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New York Avenue

An aerial map overview of Huntington Station revitalization projects shows the state-owned NY Avenue property highlighted in yellow. Image from Source the Station

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Huntington Town officials are looking to state representatives in Albany to push for the transfer of ownership of a state property on New York Avenue to the town by June 20.

Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) introduced a late resolution at the June 5 town board meeting to send a home rule message urging New York state legislators to approve the transferring of ownership of about 4 acres of land in Huntington Station to the town in order for revitalization efforts to move forward.

“The Town of Huntington, in partnership with Renaissance Downtowns at Huntington Station LLC and the entire Huntington Station community, is engaged in a multi-year community planning and revitalization process to help realize the community’s aspiration for a more walkable, vibrant and transit-friendly environment,” Cergol’s resolution reads.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since.”
– Joan Cergol

The land sought is a narrow strip of property adjacent to the western side of New York Avenue/Route 110, bordered to the north by Church Street running along the roadway south to the Long Island Rail Road right of way. It is currently owned by New York State Department of Transportation.

Ryan Porter, president and co-CEO of Renaissance Downtowns, said obtaining ownership of the land is critical for moving forward in the planning and construction of the artist lofts and hotel envisioned as part of the Huntington Station revitalization master plans. In February 2014, the town board approved a special use permit for the hotel along New York Avenue under a C-6 overlay zoning. Since then, the plans have not advanced any further.

Town board members approved the home rule message by a 3-2 vote urging the passage of the land transfer bills that have been sponsored by state Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) and state Assemblyman Steve Stern (R-Dix Hills) before the end of state legislature’s session.

“As you may know, from day one when I started with the town I was assigned to Huntington Station and I’ve been chipping away at it ever since,” Cergol said, noting she also recently sponsored a resolution that allowed the area to be federally designated an Opportunity Zone which provides tax incentives to business owners. “To be in the position I am now to advance progress is very rewarding and to see things happening makes me feel like a rock star.”

Councilmen Gene Cook (R) and Ed Smythe (R) voted against seeking a transfer of the New York Avenue property. Cook said he was originally in favor of the resolution but admitted to having issues with some of the actions taken by Renaissance Downtowns in recent months, including requesting permission to construct two-bedroom apartments in the Gateway Plaza after initial plans were already approved and seeking approval of $2.6 million in tax breaks from Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency on the project.

“It was a good way to set [Renaissance Downtowns] up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”
– Gene Cook

“I wasn’t happy with what happened with Renaissance the past couple of weeks, the nonsense, the changes, going for IDA money,” the councilman said. “It was a good way to set them up and say we’re all playing good or you aren’t playing.”

Porter said he hasn’t had the opportunity to speak personally with Cook since the developer’s request to add two-bedroom units to Gateway Plaza was withdrawn in mid-May.

“We made an adjustment to alleviate the concerns of the community,” Porter said. “But the truth of the matter is that there was a good portion of the population that was disappointed we removed the two-bedrooms units.”

Renaissance Downtowns is hopeful it will receive the necessary permits to begin demolition of the existing buildings located at 1000 to 1026 New York Avenue this summer to make way for construction of Gateway Plaza, according to Porter. The proposed plans for the plaza call for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and a total of 66 apartments. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

The master developer said there is a June 14 meeting scheduled to hammer out more details and set a more definitive schedule for demolition and construction.

A rendering of the Gateway Plaza development on the left, and on the top right, the envisioned artist residences on the corners of New York Avenue and Church Street. Image from Renaissance Downtowns

A proposed change of plans for a $22 million Huntington Station revitalization project is being met with resistance by community residents.

Huntington Station revitalization master developer Renaissance Downtowns and developer G2G Development submitted a request April 24 seeking to change the composition of apartments that will make up the Gateway Plaza building to be constructed on the corner of Olive Street and New York Avenue.

The original plans for the 61,000-square-foot building called for a mix of 33 one-bedroom apartments and 33 studio apartments in a mixed-used building over restaurant, retail and office space.

A graph showing the redistribution of apartments proposed for Gateway Plaza. Graphic by TBR News Media

Now, the developer seeks to create 11 two-bedroom apartments, increase it to 45 one-bedroom units and construct only 10 studios.

“The pre-approved square footage was redistributed into a new mix based on voiced community requests for two bedrooms, market research and feedback to Northridge realtors on what local residents are searching for,” reads a statement on Source the Station, Renaissance Downtown’s online portal on the revitalization projects for Huntington Station residents.

Renaissance Downtowns and Huntington Town officials celebrated the grand opening of Northridge apartments, the first concrete project of Huntington Station revitalization, earlier this week. The mixed-use building has 16 one-bedroom apartments for rent on the second and third floors.

“When we started leasing [Northridge], the agent got a lot of inquiries from people looking for two-bedroom apartments,” said Ryan Porter, Co-CEO and president of Renaissance Downtowns.

Deborah D’Ambrosio, a Signature Premier Properties agent who is leasing Northridge’s apartments, said Monday at Northridge’s grand opening she had not personally gotten requests for any two-bedroom units, but that her company had marketed the property for one-bedroom only.

Huntington Station resident Matt Harris said he objected to the request to construct two-bedroom units, pointing out that the change is anticipated to bring seven school-aged children into the school district.

A pie chart showing the proposed redistribution of commercial space for Gateway Plaza. Graphic by TBR News Media

“The people of Huntington Station have been lied to for 48 years,” Harris said. “Developer after developer after developer has lied to us and now Renaissance is doing it.”

Porter admitted as public awareness of the requested apartment development has risen, he’s heard out several concerns raised by other community members.

The proposed changes were only received by the town’s Department of Planning and Environment after the board approved transferring of the town-owned parcel at 1000 New York Avenue to the developer 4-1 at its April 10 meeting, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo. Councilman Ed Smyth (R) had been the sole objector to the land transfer calling it a “betrayal of public trust.”

“I voted into [Gateway Plaza] for the studio apartments,” said Councilman Eugene Cook (R). “I’m asking the town attorney to look into this and see what’s happening. That to me, is entirely uncalled for.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said the town attorney’s office is currently reviewing the developer’s request and market demand is one factor that can be taken into consideration. The town attorney may consult a real estate expert if it is deemed necessary, according to Lupinacci.

Renaissance Downtowns expects to close on the land sale of 1000-1026 New York Ave. properties needed to construct Gateway Plaza this month, according to Porter, with a hope of starting demolition of the existing structures this summer.

Huntington Town Board approved the transfer of 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns April 10. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A Town of Huntington councilman sharply criticized his fellow board members’ willingness to transfer town-owned land to a private developer for Huntington Station’s revitalization as a “betrayal of public trust.”

Huntington town board voted 4-1 to give 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization, at its April 10 meeting.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) was the only one to vote against, blasting his colleagues that giving the property away for free was “unconscionable.”

“Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible,” Smyth said. “Our roads have potholes, marines and docks are in disrepair, the main floor of this building is covered by rubber matting that’s held down by tape. … The town cannot afford to give away this real estate for free.”

The town had acquired the former Tilden Brakes site through use of eminent domain for about $700,000. Since then, the town has spent funds to demolish the former auto care center and clean up the land, Smyth pointed out.

Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible.”

—Ed Smyth

A Town of Huntington councilman sharply criticized his fellow board members’ willingness to transfer town-owned land to a private developer for Huntington Station’s revitalization as a “betrayal of public trust.”

Huntington town board voted 4-1 to give 1000 New York Ave. to Renaissance Downtowns, the master developer behind Huntington Station’s revitalization, at its April 10 meeting.

Councilman Ed Smyth (R) was the only one to vote against, blasting his colleagues that giving the property away for free was “unconscionable.”

“Giving away this property without knowing its current fair market valuable is grossly irresponsible,” Smyth said. “Our roads have potholes, marines and docks are in disrepair, the main floor of this building is covered by rubber matting that’s held down by tape. … The town cannot afford to give away this real estate for free.”

The town had acquired the former Tilden Brakes site through use of eminent domain for about $700,000. Since then, the town has spent funds to demolish the former auto care center and clean up the land, Smyth pointed out.

The land is one of four parcels Renaissance Downtowns needed to acquire to move forward with Gateway Plaza redevelopment. The approved site plan for 1000 to 1026 New York Ave. calls for the construction of a mixed-used building consisting of 16,000-square-feet of retail space and 66 apartments — 33 studios and 33 one-bedroom units. The existing Brother’s Barber Shop will remain in place.

Smyth said the developer has paid more than $3 million to private owners to acquire the three neighboring properties, yet the town will not receive any funds for 1000 New York Ave.

“It’s not a free transfer by any stretch,” said Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D).

Cergol said that the town-owned property was appraised two years ago when the master development agreement for Huntington Station was negotiated. Renaissance Downtowns has invested funds into the revitalization project that was levied against the property’s value or “baked into the transaction.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said he found himself in a difficult position in voting on the contractual agreement negotiated by former Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) to give the land to Renaissance Downtowns under Huntington Station’s master plan. If the transfer was voted down, Lupinacci said he knew the town would be immediately hit with a lawsuit and face tens of thousands in legal fees.

We owe it to Huntington Station, revitalization is important.”

— Chad Lupinacci

“I care too much about the town and taxpayers to waste this type of money,” he said.

The supervisor suggested the funds could be better spent by improving the town’s parks, offering childcare services or keeping the town’s tax rate low. His proclamation that he would support the measure and encouragement to his fellow board members to do the same, was met by a round of applause from residents.

“We owe it to Huntington Station, revitalization is important,” Lupinacci said. “We want to restore it. It’s an excellent area.”

Renaissance Downtowns had initially projected a time line of groundbreaking on the Gateway Plaza in fall of 2017. The developer hopes to be able to begin demolition within 60 to 90 days once proper permits are in order, according to Renaissance Downtowns Community Liaison Andrea Bonilla. A groundbreaking ceremony on construction is projected for this fall.

“This is the next stage in the overall development,” Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said. “I think it’s a good stepping stone.”

The developer has already completed construction of Northridge, a multiuse building consisting of 6,200-square-feet of retail space and 16 one-bedroom apartments further south on 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.

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