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overdevelopment

Public hearing on proposed mixed-use 84 apartment building adjourned; date and venue not set

Save Huntington Village organizers Bob Suter and Dale Gifford wave signs protesting the Downtown Huntington project at the Jan. 24 hearing . Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Hundreds of residents flooded the board room, hallways and standing space in Huntington Town Hall last Thursday in a tidal wave of opposition for the proposed Downtown Huntington project.

The Town of Huntington’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously to adjourn the Jan. 24 public hearing on the proposal by developer John Kean to construct a mixed-use building that would bring 84 apartments to Huntington village to seek a larger venue.

“We understand people made the trip down here and would like to listen to this,” John Posillico, chairman of the town’s ZBA, said. “However, we want to be fair to everyone collectively. We can’t do that under the current circumstance.”

A supporter of Save Huntington Village holds a sign in protest of the Downtown Huntington proposal Jan. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Roughly 300 residents waiting in hallways, unable to enter the town meeting room, could not hear the developer’s presentation after an “audio failure,” according to Posillico, but it was actually the crowd’s noise and conversation overpowering the building’s speaker system.

It is the first time in memory, according to town officials, a massive turnout forced a ZBA meeting to be adjourned.

“In a sense this hearing is a victim of our own success in getting people together around this issue — the overdevelopment of Huntington — of which this application is perhaps the most egregious example,” Bob Suter said.

Suter, a Huntington resident who helps organize Save Huntington Village, said while his group had called for a rally against the proposal, he hadn’t expected quite the turnout.

The parking lot of Town Hall was filled to capacity as drivers sought slots in the neighboring YMCA’s parking lot. Residents then stood on line for more than a half hour to pass through security and enter the hearing. Town employees pulled out folding chairs, as the meeting room was packed so dense the fire marshal took a head count, while late arrivals stood in the hallway. Before the meeting was adjourned, more than 85 individuals had signed up to speak on the project.

James Margolin, a Huntington-based attorney for Kean and property owner Alan Fromkin, recognizing the overwhelming turnout took the opportunity to explain the proposed development to the community publicly.

“The biggest issue is the misconceptions of what we are doing,” he said. “Most people thought the entire block was being knocked down. They thought we are putting a greater burden on parking when the whole idea here is that we are lessening the burden by hundreds of spaces.”

Huntington attorney John Margolin presents the Downtown Huntington proposal Jan. 24. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The proposed Downtown Huntington project seeks to construct a roughly 180,000-square-foot structure on a 1.36-acre site made up of five different properties located along Main Street, Stewart Avenue and Gerard Street. It would be a four-story building combining restaurant and retail with 84 apartment units and a 59,000-square-foot underground parking garage. Its application must go before the Zoning Board for several variances before construction proceeds including: a C-6 General Business District zoning only permits three stories, not four; apartments are slated for street level; and a parking variance.

Margolin said in his introduction the underground parking garage would provide 127 slots, more than the 40 spaces currently offered in total on the five properties as they stand. Given this, he said the development needs a variance as it comes up approximately 130 spaces short of the number required, which he argued is less than the shortage of 218 slots based on the building’s current use. However, the traffic expert and others with Margolin who expected to present on Downtown Huntington’s proposal in greater detail did not have the opportunity to speak before the adjournment.

“We really needed to come tell the community exactly what this project was and wasn’t,” Margolin said. “We understand we have a negative recommendation from the Planning Board, but we are making our case to you this evening.”

The town’s Planning Board voted 5-1 at its Jan. 23 hearing to recommend the ZBA “strongly” deny all variances sought by the developer. Posillico said the adjournment to seek a larger venue will also allow the Zoning Board more time to read and digest the Planning Board’s suggestions.

At right, Huntington ZBA Chairman John Posillico. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Those in attendance shouted questions asking why town officials had not scheduled the hearing on Downtown Huntington for a larger venue to begin with, especially after Posillico admitted to receiving more than 300 emails on the application in advance of the hearing. The chairman explained the town could face a legal challenge if not all were fully able to participate, which would force the hearing to be held a second time.

“I respect the board’s recognition that hundreds and hundreds, 300 or 400 people in the hallway, deserve the right to hear what is being stated, the description of the project, and what people have to say,” Dale Gifford, a member of Save Huntington Village, said. “There’s 600 or 700 people who came out on this terrible night. I think it’s pretty incredible and shows how passionately people are opposed to this.”

At the heart of the issue lies the controversial amendment to C-6 General Business District zoning code that allows apartments to be built above restaurant and retail space, up to a height of three stories.

Gifford, Huntington resident Barbara Suter and other members of Save Huntington petitioned Huntington Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) to put a moratorium on development until proposed changes to the C-6 zoning are made public, debated at public hearing and set in place.

As of this publication’s press time, a new date and venue for the Downtown Huntington public hearing has not been set, according to ZBA special counsel John Bennett, but should be confirmed within two weeks. This may be further delayed if the developer chooses to scale back the size of the project. The ZBA has assured all those who signed up to speak Jan. 24 will be held in the same order originally.

Those residents interested in reviewing the developer’s proposed site plans can visit the Department of Planning and Environment, room 212 in Huntington Town Hall, located at 100 Main St. to review the file. A PDF of these documents will be posted on the town’s website once it is provided, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

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The Nesconset Civic Association held its first general meeting April 19. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

“We have become the dumping ground of Smithtown,” is being repeated by Nesconset residents, almost like a mantra. Now, they are banding together to form a new civic group.

The Nesconset Civic Association held its first general meeting April 19 at the Nesconset branch of The Smithtown Public Library. The members of the new association said they have felt the character of their town is slipping away due to unwanted development and increased traffic.

“We’re not against development, we’re just for sensible development,” Vice President Sal Romeo said. “We want development that takes in the quality of life.”

Its members first met in the fall of 2017 at an informal meeting where they discussed traffic and development problems in Nesconset. A core group of like-minded people started a plan to make their voices heard. News of the proposed 7-Eleven at the southeast corner of Nichols Road and Smithtown Boulevard, at the site of the former Capital One bank, served as a catalyst for the group to organize.

We feel that Smithtown has not been listening to us and they’ve used Nesconset as their dumping ground.”
– Phyllis Hart

Several members have complained that there was already a 7-Eleven located approximately one-tenth of a mile west on Smithtown Boulevard and another would negatively affect traffic patterns on an already congested road.

“In terms of increased traffic, in terms of the structure proceeding without a full debate, it was something that we were very against, and it resonated,” said James Bouklas, president of the civic association.

Bouklas pointed out that 7-Eleven already has 13 convenience stores within the Town of Smithtown, with two other locations in Nesconset.

While there are two other area civic associations, the Nesconset Civic members said they plan to be laser-focused on their town’s issues and what they perceive are its modern problems of overdevelopment, traffic and underrepresentation in town government.

“We are the forgotten hamlet,” board member Marie Gruick said. “They are concentrated on developing Kings Park, St. James, everything but us. What I would like to see is something that draws people to the community, not these 7-Elevens or foot massage places.”

Phyllis Hart said she moved to Nesconset in 1994 because she saw it as quiet and rural. But since then, Hart said she feels those qualities have been slowly stripped away and pleas to elected officials have gone unheard.

Nesconset Civic Association members protested outside the site of the proposed 7-Eleven March 31. Photo from Facebook

“We feel that Smithtown has not been listening to us and they’ve used Nesconset as their dumping ground,” she said. “You don’t see this development in St. James or Kings Park. We don’t have a main street and I feel that that’s what’s holding us back.”

Nesconset resident Gerald Abualy said that the traffic on Nichols Road has gotten worse since he moved there in 1991. He said drivers constantly go 30 mph over the speed limit, causing frequent accidents and
imposing danger to him and his neighbors.

“My feeling is that we couldn’t get anybody from town to listen to us and we’re hoping that a new administration, a new set of eyes, new set of ears, new set of hands and feet on the ground, maybe they’ll listen to what we have to say.”

Overall, the Nesconset Civic Association members said they want to be more involved in the decisions town officials make. They want their voices and opinions to be heard.

“Our point is, think about what you’re doing, think about how it affects us, and we want to be part of the discussion,” Bouklas said.

The organization’ goals include getting the town to perform a traffic study of Nesconset and become more involved in the master plan being drawn up for the Town of Smithtown.