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New York Avenue

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.

Huntington Manor firefighters evacuated 15 residents from an early morning apartment blaze Sept. 20.

The fire department responded to initial reports of a structure fire on New York Avenue between East 10th and East 11th streets in Huntington Station at 6:51 a.m., according to fire district spokesman Steve Silverman.

Firefighters found a fire in an apartment building located behind a commercial building and began an aggressive search and rescue. Several neighboring fire departments including Commack, Dix Hills, Greenlawn, Halesite, Huntington, Melville also responded bringing a total of 50 firefighters and 10 trucks to the scene.

Huntington Manor assistant chiefs Jon Hoffman, Chuck Brady and Jim Glidden led crews in evacuating residents and bringing the fire under control within an hour. The fire caused extensive damage to the commercial building and apartments on the first and second floor, according to Silverman.

New York Avenue was closed off in both directions by Suffolk County police during the fire, causing snarls to rush-hour traffic.

The Suffolk County police Arson Squad and Huntington Town fire marshal are investigating the cause of the fire.

The 265-year-old Arthur House, located on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street, has historic ties to Long Island’s Culper Spy Ring. Photo by Kevin Redding

A neglected, pre-Revolutionary War house on the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown and other historically significant structures in the area could help boost the town’s future, according to a Smithtown historian.

Smithtown scholar Corey Victoria Geske urged for Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) and town council members to draft a resolution to start a Town Hall National Register Historic District in the downtown area at the Aug. 8 town board meeting, which, according to her, would serve to benefit the region’s economy. 

She asked the resolution be expedited by the Town Planning Department in cooperation with the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities as well as the community.

The proposed historic district, which Geske first proposed to the board about eight months ago, would center on the town hall building — built in 1912 by St. James architect Lawrence Smith Butler — and include the 106-year-old Trinity AME Church on New York Avenue, the 105-year-old Byzantine Catholic Church of the Resurrection on Juniper Avenue and the 265-year-old Arthur House.

The Arthur House is located at the corner of New York Avenue and Main Street in Smithtown. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Arthur House is the only Revolutionary War-era house on the Route 25A Spy Trail, Geske said, and currently sits on the grounds of the Smithtown Central School District. It’s a property she has pushed in the past to be included on the National Register of Historic Places.

Geske informed the board that the house, built in 1752, was once inhabited by Mary Woodhull Arthur, the daughter of Abraham Woodhull — better known as Samuel Culper Sr. — George Washington’s chief operative during the famous spy ring. The intelligence he provided helped win the American Revolution.

Her recent call for the historic district coincided with the July 27 bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) designating the Washington Spy Ring National Historic Trail. The trail runs through towns and villages in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, including Smithtown along Route 25A.

“Let Smithtown lead the way in a big way by capitalizing on its own special history and world-class architecture added to the heritage now being recognized at the state and national levels for all towns along the Route 25A Washington Spy Trail from Great Neck to Port Jefferson,” Geske said at the board meeting. “The Washington Spy Trail wouldn’t exist if not for the father of Mary Woodhull Arthur of Smithtown, a true daughter of the American Revolution.”

She also noted The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and North Shore Promotion Alliance were granted funds from the state to install signs along the trail in May.

The Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities has listed the Arthur House as endangered for more than 10 years. Photo by Kevin Redding

Geske said registering the Arthur House would be beneficial to the town as it could bring about possible grants from the state for the restoration and stabilization of old properties and promote more tourism in that area.

“The Arthur House was on the SPLIA’s endangered list over 10 years ago and it’s a building that’s been proposed for demolition,” she said. “These are the buildings that have been cast off in the past. [But] they actually could become the cornerstone for revitalizing downtown Smithtown. The history can actually bring to life a new future for downtown, it would be amazing.”

Sarah Kautz, director of preservation for SPLIA, said she hopes the town will involve its vast history into the downtown revitalization efforts. The town’s comprehensive revitalization plans came to the conclusion its historic buildings were an important component, according to Kautz, but did not provide concrete plans to address them.

“The town has never really incorporated preservation in a systematic way that would bring it into the wider plan for revitalization,” Kautz said. “The Arthur House is important because it’s an early property and is part of Smithtown’s really interesting early history going back into the 18th century. We would love to see a real clear approach for how those historic properties are going to fit into the revitalization and there’s a great potential for them to do so.”

The town board is in the process of evaluating Geske’s proposal, according to Councilman Tom McCarthy (R).

“We’ve asked the planning department to see how feasible it is … we’ll have to look at the pluses and minuses, do due diligence, but it could be a benefit to the township as a whole,” McCarthy said. “We have so much history [and] it’s very important to preserve it but now we have to look at everything surrounding it. We don’t want to shoot from the hip.”

A Huntington resident signs the steel beam. Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

When it comes to revitalization, Huntington Station is building a future as solid as steel.

Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) could barely contain his excitement June 8 as he, along with town board members and developers, kicked off Huntington Station’s long-planned revitalization phase with the signing of a steel beam to be installed over the entrance of a new, mixed-use building currently under construction at the intersection of Northridge Street and New York Avenue, a site on which the town has been trying to develop a property for decades.

“Finally, this is happening,” Petrone said to cheers and applause from at least 50 residents and local leaders standing in front of the construction site. “All of you who are here have been inspirational in his whole process and we know it’s taken a long time, but it’s happened…and thank goodness it’s happened.”

The mixed-use building, under construction since January and expected to be completed in October, will be made up of 6500 square feet of retail space on the first floor, with May’s Gourmet Delicatessen signed up as the first and only commercial tenant so far, and a total of 16 one-bedroom apartments, eight on the second floor and eight on the third, for a total cost of $5.5 million. According to the town, it’s projected to “generate $55,007 in tax revenue the first year, rising to $132,016 (at present rates) in 15 years.”

Huntington officials and community members smile. Photo by Kevin Redding.

This will serve as the first concrete project in Huntington Station’s next phase of youth-friendly revitalization and was developed in partnership with Renaissance Downtowns, a nationally-renowned development group chosen by the town to be a master developer in 2011. Blue & Gold Holdings, a Huntington-based contracting business, is in charge of construction.

“We’re going to attract millennials to this facility, and that speaks highly because the station is a hub, the station is a nucleus of people that commute, especially, and that’s who we are looking to attract,” Petrone said. “There was considerable money put into this, and commitment, because that’s the commitment necessary to start the engine of economic development. The collective work with the communities, with Renaissance Downtowns and with the town has paid off.”

Town Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) and Councilwoman Susan Berland (D), both integral players in the town’s revitalization efforts, were equally excited about the progress being made on the site.

“Today is a great day for Huntington Station,” Cuthbertson said. “Anytime we can see brick, mortar and steel [in Huntington Station] with housing going up is a good sign. We have beautiful mixed-use buildings like this going up in Huntington Village that really, really add to the downtown area…but when we can have a building like this, when the economics are right, when government and the private sector come together and are able to do this in Huntington Station, we’re certainly on the right track.”

Berland assured the crowd that although it’s been long in the making, the project will be worth the wait.

“The businesses that are going to happen here and the people who are going to be able to move in to the heart of the station and live here and prosper here and shop here —it’s going to be fantastic,” Berland said. “It’s a beautiful design and it’s going to be a beautiful project when it’s done and we wish everybody who’s going to move in here lots and lots of happiness and years of shopping in Huntington and spending your money. They say the best things in life are worth waiting for and, well, this is absolutely worth waiting for.”

Don Monti, chairman of Renaissance Downtowns, referring to Petrone, said, “Huntington Station is something he’s wanted to see developed for many years and I’m happy and proud that prior to the supervisor departing that the dream has come true…and this is just a beginning… the first of many to come.”

“We’re going to attract millennials to this facility, and that speaks highly because the station is a hub, the station is a nucleus of people that commute, especially, and that’s who we are looking to attract.”
— Frank Petrone

Future projects proposed by Renaissance Downtowns, currently in the approval process, include a mixed-use building at the intersection of New York Avenue and Olive Street that will include 66 apartments and ground-level retail, a hotel and office building at New York Avenue and Railroad Street, and artists’ studios in what is currently a municipal parking lot at New York Avenue and Church Street.

Dolores Thompson, a community activist for more than 70 years and the mother of Town Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (D), said she’s been trying to bring back Huntington Station since it was “taken away in the 1950s.”

“This is one of the things that I wanted to see before I leave this world and to be here today and be able to witness the fact that we actually have started is like a blessing…I’m so pleased to be here,” Thompson said. In terms of what she hopes will come to Huntington Station, she laughed, “We need a hair salon, then a shoe store, we want a gathering place and a community room…we want everything, okay?”

Robert Rockelein, a member of the civic group Huntington Matters, called this “progress in the right direction.”

“The revitalization has been backsliding for decades, it’s long overdue and it’s going to help populate and reflourish the downtown area,” Rockelein said. “I’d like to see more neighborhood-established businesses rather than regional chains obviously, and give people that live and work here an opportunity to establish something here and build their American dream.”

Local leaders, developers and residents each took turns signing their names on the last piece of steel to be installed on the mixed-use building, which will be placed at the entrance.

File photo

Suffolk County Police 2nd Squad detectives are investigating a motor vehicle crash that killed a pedestrian in Huntington Station Monday night, April 24.

Police said Margaret Smith was crossing New York Avenue at the intersection of Railroad Street when she was hit by a 2001 Chevrolet Suburban driven by Segundo Carchi at about 10 p.m. Smith, 60, of Huntington Station, was transported to Huntington Hospital where she was pronounced dead.  Carchi, 46, of Corona, Queens, was not injured.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety check.  The investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information on this crash to call the Second Squad at 631-854-8252.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

After plans for an apartment complex on the site of the Smithtown school district administration building on New York Avenue fell through earlier this year, a new plan is in the works.

The Smithtown town board recently hired real estate firm Michael Haberman Associates to appraise the building, after Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) proposed the town purchase the property, suggesting the land and building could be used for offices and a park.

At recent town board meetings, residents have been more supportive of this proposal than the former plan. At school board meetings earlier this year residents roasted the administration for a lack of transparency, and argued an apartment complex would not be a welcomed addition to the neighborhood.

“I just want to thank Supervisor Vecchio and the board members,” Smithtown resident Bob Hughes said at the Feb. 23 meeting. “Mr. McCarthy had proposed exploring the purchase of the New York Avenue building and it was approved by the board and we appreciate that. We want to thank you for better transparency than we had with the school board. You’ve taken our phone calls, you made phone calls and you met with us.”

At the March 7 meeting Smithtown resident and local architect Mark Mancini weighed in on the future of the property.

“My thought process would be fully in support of what you’re proposing and I hope that you’re proceeding forward … I think it’s going to be an overall benefit for the town,” Mancini said at the meeting. “I think the whole plan looks like a great idea to us.”

Hughes returned to praise the idea and asked if a timeline had been established yet.

“A lot of the residents think it would be a great thing for the community especially to develop the grass area, the vacant land to a downtown central park for the community, keeping the activities local here to the downtown Main Street which would eventually help to increase patronage to downtown shops and the restaurants,” he said. “Just curious, is there a time frame when you expect to get the appraisal back?”

Smithtown attorney Matthew Jakubowski said it’s not yet clear, but a rough estimate suggested the process wouldn’t begin for a few months.

“We have to look at it from two different approaches: purchasing the building as is and what the possible fair market value is were it available commercially,” he said.

Not everyone in the community is on board with the effort.

“I think it is an ideal spot for condos for young people,” St. James resident Rose Palazzo said at the March 7 meeting. “I believe it’s about time to have affordable condos built. How can our residents forget that these young people would like to have their own home in Smithtown—then when they have a bigger family, they will buy the homes of those residents who are downsizing? It is a win for young people and a win for the town.”

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Superintendent James Grossane file photo

Smithtown residents are up in arms about the sale and potential development of the district’s administration building on New York Avenue.

At the Dec. 13 Smithtown school board meeting, citizens gathered to express their dissatisfaction with how the board has handled the plan and criticized them for a lack of transparency.

Joe Fortunato, a Smithtown resident, said he came to the meeting to express his disappointment with the board.

“I understand the need for development in this town, but 250 units on 13 acres is ridiculous,” he said. “The zoning has to be changed, and we’re being almost railroaded into having to accept four-story structures in a neighborhood that we moved into 25 years ago that was very quaint in nature. To be forced to hear that we have to accept this as part of Smithtown revitalization is ridiculous.”

Fortunato said he doesn’t agree the plan will benefit the whole community in part because the increase in traffic will actually cause more problems.

“To be forced to hear that we have to accept this as part of Smithtown revitalization is ridiculous.”

— Joe Fortunato

Dennis Bader, like Fortunato, is a Smithtown resident who said he has lived through many development projects in the area. He asked the board how they came to the decision about the amount of structures in the complex, which the board said they had no control over.

“That was up to the developer,” district Superintendent James Grossane said.

Community member Richard Cardone said the board does not have their best interests at heart.

“Do you think all these people would be here if you had the town’s best interests?” he asked. “You’re going to lose the horseshoe of people that live around this school because nobody is going to want to live in a community with 200 plus apartments, with cars going all around here, the streets can’t handle anymore traffic than we have now. This community does not want this. I’m telling you it doesn’t belong here. Shame on you.”

Grossane addressed the audience before the public comment period.

“This decision was reached following several months of careful planning and extensive research,” he said. “This decision was not made lightly.”

Grossane said the New York Avenue building is more than 80 years old, and is in dire need of repairs, which the district would receive no state funding for because the building is used for administration and not instruction.

“Our enrollment continues to decline each year, by approximately 300 students per year,” he said. “In fact, our enrollment has fallen from a recent high of 10,800 in 2009 to the current 9,300, and is projected to continue to decline until it reaches approximately 8,500 students a few short years from now.”

He said one of the board’s primary responsibilities is to be fiscally prudent to the residents of the entire Smithtown district.

“The sale of the New York Avenue property amount to approximately $15 million or more to assist the district with future budgetary concerns,” he said.

Grossane said the district worked with town officials throughout the year to find the right bidder and to help a plan come to fruition, and he was surprised to hear Supervisor Pat Vecchio’s (R) comments that the school board had no communication regarding the property.

“The school board is being presumptuous in assuming the town board will change the zone,” he said in a previous interview. “There must be a public hearing and the people will be heard for or against such a change.”

The Smithtown school board voted at the Oct. 25 meeting to approve entering a contract with Southern Land Company LLC, for the sale of the property and the surrounding land.

According to Grossane, Southern Land Company is planning to building one- and two-bedroom apartments that will be “in keeping with the architectural style of Smithtown.”

The district was encouraged to explore the sale of the building by members of the community in the spring, in the hopes of avoiding the closure of Branch Brook Elementary School.

Suffolk County Police arrested a Huntington Station man following a crash that killed a pedestrian in Huntington Station Sunday night, Dec. 4.

Ena Flores, a Huntington Station resident, was attempting to cross New York Avenue, near Lowndes Avenue, at approximately 5:05 p.m., when she was struck by a 2005 Nissan Sentra driven by Jorge Granados. Flores, 47, was pronounced dead at the scene by a physician assistant from the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner.

Second Squad detectives arrested and charged Granados, 25, of Huntington Station, with unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

The vehicle was impounded for a safety inspection. Anyone with information on the crash is asked to call Second Squad detectives at 631-854-8252.

The administrative building on New York Avenue may soon be the site of a new apartment building. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Victoria Espinoza

Smithtown school district’s headquarters on New York Avenue, which currently houses administrative offices, could soon become an apartment building.

The Smithtown school board voted at the Oct. 25 meeting to approve entering a contract with Southern Land Company, for the sale of the property and the surrounding land.

Smithtown Superintendent Jim Grossane said in a letter to residents he believes this is a positive decision for the community.

“The board of education and administration believe that the proposed use of the property is one that would benefit our school community,” he said. “If finalized, the sale will potentially expand our tax base, lowering the burden on our residents, and provide additional resources to enhance our educational programs.”

According to Grossane, Southern Land Company is planning on building one- and two-bedroom apartments that will be “in keeping with the architectural style of Smithtown.”

“Though still in the early stages of the contract, if finalized, the district would receive the greater of $71,000 per approved unit or $14,768,000 for the sale of the building,” Grossane said. The superintendent added that the contract has a 75-day due-diligence period, where the company has the right to back out of the purchase.

Jena Armistead, vice president of marketing for Southern Land Company, said the organization is very excited to start working with the community.

“We are proud to be selected by Smithtown school board to be the developer for a new residential community in the neighborhood,” she said in an email. “Having been selected in the competitive process, we will now turn to working with the community to develop an overall plan. In the coming weeks we look forward to engaging neighbors and town leaders in an open dialogue that will make an important contribution to the vision, design program and schedule for this project.”

Armistead said the plan is tentatively for the building to have about 250 apartments, although the company does not want to finalize a plan until after they have had discussions with the Smithtown community.

“We want to create something that will benefit the community,” she said in a phone interview.

The New York Avenue property is the site of the Arthur House, a historic home once owned by John Arthur, a prominent member of Smithtown in the mid-1700s.

But Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio said the plan requires zoning changes and the school board should not get ahead of themselves.

“If finalized, the sale will potentially expand our tax base, lowering the burden on our residents, and provide additional resources to enhance our educational programs.”

— James Grossane

“The Southern Land Company must apply for zone change to the town board,” he said in an email. “The school board is being presumptuous in assuming the town board will change the zone. There must be a public hearing and the people will be heard for or against such a change.”

Agnes Vion, an administrative assistant on the Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals, said the property absolutely needs a zoning change, but they cannot be sure of the particular zone change because Southern Land Company has not submitted an application to the board yet.

According to Vion, the New York Avenue property is currently in a central business zone and an R-10 zone, meaning the property is only allowed to have single-family homes with lot sizes of 10,000 square feet minimum. Multifamily-style housing is not permitted in the current zone.

The zoning board employee said the property would need to be changed to garden apartment zoning, or R-6 zoning which allows for town houses.

In order for Southern Land Company to be granted a zone change, it would need to schedule meetings with the planning board, the town board and the board of appeals, but the exact route the company would have to take is not clear because it has not yet submitted an application.

In any event, they will have to change their zone, unless they want to create only single-family homes,” Vion said in a phone interview.

In February, the school board made the controversial decision to close Branch Brook Elementary School due to a lack of enrollment and shrinking district revenue, and some residents pleaded then that the district should work on selling the administrative building on New York Avenue instead of closing a building used for instruction.

Trustee Gladys Waldron was the lone “no” vote on the decision and her reasoning was the same as many community members.

“I think our energies and effort of administration and board should be placed right now on the selling of this building,” Waldron said at that meeting.

Suffolk County Police Second Squad detectives are investigating a shooting that took place at Melissa’s Restaurant in Huntington Station this past Saturday, Oct. 22.

Second Precinct patrol officers responded to a shot spotter activation, which is technology used to detect when shots are fired, at the restaurant, on New York Ave. at 2:16 a.m. Several patrons reported hearing shots, shell casings were recovered and police determined shots were fired. Police said the suspect was described as an Hispanic male wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt pulled tightly around his face.

The investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the incident to call the Second Squad at 631-854-8252 or call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-220-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.

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