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Master Plan

Smithtown Town Hall. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By David Luces

Smithtown residents, who have ever had ideas for what downtown Smithtown or Commack’s future should look like, have been asked to contribute their 2 cents or give two hours of their time.

The Town of Smithtown announced plans Feb. 5 to update its Comprehensive Master Plan and is looking for community input to define the vision of the town’s hamlets present and future. 

Residents will be able to participate through a series of public workshops, an interactive website, survey and public hearings. 

“I truly believe that every resident should have the chance to voice his or her vision for our community,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Creating a process where they will have the opportunity to help shape their hometown hamlet by design, is the very definition of the people’s government.”

“Creating a process where they will have the opportunity to help shape their hometown hamlet by design, is the very definition of the people’s government.”

—Ed Wehrheim

The topics covered by the town’s comprehensive plan will include: community plans for each hamlet, land use, transportation, parking, community facilities, sustainability and future capital improvements.  

The town has launched a new website with specific details that outline the project at www.PublicInput.com/Smithtown, where it will address frequently asked questions and will be posting updates moving forward. Community residents can choose to complete an extensive online survey providing feedback on what aspects are most important and what areas the town needs the most improvement. 

Community workshops for individual hamlets will start March 7; see complete list below. Residents are encouraged to attend the community workshops in their respective hamlets to give input toward the immediate and long-term approach for growth, development, protection and community enhancement. 

“No stone will be left unturned when it comes to planning the future of our township,” Councilman Tom McCarthy (R), liaison to the Planning Department said. “This comprehensive plan will serve as a guide, not just for us but for our children and grandchildren.”

The town anticipates the new Comprehensive Master Plan will be completed by the end of 2019. 

Community Workshops Date

● Smithtown: March 7, 7-9 p.m. at Smithtown senior center located at 420 Middle Country Road 

● Nesconset: March 12, 7-9 p.m. at Great Hollow Middle School, located at 150 Southern Blvd.

● Hauppauge: March 19, 7-9 p.m. at Pines Elementary School, located at 22 Holly Drive

● St. James: March 27, 7-9 p.m. at St. James Elementary School, 580 Lake Ave. 

● Commack: April 4, 7-9 p.m. at Commack High School’s art gallery, located at 1 Scholar Lane

● Kings Park: April 11, 7-9 p.m. at Kings Park High School, located at 200 Route 25A

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A recurring battle along the North Shore that we’re noticing is the struggle communities go through to maintain historical characteristics while also satisfying modern business needs.

Where town or village codes may be lacking to maintain historical and/or architectural cohesion, community leaders are recognizing the importance of creating visioning plans. Our hope is that the want for sense of place is mixed with the needs of businesses in order to fill empty storefronts when crafting each plan in order to create a healthy mix.

Setting up guidelines to maintain its architectural heritage and cohesion is something Port Jefferson Village is paying attention to. At the end of last year, a draft resolution based on a meeting of the village’s architectural review committee was introduced. If passed, it would require new buildings in the village’s commercial districts to adhere to designs consistent with Port Jeff’s “Victorian, maritime heritage” and to avoid a “hodgepodge” of buildings. The policy is far from complete but standards are being discussed, and that’s a good start.

Constructing a visioning plan, with the assistance of residents and business owners, would be beneficial for revitalization in areas like Broadway in Rocky Point. Setauket and Stony Brook residents took a step in the right direction when community leaders, residents and business owners met in 2016 and 2017 to create the Route 25A Three Village Area Visioning Report. The report, approved by the Brookhaven Town Board and pending the adoption of a land-use study by the town’s planning department, creates guidelines for issues that affect the Three Village area including maintaining cohesive architecture.

It gave the Three Village Civic Association some backup when it opposed the owners of a Shell gas station in Setauket on Route 25A applying for variances to the town’s Board of Zoning Appeals. The company submitted proposed plans to construct a large canopy and a lighted electric sign at the gas station. The board closed an April 18 hearing without a decision and, according to town guidelines, has 62 days to make one. While the owners say most gas stations have canopies, residents at the hearing provided evidence to the contrary along Route 25A between St. James and Port Jefferson.

If the gas station doesn’t get its way with its plans, we doubt it will vacate the premises. But what about other cases when a business owner feels an addition would attract more customers? This is when a visioning plan created with history in mind, but also present business needs can have the most impact. During discussions, compromise may be the key.

Northport Village has been able to strike such an agreement. Last summer, the village board was approached about building a hotel at 225 Main St. — something unheard of before then. While residents criticized the proposed plans, the village approved a code modification to make way for the inn. Then the village’s architectural review board toured the 1950s building to determine firsthand if it had any historic value, before allowing the proposed plans to move forward. This two-step process allowed for a democratic proceeding, while protests may have otherwise left empty storefronts or rundown properties standing as eyesores, which is not the best option.

With some discussion, civic-minded folks with a respect for historical aspects can keep business districts from looking like an unattractive mixture of buildings. Taking in the concerns of business owners, can keep those buildings filled.

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.

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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.”