By Sara-Megan Walsh
A conceptual plan for revitalizing downtown Smithtown has community support, but faces a number of serious challenges.
Smithtown United Civic Association debuted its proposal for western Main Street’s revitalization Jan. 25 before the Smithtown Town Board to find solid community backing. Yet, elected officials and business leaders note there are serious challenges to its implementation.
Mark Mancini, a Smithtown resident and architect, presented Smithtown United’s conceptual design for Main Street which focuses on the preservation of the Smithtown school district’s New York Avenue administrative building and its fields. Public outcry halted plans to demolish the building for a 251-unit apartment complex in 2017.
“It became pretty clear that we have to take steps first as a community to make something happen on Main Street that we all can deal with,” Mancini said. “We are going to develop no matter what you might think or what you may want. Everything changes.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) assigned $20 million from the state budget for the installation of sewer mains in Smithtown, which Mancini said brings opportunity for development that residents need to have their say.
The first step in the civic association’s plan is to preserve the New York Avenue building and its property as open green space.
“I consider it a diamond in the rough in the Smithtown downtown Main Street area,” said Bob Hughes, one of the 10 members of Smithtown United. “I would like to see it as a downtown central park, to make it a destination.”
Pasquale LaManna, president of the Smithtown Kickers Soccer Club board, said he backed the proposal as it preserves the fields for recreational use. LaManna said the Smithtown Kickers is the third largest soccer club on Long Island with more than 2,000 children who play at New York Avenue.
“It’s extremely vital for us to have the green space,” he said.
Smithtown United calls for Smithtown elected officials to purchase the New York Avenue building from the Smithtown school district and use it to consolidate all town departments and services in one location.
Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said negotiations between the town and school district over the potential sale of the New York Avenue property had broken down in late 2017, after an appraisal determined a fair market price would be $6.8 million. The supervisor was hopeful that these negotiations could be picked up in the future.
“If the community in that area is amicable to having those discussions about developing the property, I think the school board would get back engaged,” Wehrheim said.
Other key components of the revitalization plan call for the construction of mixed-use retail stores with apartments above on the south side of Main Street with transit-oriented housing alongside the Smithtown Long Island Rail Road station.
Jack Kulka, a real estate developer and founder of Hauppauge Industrial Association, strongly supported the construction of apartments in a new “mixed imaginative zoning” code.
“If you are serious about revitalizing downtown Smithtown, you are going to have to increase the density of population in downtown Smithtown,” he said. “You need to have creativity. I think the concept, which is very important, of having residential next to the train station … has to come to Smithtown.”
Kulka stressed that Smithtown United’s plan would not work if town officials didn’t utilize the $20 million set aside by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to install sewers in Smithtown. Wehrheim agreed on the importance of sewers, stating that it is moving forward, but said he has also scheduled meetings with different developers in February.
“I have meetings set up with a couple developers, whose names I cannot divulge, to see if there are other developers that now have an interest in looking at the conceptual plan Smithtown United drew up and see if it’s feasible to embark on a project,” Wehrheim said. “That’s the first step.”