said. “It’s been shattered with this negativity. It’s hurting our adoption success. It’s hurting the animals. It’s a few people who start these rumors that go all over about the shelter, but they aren’t thinking about the animals.”

Over the last two years, the Smithtown Animal Shelter has been plagued by a series of problems. Former director James Beatty resigned in May 2015, after more than 30 years running the shelter, following months of accusations by Smithtown residents of his animal neglect and cruelty. He was replaced by Rocky Point resident Sue Hansen, who was fired by the town in July 2017 on charges of incompetence and mismanagement which led to a deterioration of the animals’ living conditions.

Urbancik said in a telephone interview with TBR News Media Nov. 10 that the shutdown of the shelter’s Facebook page wasn’t over harassment or bullying, but rather a calculated effort to silence public outcry. He claimed the shelter’s dogs are being neglected, citing they are being left locked inside unclean kennels.

Urbancik has started several Facebook pages of his own to draw attention to his problems with operation of the shelter including “Smithtown Animal Shelter needs a director” with more than 700 followers and “Remove Public Safety from Smithtown Animal Shelter” with more than 70 followers as of time of this publication.

The Smithtown Animal Shelter Facebook page comments, Urbancik’s social media posts, along with others made by animal activists concerned over conditions at the Smithtown shelter, caught the attention of New Jersey resident George Speakman.

The self-professed dog lover traveled more than two and a half hours Nov. 12 after hearing rumors the shelters’ vet was operating without anesthesia and all dogs in the shelter would be euthanized by December.

“I saw the Facebook page before it went down; it was one of the main reasons I decided to travel up to New York to take a look — I wanted to see for myself,” Speakman said. “If it was the way it was described on Facebook, I would have sat outside that shelter and protested.”

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals.”

— George Speakman 

Upon arriving, he said he met with the shelter’s veterinarian, Dr. Susan Zollo, and a kennel attendant.

“I told them about the stories I had heard, and for my own peace of mind, asked if I can look around and see the shelter,” he said. “She was more than happy to accommodate me.”

Speakman said he toured the facility and took a video recording of the kennels and dog park before deciding to adopt Dinah, a female bull terrier and corgi mix who has been a long-term resident of the shelter.

“I walked out of there with the impression that these people do nothing but love and care for these animals,” he said, saying he would highly recommend local residents visit themselves. “They bend over backwards for them.”

Smithtown resident Vicki Feuerstein, a volunteer of the shelter since it was under Beatty’s leadership, said there have been positive changes in recent months at the shelter with proactive leadership and the remaining staff responsible and dedicated to their jobs.

“You have the backbone to make it a really good shelter,” she said.

Feuerstein admitted there is still room for improvement as dogs are spending too much time in their kennels, largely due to a shortage of kennel staff.

“I would love to see more kennel staff, that really affects the life of the dogs,” she said. “ Also, an animal behaviorist.”

Councilwoman Inzerillo admitted the town only has two full-time employees at the shelter, after recent efforts to clean house of troublesome employees. She said there have been conversations with supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) about hiring two additional kennel staff members once he takes office. In addition, Inzerillo said the town has started extensive renovations to improve the dated shelter.

“We are focusing on moving forward,” she said. “We can’t focus on the negativity. I encourage residents to go and visit the place.”

Ed Wehrheim is running for Smithtown Town supervisor. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Supervisor

We want Wehrheim to lead

It will certainly be a tough road ahead for whoever takes the seat of Smithtown supervisor this November after Pat Vecchio’s (R) 40-year reign at town hall.

But we believe Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who has worked in town government for more than four decades, will serve the role with a great deal of insight, familiarity, openness and forward-thinking leadership. He’s somebody who’s not afraid to shake things up, as evident in his shocking victory over Vecchio in September’s Republican primary, and could make for significant — and much-needed — changes in how Smithtown operates.

Getting his start as director of parks, buildings and grounds in 1971, and serving on the town board since 2003, Wehrheim is well experienced in bringing business developments to the villages and hamlets and helping to increase tax revenues to the town. He believes in righting the wrongs of how the government under Vecchio functioned, by moving ahead with stalled downtown revitalization plans, developing more residential housing, addressing the board’s lack of transparency between its members and making town hall a more approachable place for residents.

While we think Wehrheim is the right choice, we were extremely impressed by his independent opponent as well. Kristen Slevin, a young business owner with no government experience but plenty of initiative and energy to make up for it, is definitely someone to keep an eye on, and we hope that she considers running for town board or remains involved in politics in some capacity.

Town Board

Nowick, Lohmann a good match

The Town of Smithtown is on the brink of massive change, as the 40-year-reign of Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) comes to an end, and a new board will have major decisions to make about how to move forward.

Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) has served one four-year term in town, enough to get an insider’s perspective, and speaks bluntly about the concerns of residents in terms of local roadways and parking. She was also one of the only candidates to speak out on the larger looming issue of opioid and heroin abuse in Smithtown. She also served 12 years in the Suffolk County Legislature, gaining invaluable experience that we expect her to continue to bring to Smithtown as a voice of change.

We believe it would serve both the town and its residents well if she were to work closely with Conservative candidate Tom Lohmann. Lohmann speaks to public sentiment for a new comprehensive plan, improving traffic flow and also the need to address drug and gang issues. His experience as a former police officer and current investigator for Suffolk County lends a practical from-the-street insight much needed in the town.

It is our belief that this mixed team of Lohmann and Nowick could bring about the overhaul and revitalization Smithtown needs.

Conservative candidate Bob Doyle was similarly impressive with his ability to get directly to the heart of an issue and propose practical solutions for traffic, revitalization and violence issues. If he were to get elected instead of Lohmann, we are confident the residents’ best interests would be served. We hope Doyle and Lohmann will continue to work together after the election.

Smithtown councilman Edward Wehrheim, Independent candidate Kristen Slevin and Democratic candidate William Holst are racing for Smithtown supervisor Nov. 7. Photos by Alex Petroski

As a promise of change hangs over the Smithtown supervisor election, residents will have three very different options when they enter the voting booth Nov. 7.

On the heels of his victory over 40-year incumbent Pat Vecchio in the Republican primary in September, Councilman Edward Wehrheim (R) faces off against Democratic candidate William Holst — an assistant county attorney and former Suffolk County Legislator — and Independent candidate Kristen Slevin — a local business owner and political newcomer — as the race for the top position enters its final stretch.

The three candidates sat down at the TBR News Media office in Setauket Oct. 19 to discuss their stances on a variety of Smithtown-related issues.

Wehrheim, a lifelong Smithtown resident who has voiced his discontentment with the way Vecchio has run town hall for the past five years, is halfway through his fourth term on the board. He vows to get more work done than his predecessor, if elected, and proposed all  elected town officials be considered full-time employees.

Pat Vecchio. File photo

Wehrheim said he will hit the ground running and work diligently to make sure long-dormant downtown revitalization initiatives — like bringing sewers to Kings Park, apartments to Smithtown  and working with civic groups to turn the New York Avenue school property into something fitting for the town  — are pushed forward as quickly as possible.

Wehrheim also wants to make Smithtown’s government more transparent for residents.

“We need to have information or public relations officers there so the public has more access to the work sessions and they know what’s going on,” he said. “Right now, it’s not clear what’s going on in the agendas. The agenda has 75 items, labeled A to ZZ, and nobody understands that. We need more clarification. Whoever is elected to supervisor has to do what’s right for the community.”

Admitting that Smithtown has “a very closed board,” the Republican candidate said he will advocate for more teamwork and openness to allow board members to push legislation of their own. He proposed a business advisory council made up of members from the chamber of commerce, civic groups and local businesses to make new development plans.

“The problem, though, has been that the current town board and the supervisor, in particular, either do nothing or come up with plans that are totally unrealistic in terms of what is appropriate for the area,” Holst said in response to the town’s lack of downtown revitalization. “I think it takes somebody with my background — one who understands land use, knows what is going to be possible in a certain area and has a sense of community.”

Holst, who was president of the Smithtown school district board from 1992 to 1993, touted his experience consolidating two high schools into one to fix declining enrollment. He said, similarly, in downtown Smithtown, “you have to sell off existing [town] buildings and consolidate them to New York Avenue.”

The Democrat also cited that he created the Downtown Revitalization Citizens Advisory Panel during his term in the Suffolk County legislature  representing the 12th district. As a former vice president and president of the Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce,  Holst said he worked to get paved public parking behind stores on the north side of Main Street — an example of his revitalization experience.

“I think I’m the best person for the job to get people to come to a consensus and make things happen,” Holst said.

He questioned the commitment of Slevin, the 40-year-old owner of Yottabyte Craft Chocolate and Candy in Smithtown, who got on the ballot after gathering more than 1,500 voter signatures across party lines this past summer. She has freely admitted to never setting foot inside town hall.

“I’m an outsider — a regular person,” Slevin said. “When I decided I wanted to get involved with the town, I started watching everything online.”

The Town of Smithtown will have a different look in 2018.
File photo by Phil Corso

Slevin said she never entered this race thinking she would actually win but is proud to be a voice for the 75 percent of people, mostly young adults, who don’t vote in the local elections or involve themselves in politics at all. She pointed to Vecchio’s reign as “a perfect example” of depriving an entire generation of the opportunity to lead and bring new ideas forward.

It’s [not that] my generation that doesn’t care about local politics. It’s because we’re taking care of our kids, our parents, struggling to hold onto a job, continuing our education, and getting advanced degrees,” she said. “When you have [Vecchio] running the town for 40 years, — my entire life — you just take it for granted. Then one day, you’re like, ‘Oh my goodness, the whole house is falling down. How did I miss it?’

If elected, she wants to implement term limits and proposed council districts for   board members to improve elected officials’ accountability. Slevin said she’d like to see Smithtown be, “a small town USA that maximizes our spot on the Washington Spy Trail” with elements of Sag Harbor and Northport Village — mixed communities that are walkable, bikeable and pet-friendly.”

Even if she is not elected, she hopes any and all Republicans and Democrats out there feeling disenfranchised by local governments continue to stay active in their parties.

The three candidates stood on common ground in regard to the prevalence of opioid and heroin in the town. Wehrheim said local government has a role in it and plans to make education seminars and hearings on the topic mandatory among town council members, while Holst agreed it was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Slevin said although in Smithtown “we don’t talk about these things,” she’s glad there has been an open dialogue on it within the last year. She wants to not only address people’s access to the drugs but also the psychology behind why they’re taking them.

A rendering of the proposed Country Pointe Woods development, if state approval is given to build in Smithtown. Photo from Beechwood Organization

By Kevin Redding

The remains of a demolished hospital on the northwest corner of Routes 347 and 111 could soon become the site of Smithtown’s newest residential community for all ages.

A Jericho-based residential developer, the Beechwood Organization, has proposed plans to build Country Pointe Woods, a 69-unit condominium community on the property of the former Smithtown General Hospital. The hospital was shut down in 1999 and the land has been vacant since then. For more than a decade, various developers have eyed the abandoned lot — seen by some residents as an eyesore — as the potential site of their projects, but all plans up until Beechwood’s have fallen through.

The award-winning home builder’s proposal was approved by Smithtown Town Board at its July 12 meeting and is currently under review by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. If approved, the developer would construct villas and townhomes with a starting price tag of $600,000. The units within the community range in living space sizes from 1,395 square feet to more than 2,400 square feet. The site plan  also includes  a 1,500-square-foot clubhouse with a fitness center, lounge, outdoor pool, sun deck and gated entrance, as well as lawn maintenance and snow removal.

Of the 69 homes proposed, the plans call for 56 units,  or approximately 80 percent, to be age-restricted to buyers 55 and older. The remaining 13 units, or 20 percent, will be open to all ages, according to the developer.

If approved by the state, pre-construction sales will begin offsite at Country Pointe Huntington sales center in November with first occupancy slated for summer 2018.

“Country Pointe Woods in Smithtown gives those who are just starting, downsizing or working nearby the benefits of condominium living in a central North Shore location,” said Michael Dubb, CEO and founder of the Beechwood Organization, in a press release. “They will have brand new energy-efficient homes built to our signature quality construction with the amenities our buyers tell us they value the most.”

Smithtown Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R), who voted to approve Country Pointe Woods’ site plan application in July, said condominiums are needed in the town.

“Frankly, we have a fair number of homeowners that are emptynesters, whose
children have all grown up or gone to college [or are ] in the workforce,” Wehrheim said. “I get at least a couple calls a month asking me where they’re developing nice condos because they all want to sell their single-family home and move into them.”

During the town board’s meeting over the summer, it was discussed that the abandoned sewage treatment plant on the grounds of the former hospital had been removed and most of the site was cleared for development.

The application was approved under several standard conditions and requirements, such as building permits from the town and the installation of a fence along tree-clearing limits.

Residents on a closed Smithtown-oriented Facebook group were mixed on the proposal. While some applauded the development’s proposed location, others voiced concerns over it.

“Traffic was always an issue with either entrance to the hospital and I don’t see how it could be any better with condos,” said Lee Buxton Brooks, a former Smithtown General employee. “The intersection doesn’t need any more traffic because it can’t handle what it has now.”

But James Brako-McComb spoke in favor of the proposal.

“Higher density developments like these are the types of developments we need to keep millennials on the island,” Brako-McComb wrote.

Steve Gardella, too, spoke up for young adults who might occupy some of the condominiums.

“If you don’t want traffic — people who stimulate the economy and help make the town what it is — then continue to allow Smithtown to die and lose its citizens to towns that aren’t stuck in the 1950s,” Gardella said.

Susan Mahoney said the development’s demographic is crucial to the town’s survival.

“The older generation are people that you want to keep here since most of them will spend their money in restaurants, theaters, etc.” Mahoney said. “And it is better than that ugly lot.”

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Supervisor Pat Vecchio tears up as he learns Town Hall will be named in his honor. File photo by Phil Corso

Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) conceded that his challenger Edward Wehrheim has officially defeated him in the primary for town supervisor, bringing about the end to his storied 40-year reign.

Councilman Wehrheim (R) held a razor-thin edge over Vecchio, 2,822 votes to 2,783 votes, when the polls closed Sept 12. After all 373 absentee ballots were counted by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, Wehrheim’s lead increased and he was declared the Republican Party candidate.

Ed Wehrheim. File photo by Rohma Abbas

“I always anticipated it being a very close race,” the councilman said. “Supervisor Vecchio is a 40-year incumbent. I had no illusions it would be easy to win the primary.”

The Suffolk County Board of Elections began counting the absentee votes Sept. 25 with attorneys from both candidates observing the process. Wehrheim said his counsel kept him briefed throughout the day, but a winner wasn’t clear until around five minutes to 5 p.m. That’s when he learned he was still leading by 83 votes.

“The result is very gratifying as we put in two-and-a-half months of very hard work, it’s very gratifying,” the councilman said.

Vecchio admitted despite the initial polling results that “it did, it did, it did” still come as a bit of a shock. However, the supervisor said he first congratulated Wehrheim on his victory in the hallways of Smithtown Town Hall just days after the primary.

“I was resigned to the fact that I had lost on the night of the election,” he said.

Vecchio is the current longest-serving town supervisor in New York, first elected to the position in 1977. To his credit, his years in office have been known as fiscally conservative ones for Smithtown, leading the town to have a Triple AAA bond rating. It’s been predicted there will be no tax increase for residents in 2018.

Vecchio said that he’s no stranger to a close ballot count. He recalled that in his first general election he  won by a slim 67-vote margin.

“All good things come to an end. For now, I’m going to continue coming to work every day like I’ve done for 40 years.”

— Pat Vecchio

He’s faced numerous primary challenges from members of his own party before. In 2013, he faced off against former town Councilman Robert Creighton and prior to that, Jane Conway in 2005. The key difference was in both of these primaries, Vecchio had  decisive victories at the polls.

Vecchio said that despite facing the reality of his loss, he hasn’t given much thought to what he will do after office. 

“All good things come to an end,” he said. “For now, I’m going to continue coming to work every day like I’ve done for 40 years.” 

Wehrheim will face off against the Democratic candidate William Holst and independent Kristen Slevin in the general election. Wehrheim said he plans to take a few days to “catch his breath” before sitting down to plan his campaign strategy for the next five weeks.

“I appreciate the confidence of the Republican voters in Smithtown to give me the opportunity to run in the general election,” Wehrheim said. “If we are successful, I’ll be able to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

Wehrheim will share the party line with incumbents Councilman Thomas McCarthy and Councilwoman Lynne Nowick this November. McCarthy and Nowick, while not endorsed by the Smithtown Republican Committee, kept their lead on challengers Bob Doyle and Tom Lohman despite the absentee ballots.

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