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St. James

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St. James residents showed off their Irish pride by going green this Saturday.

The St. James Chamber of Commerce held its 34th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade March 17 featuring bagpipers, floats and plenty of green. The parade stepped off from the corner of Woodlawn and Lake avenues and progressed to the gazebo at St. James Elementary School.

The grand marshal of this year’s parade was St. James resident Michael Tully. The Tully side of the family hails from Ballinasloe, County Galway, Ireland, and the Carney side of his family is from Galway. He was a health and physical education teacher for Brentwood school district before becoming a school administrator from 1970 to 2002.

Tullly is known for his involvement in his community — as a coach for the Smithtown/St. James Little League baseball team, coach of Smithtown Kickers soccer team, former secretary of the Smithtown Booster Club and former advancement chairman and merit badge counselor Boy Scouts of America Troop 301, according to the chamber. He is also a volunteer at Northport VA Medical Center and the veterans home in Stony Brook.

File photo.

Suffolk County police 4th Squad detectives are investigating a crash that critically injured a motorcyclist in St. James March 5 at approximately 11:30 p.m.

Steven Perrone was operating a 2006 Suzuki motorcycle eastbound on Route 25A, just west of Acorn Road, when the motorcycle left the roadway and crashed into a guardrail.

Perrone, 34, of East Setauket was transported to Stony Brook University Hospital where he is in critical condition. The motorcycle was impounded for a safety check.

The investigation is continuing. Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crash to call 631-854-8452.

The Kindness for the Keely Family mailbox is traveling through Smithtown. Photo from St. James Elementary School PTA

This February, the St. James and greater Smithtown community is focused on sharing words of love and support to help one family through a difficult time.

One by one, cards and small care packages are finding their way to a pink and white mailbox, painted with the words “Kindness for the Keely family.” Each Friday, this mailbox, created by St. James Elementary Parent-Teacher Association, will be delivered to the family of Paige Keely.

Paige Keeley. Photo from St. James Funeral Home

The 6-year-old Paige —  nicknamed “Paigey Bean” — was a first-grader at St. James Elementary School who died of a rare brain condition Jan. 8. Her parents, Tom and Gina Keely, are active members of the St. James community and have two other children, Maeve and Ronan.

“A big concern for all of us is once everything dies down and the dust settles, that the Keelys still feel supported by the community,” said Celina Murphy, president of St. James Elementary PTA. “No one’s forgotten them, we’re all still here.”

Pink ribbons can be spotted across the Smithtown Central School District tied to signs, poles, trees and even in high school cheerleaders’ hair in memory of Paige in the days after her death.

Business owners reached out to show their support. Commack resident Nicole Helfman, owner of Creative Cutz Design, made 350 vinyl decals for the school district so they could be put up in car windows and glass storefronts.

“For anyone who has kids, knows kids or is a teacher, it just hits home,” Helfman said. “People want to help out.”

Now, PTA members are passing a mailbox between buildings to collect donations of sympathy cards, gift cards, restaurant certificates, small care packages and other well wishes from community members for the Keely family. It will be at Nesaquake Middle School through Feb. 9, followed by Smithtown High School West from Feb. 12 to 16.

“The outpouring has been tremendous from the community both within the district and community at large,” said Mary Grace Lynch, principal of St. James Elementary School. “Within the district, the teachers, staff and administration have been incredibly supportive of the Keely family.”

Those who wish to send a sympathy card or donation, but do not have children in the school, can mail packages clearly marked “Kindness for Keely” to St. James Elementary School at 580 Lake Ave., St. James, NY 11780.

Lynch said the school will be constructing a butterfly garden in memory of Paige at the family’s request, once they are ready. The principal said she is confident with the number of Scout troops, high school teams and clubs who have reached out asking how to honor Paige’s memory. There will be no shortage of hands and support to construct the garden.

“That little girl has impacted so many, many people in her six short years of life,” Lynch said. “She’s had a profound and lasting effect on the community.”

The Kindness for Keely mailbox will be at: Accompsett Elementary School, Feb. 26 to March 3; Tackan Elementary, March 5 to 9; Mills Pond Elementary, March 12 to 16; Smithtown Elementary, March 19 to 23; Dogwood Elementary, March 26 to 30; High School East, April 9 to 13;  Mount Pleasant Elementary; April 16 to 20; Accompsett Middle School, April 23 to 27; and Great Hollow Middle School, April 30 to May 4.

St. James Fire Department members to vote on whether to buy back Route 25A firehouse

The historic St. James firehouse on Route 25A/Lake Avenue. Photo from Google Maps

As ownership of a historic St. James landmark prepares to change hands again, residents are watching anxiously to know what its future holds.

The St. James Fire Department has been approached by the St. James Fire District about purchasing back the Route 25A firehouse. The firefighters will have to vote to approve the purchase, but the St. James community expressed concerns about the building’s future use at a Jan. 22 civic association meeting.

“I have dedicated myself to do many things to bring this community’s historic life alive again,” said Natalie Weinstein, owner of Uniquely Natalie Quality Consignment on Lake Avenue. “To lose this historic property for what it is would be a travesty.”

Glen Itzkowitz, chairman of the board of the St. James Fire Department, the 501(c)(3) organization consisting of those volunteers in the St. James fire and EMS services, said a date has not been set for the referendum on whether the fire department will purchase the building. When the department sold the firehouse to the district for $500,000 in 2013, there was a clause put into the sale agreement that the department was  to be given a first right to the property if it was ever put on the market.

“We want the property back,” Itkowitz said. “We think we can be the best stewards of that property as we’ve been the best stewards of that property since 1922.”

To lose this historic property for what it is would be a travesty.”
-Natalie Weinstein

In that year, a Nissequogue resident donated the land to the fire department to help house fire engines and equipment, which now fall under the oversight of the fire district. The fire department and district are two separate entities that work together.

While the Route 25A property is part of St. James Historic Corridor by New York State, according to fire department member Anthony Amato, this does not protect the building. It would require a local law against its demolition made by the Town of Smithtown.

Given the firehouse’s history, Itzkowitz said he personally would like to see it continue operating as a base for fire services. He admitted the 100-member strong volunteer department had not reached a determination on what to do with the property if it agreed to purchase it back.

Itzkowitz denied public rumors that the historic firehouse would be torn down or destroyed.

“It bothers me and so many members of the department that that is the sentiment that’s out there,” he said.

The St. James Fire District, consisting of publicly elected officials who are responsible for oversight of the St. James firehouses, fire and EMS service equipment, has made clear it does not plan to continue operating out of the Route 25A firehouse. Bill Kearney, a commissioner for the fire district, said it would have been closed Oct. 26, 2017, if not for pressure from Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard. The village has a three-year contract for fire and ambulance services from St. James through Dec. 31 of this year.

The idea of consolidation is … to get the first piece of equipment out on the road as quickly as possible to get them to your house”
-St. James  Fire District Commissioner Bill Kearney

“I am not happy having response times lengthen by moving all operations down to  Woodlawn Avenue on the other side of the Long Island Rail Road tracks,” Dahlgard said. “It makes no sense to me.”

Kearney said Dahlgard and residents’ fears of increased response time if the Route 25A firehouse closes are unfounded. Volunteers responded to more than 1,400 alarms last year; according Kearney, only 96 were for incidents north of the railroad tracks. He said out of those 96 calls, crews from the historic Route 25A firehouse responded to only 38 due to a lack of personnel. Kearney said it’s a challenge at best, and hazardous for volunteers trying to navigate traffic to reach the historic firehouse to respond to a call, at worst. He claimed consolidating to one center, on Jefferson Avenue, will actually speed up response times.

“The idea of consolidation is … to get the first piece of equipment out on the road as quickly as possible to get them to your house,” the fire district commissioner said.

St. James residents saw their taxes for fire services increase for 2018, and Kearney said the failed bond votes have left the district with a Jefferson Avenue building in need of major repairs and upgrades to suit its needs.

But he highlighted that Head of the Harbor residents don’t pay the same taxes as St. James residents for emergency services, and actually pay less due to the negotiated contract. Kearney said he is hoping the district will be able to negotiate a “fair contract” with Dahlgard moving forward.

The Community Association of St. James said it had no position on the issue, but encouraged the fire district and departments to host a public forum on the issue.

William Capurso and Kerry Maher-Weisse started up the Community Association of Greater St. James in December 2016. Photos from Kerry Maher-Weisse

The hotly contested 2017 Smithtown election not only pushed forward several political issues but resulted in the birth of new civic organizations across the town.

Both the Community Association of Greater St. James and Smithtown United Civic Association have emerged and risen up over the last year, becoming fountains of energy and new ideas with the aim of transforming their downtowns and the greater Town of Smithtown into a better place for residents and businesses alike.

Civic associations “play an important role,” Smithtown’s Supervisor-elect Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “This way before the town board makes a decision on the economic developments or otherwise, we have a sense of what the community wants, who are the taxpaying residents of this town, and what’s acceptable.”

Lifelong St. James resident Kerry Maher-Weisse, director of St. James Funeral Home, said she approached co-founder William Capurso with the idea of creating what became the Community Association of Greater St. James at a St. James Chamber of Commerce meeting in late 2016.

“I asked him, ‘Do you want to do something? I have visions for St. James. Do you want to jump on this? I would love to have you,’” Maher-Weisse said.   

The St. James civic association celebrated its one-year anniversary Dec. 16 with more than 270 family memberships behind it, according to Maher-Weisse, who serves as its president.

I commend Kerry Maher-Weisse for spearheading a group of residents to form the Community Association of Greater St. James.”

— Rob Trotta

“I commend Kerry Maher-Weisse for spearheading a group of residents to form the Community Association of Greater St. James,” said Suffolk Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who has attended several of the group’s events. “I think it is great that they have solicited input from the residents and business owners, and have accomplished a lot in a short period of time. Their Summer Nights were a big success. I really feel they have gotten off to a great start and will have a very positive impact on the St. James community.”

The civic organization has initiated the St. James Farmers Market, which now runs on Saturdays from May to the end of October at the St. James Lutheran Church located on 2nd Avenue. Residents came together for the Summer Nights series on Lake Avenue that featured live bands, entertainment, food, art and crafts, and vendors to pack the downtown area. In the fall, the association hosted antique car shows to build on camaraderie built up over the summerS

“I think they have great ideas,” Smithtown Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R), also a St. James resident, said. “The town, particularly St. James, has been asleep for a while and they are waking it up.”

Maher-Weisse said the goal of the fledgling civic association isn’t just to build community, but to bring attention to key quality-of-life issues.

“We have so many great resources in St. James but some things are lacking, that I made politicians aware of,” she said. “We have to take action. That’s why making the civic association was so important both politically and eventwise to take action and start getting grant money.”

Within a year, the civic association’s president believes their activism is having an impact. Town of Smithtown officials approved funds to install new equipment at Gibbs Pond Park and Gaynor Park, both in St. James, at their Oct. 10 town board meeting. It’s the first time in more than 35 years, according to Maher-Weisse, some of the parks have seen major upgrades.

“I’m glad we made the politicians open their eyes to say, ‘St. James is here and we want our tax dollars to be used wisely and spruce up the things that need some attention,’” she said.

The Community Association of Greater St. James is not alone in its desire to draw attention to a downtown area. A smaller group of residents came together in the western part of Smithtown as the Smithtown United Civic Association, unveiling in October a detailed conception plan for what Smithtown’s Main Street revitalization should look like.

Timothy Small, president of Smithtown United and a retired engineer, said the organization’s goal is to give local residents a voice in the future of their town. It was formed in response to two events: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) allocating $20 million for sewers in Smithtown and the proposed sale of the Smithtown school district’s administrative headquarters on New York Avenue.

. We in town government serve the people. We want to know and we want to hear from them.

— Ed Wehrheim

“If you look at the downtown areas of Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, they are tired looking,” Smalls said to TBR News Media in October. “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.”

The Smithtown civic association leader said their conceptual revitalization plan was put together after the group spent approximately six months assessing community needs and drawing inspiration from surrounding towns, such as Huntington and Patchogue, for what they would like to see in Smithtown. The proposed design was unveiled on Facebook for public feedback, input and criticism.

Wehrheim said he spoke with Small Dec. 19 regarding the civic association’s desire to publicly present the plan at an upcoming town board meeting, possibly Jan. 25, 2018.

“I think they are having a positive impact,” the supervisor-elect said. “At least we have a sense of what they want and what they would prefer not to have near their residential community. We in town government serve the people. We want to know and we want to hear from them.”

A third organization, Nesconset Civic Association, was announced as newly formed at the Nov. 7 Smithtown Town Board meeting by Nesconset resident Peter Hanson, but was still establishing its goals. We look forward to seeing what changes take place in Nesconset in 2018.

Small business owners like Marion Bernholz, who owns The Gift Corner, above, are trying to find ways to compete with big box stores. Photo by Marion Bernholz

By Kyle Barr

For 40 minutes each morning when Marion Bernholz, the owner of The Gift Corner in Mount Sinai, opens her shop she lugs out all the product she keeps on the front porch all by herself. She does it every day, hoping the colors and interesting items will flag down cars traveling on North Country Road.

Thanksgiving day she was closed, but on Black Friday she put out her flags, signs, decorations, not expecting many customers at all, she said. Black Friday is perceived as a day for gaudy sales for the bigger stores with nationwide brands, or the Amazons of the world, though it has become just the appetizer for a weekend synonymous with shopping.

Ecolin Jewelers in Port Jefferson is co-owned by Linda Baker. Photo from Linda Baker

Instead, people flooded Bernholz’s store the weekend after Thanksgiving, and the customers kept streaming in even after Black Friday was days passed.

“We were busy on Friday, way busier than we had been since the bust, when the economy went down,” Bernholz said, beaming with excitement. “Wednesday was a spike. Friday was a major spike. It was so busy Saturday that people couldn’t find parking. There was a line out the door.”

At Elements of Home, a home and gift shop in St. James less than 12 miles from Gift Corner, the situation was different. Owner Debbie Trenkner saw Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday float by with only a small bump in sales, she said.

Though she advertised, Trenkner said that she only received a moderate boost in sales that weekend with only 27 people walking through her door on Black Friday, and only about 70 Saturday when she said she expected to see hundreds.

“After speaking to other retailers or feeling through the grapevine, all major events this year, Mother’s Day, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, we’ve done half the amount we’ve done in the past,” she said. “People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone, it’s their lifeline, in my opinion. It’s unfortunate because this is what communities are based on.”

“People do not shop local. Those that do are your 50-and-over crowd who do not like to order online. Younger people these days they are so attached to their phone.”

Debbie Trenkner

The similar local stores had polar opposite experiences during one of the busiest shopping weekends of the holiday season, though businesses overall this past Small Business Saturday, an event first sponsored by American Express in 2010, did very well though they fell short of 2016 numbers in total. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 108 million consumers spent $12.9 billion Nov. 25.

Despite the slight dip from 2016, the data shows a much higher number of consumers are making the conscious decision to shop locally on the biggest spending date of the year for small businesses.

Stacey Finkelstein, an associate professor of marketing at Stony Brook University, said in a phone interview she has used psychological and behavioral economics to inform people about marketing problems, and she said a battle between instant gratification and the desire to support local stores is being waged for today’s consumers.

“Another tension for a lot of consumers who face this dilemma layered on top of this is this ethical quandary, which is ‘I want to support businesses that are consistent with my code of ethics and the values that I have as a consumer,’” Finkelstein said.

That value-based sales pitch is important, especially when it comes to the services offered. Many local businesses surveyed after this Black Friday weekend across the North Shore agreed the services they provide, whether it’s free gift wrapping or the ability to make a custom product, or even the ability to offer hands-on help to customers trying to figure out what gift is best, are the types of factors that neither online nor most large stores can match.

Fourth World Comics in Smithtown. Photo by Kyle Barr

“I think the most important thing to do besides creating an emotional experience and offering, obviously, great service is to really think about the values of those consumers in the local town and try and tap into those local values, such as if a town is really interested in sustainability, or ethically sourced food,” Finkelstein said.

One of the biggest questions that small business owners ask is whether young people are still willing to shop local. The consensus is they are the “plugged-in” generation, but that fact can be harnessed to work in favor of small business owners.

“Social issues are particularly important for a lot of millennials,” she said. “You tend to see a lot of that. I definitely don’t think millennials should be written off. I’m big into knitting, and if you ask what’s the stereotype for knitting, for example, is that grandmas knit, but actually there’s this active and large youthful contingent of knitters that are really driving and shaping that industry in a completely fascinating way. I think what it’s about is that millennials have these ethically laden values where they want to buy things that are local, that are environmentally sustainable.”

While many stores surveyed said this Black Friday weekend was “better than average” to “great,” there were several stores that did not see anywhere near the same boost in traffic. While the weather was nice, stores that didn’t meet expectations cited insufficient support from their local governments, or locations with little foot traffic, as their main deterrents.

Reactions from local store owners

Port Jefferson—Ecolin Jewelers

Co-owner Linda Baker:

We tend to run our sales to support our loyal customers, support our repeat customers. We had 20 percent off many items in the store, not all. That hasn’t been a big motivation to shop. In our industry
either they know us or they don’t.

The village was decorated nice and we had a good weekend. Black Friday for most retailers, for independent mom-and-pop retailers, has not been a big day for us. Our business is the last two weeks of the year. I think Black
Friday is when mom and dad go to look at televisions or cars — one big
purchase. It’s not a downtown thing. I don’t compare same day to same day from years before. I think there are too many variables, whether it’s the weather
or the news. Though I’d say this year was better than last year across the board.

Mount Sinai—The Gift Corner

Owner Marion Bernholz:

I don’t think Black Friday is as big of a thing anymore. We had people coming in at 10 a.m. and I asked them why they weren’t out shopping and they would say, “Oh, we don’t do that anymore.” I think people just don’t like to rush anymore, plus all the deals are available all week long, so there’s almost no point. Maybe, eventually, people will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family, that’s the hope.

Though this was one of the best Black Fridays I’ve had since the bust in 2008, I went back and I looked at the papers for how it was in 2005. I couldn’t count it all — it was like the funds were flowing like water. It’s never
going to be 2005 again.

Half the people who came in my store on Saturday had no clue [about Small Business Saturday]. We’d be like, “OK, now we’ll explain it to you. Good that you’re here, and this is what it’s about.”

Rocky Point—Rocky Point Cycle

Owner Gary Wladyka:

We didn’t advertise but had in-store deals. We had discounts on shoes and sunglasses. There were more customers that Friday because more people had Friday off.

We’re always trying to get more customers, but we’re more of a
destination shop rather than a “Let’s go take a look” type thing.

This is the beginning of the end for small business. It’s going to continue to demise with people wanting to do
everything on the internet. The way new consumers are, it’s going to be hard to grow it. We try to provide service. You’re not going to get service online.

Setauket—All Seasons at Ari’s Treasures

Owner Jeff Aston:

We have an online presence. We did very well online over the course of the weekend. The store was busy. I’m a Christmas shop, so it’s kind of the height of our season now. We were offering 20 percent off storewide, we had some 25 percent-off items, some 50 percent-off items. We definitely went along with trying to capture that audience.

We do custom sign making and engraving, and it’s a little more of a custom product. I’m not sure how Black Friday helped us with that part of the business, but overall it was a good weekend. I’d say it was comparable to last year.

People want personalization, they want customization. You have to see the expression on people’s faces when they see our work. I’ve been in the Christmas business for 40 years, and I’ve never done anything more rewarding for my customers than what I’m doing now.

Young people today push a button and they get what they want. I’ve gotten away from the similar product you will see on Amazon. The beauty of the internet is that we can put our product out online. We’re on Etsy, and for the small business person who’s creating something themselves, Etsy is the way to go.

Smithtown—4th World Comics

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”


4th World Comics (Comics, figurines and memorabilia)

Manager Terence Fischette:

“We didn’t do too much in sales. We did a lot of half-price items, took out a lot of stuff we wanted to get out of the back room. We don’t really compete with any of the big stores when it comes to Black Friday. We ended up doing a lot better than a normal Friday because people are out and in the shopping mood. The weekend was kind of normal, but it was one of the better Black Fridays that we’ve had in years.

You see some regular customers, you see some new people. Comics are definitely more popular now, people see the sign and they pull over. It’s a lot more gifts and toys. Whenever a new superhero movie comes out you’ll see kids coming in who want the new Captain America or the new Thor book. Black Friday is more of just toys, T-shirts and stuff like that.

We have our own holiday sale on Dec. 16 and that’s one of our biggest holiday sales of the year.”

Northport—Einstein’s Attic

Owner Lori Badanes:

“We did great, it was wonderful. We offered a lot of in store promotions. We had an Elf on a Shelf here, we read a story to the kids and the kids got a notebook and a pencil. They got to fill out a wish list, then all the kids got to make an ornament. We had giveaways, and make your own putty on Saturday.

We started planning this in the summer, back in August. We do it every year.

We did better this year than other years — 17 percent better. It was a nice jump. One thing is that we offered some light ups for an outdoor event. The kids got a lot of things to take home. I feel we’re a community-based business, and we support our community every chance we get.”

Huntington—Cow Over the Moon

Owner Brian Drucker:

“I feel like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, definitely did better than previous years. I didn’t do any specific specials that I can think of offhand.

It was a mixture of new people and regulars coming through. The big thing about a store like this being here for 23 years is that we have a steady number of regulars, but I saw a good crop of new customers come in.

One of the things I also do is sports memorabilia, and Aaron Judge [who plays for the New York Yankees] is one of the hottest, hottest things in the world. He had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever in baseball, so we sold a bunch of Aaron Judge autographed memorabilia, some pretty expensive stuff.

It’s hard to explain … why we did well. You never can tell you know, there was just a lot of people walking around. The town  was pretty booming.”

Legislators have approved the initial step toward preserving the Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Suffolk lawmakers have taken the first step toward preservation of nearly 41 acres in St. James as open space.

The county legislature voted at its Nov. 21 meeting to approve a bill introduced by Legislators Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) for an appraisal of part of the Gyrodyne LLC property in St. James, also known as Flowerfield, that runs along Route 25A. The property contains freshwater wetlands and adjacent wetlands that feed into the Long Island Sound, Mill Pond in Stony Brook and Stony Brook Harbor.

“I am greatly appreciative of my legislative colleagues’ support for our effort to preserve 41 undeveloped acres of the former Gyrodyne property,” Hahn said. “With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County. I am hopeful that the owner will understand the property’s overall environmental significance and its potential to negatively impact surrounding ground and surface waters, traffic safety and overall quality of life should it be developed.”

The bill, which now goes to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) for his approval, allows for the county’s planning division to assess the owner’s interest in selling the tract to the county for open space purposes. An interest by Gyrodyne would mean the county could follow its initial outreach by obtaining a real estate appraisal and additional legal and environmental reviews that are required for a potential sale from the company to the county. According to county law, if sale of the land parcel can be negotiated, funding will come from the county’s Drinking Water Protection Program.

“With the owner actively seeking to develop the property, this perhaps is the community’s last stand to preserve one of the last large undeveloped tracts remaining in western Suffolk County.”

— Kara Hahn

While preservation of the land is being considered, a conceptual development plan from Gyrodyne was approved by the Suffolk County Planning Committee Aug. 2 and was met with resistance from Stony Brook and St. James residents.

Over the summer, the property’s owner submitted an application to the Town of Smithtown to construct a 150-room hotel with restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings totaling 128,400 feet and two long-term care buildings that would have a total 220 assisted living units on the property. Many in the area raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an exit to the Brookhaven street was made accessible on the east side.

Trotta said he’s not completely against development as he realizes the community needs businesses such as the proposed assisted living facility. However, Trotta said he understands the community’s concerns about traffic and would like to see a good amount of the property preserved. 

“It’s always about balance,” he said.

Trotta said he believes Gyrodyne will be willing to work with the community.

“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have it appraised and get into discussions with what the community wants, what can we put up with traffic-wise and meet somewhere in the middle,” Trotta said.

At a Nov. 15 Smithtown Planning Board meeting, Gyrodyne representatives said their own traffic studies proved residents had sound reason to be concerned about increased traffic and pointed to six local intersections that needed improvement. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017 but have yet to be reviewed. Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

Hahn said the commercial development of the land would “fundamentally change the character of the Stony Brook and St. James communities.”

“Each of us, regardless of which side of the Brookhaven-Smithtown border you reside on, is threatened by this project moving forward,” Hahn said. “For that reason, Legislator Robert Trotta and I put forward legislation to preserve these environmentally and historically important parcels from being destroyed.”

Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering, presents Gyrodyne’s plans for the St. James Flowerfield property to Smithtown Planning Board Nov. 15. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Gyrodyne LLC has admitted its own  traffic study proves that St. James and Stony Brook residents have good reason to be concerned about the traffic impact of their proposed project.

Gyrodyne made a formal presentation of its future plans for the nearly 75-acre property Nov. 15 to the Smithtown Planning Board and a standing-room only crowd. The developer has proposed to subdivide the Flowerfield land in order to build a 220-unit assisted living facility, a 130,000-square foot medical office building and a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, conference space and day spa/fitness center.

“We are not looking to maximize yield here,” Richard Smith, director of Gyrodyne and a St. James resident, said. “We are looking to strike the right balance between economic development, which I think we all know the St. James community desperately needs, and to preserve and enhance the environment we all love.”

Nearly 100 residents and Brookhaven elected officials packed the meeting to make clear their opposition to the project’s traffic impact on Route 25A, Mills Pond Road and Stony Brook Road.

“Town of Brookhaven is opposed to any traffic created as a result of this proposed subdivision emptying out onto town roads and, specifically, Stony Brook Road,” said Brenda Prusinowski, deputy commissioner of planning and environment for Brookhaven Town, reading a statement for Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R). “This road is overcrowded now, particularly because of usage from the university, and does not need additional traffic from a project outside our town.”

“If there’s 900 jobs, that’s 900 more vehicles on the road on a daily basis.

— Laurie Kassay

Jennifer Martin, aide for Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station), echoed the supervisor’s sentiment and made clear the town is “staunchly opposed to any additional traffic” on Route 25A as well.

Mills Pond Road homeowner Laurie Kassay said she opposed the project despite promises from Gyrodyne it will create an estimated 900 new jobs and generate $90 million annually for the economy.

“The area cannot handle any more traffic,” Kassay said. “If there’s 900 jobs, that’s 900 more vehicles on the road on a daily basis.”

The developer hired Woodbury-based Cameron Engineering & Associates who performed a traffic study focusing on 16 intersections off Mills Pond Road, Moriches Road, Route 25A and Stony Brook Road surrounding the property. The results were submitted to the Town of Smithtown and New York State Department of Transportation in October 2017, but have yet to be reviewed.

“The concern of the traffic impact is completely understood,” said Kevin McAndrew of Cameron Engineering. “The traffic impact study has confirmed why the concern is valid. A number of the 16 intersections studied today have poor or failing conditions.”

If Gyrodyne’s plans go forward, McAndrew said the firm has proposed traffic improvements be made at six intersections. The intersection of Route 25A and Mills Pond Road should have traffic signals installed, according to the traffic study, which also suggested NYS DOT design a roundabout at the intersection of Route 25A and Stony Brook Road in addition to traffic mitigation measures at four additional intersections on Stony Brook Road.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) was outraged at the suggestion of a roundabout being installed on the historic Route 25A corridor in front of the William Sidney Mount House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. He urged the planning board to reject Gyrodyne’s plans, stating that in his opinion as a scientist,  it’s not environmentally sustainable and instead encouraged Smithtown town officials to work with Brookhaven in future development of the region.

“Our communities have a long history of cooperation,” Englebright said. “I hope we don’t have to set up canons on the border. There are some really upset people on Stony Brook Road.”

Conrad Chayes Sr., chairman of the Smithtown Planning Board, concluded the board would hold off on a decision until an environmental impact study is completed by the town, which he said may take up to a year.

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A historic look at Smithtown’s first LIRR trestle. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

By Marianne Howard

It wasn’t until the arrival of the Long Island Rail Road and a few transportation innovations that Smithtown began to flourish as a place to live.

Prior to the LIRR arriving in 1872, Smithtown was solely connected to New York City through the Long Island Sound transport and dirt roadways. With the railroad, travelers from New York City were free to access areas like St. James and Kings Park as day trips, which previously would have never been considered.

As more and more people began coming into town, economic and business development around town boomed. Local farmers could now load wagons full of produce onto flatbed railroad cars headed for New York City. Travelers who initially came east for fresh air eventually concluded that there were residential possibilities in Smithtown and settled into the area.  However, the horse and buggy was the most accessible way to travel on the area’s dirt roads.

Old Hauppauge Road in 1910. Photo from the Smithtown Historical Society

Country sleighing was a favored pastime by early residents, according to “Images of America: Smithtown” written by Bradley Harris, Kiernan Lannon and Joshua Ruff. The book cites Alma Blydenbyrgh’s 1833 diary entry for Jan. 17 , in which she wrote, “Mr. Floyd been to the river and took Em and myself for a sleigh ride. Good sleighing!”

Getting to and from Smithtown remained difficult for years to come. The main obstacle to Smithtown’s connection to the northern spur of the LIRR was the Nissequogue River. To accomplish fully connecting the LIRR, engineers crafted a trestle to span the river valley, the largest iron structure of its kind on Long Island. When completed, it stood over 50 feet high and spanned a distance of 490 feet.

In the 1890s, bicycles first became a popular fad in the area. Bicyclists were urging the town and the county to construct dedicated bicycle paths to improve riders’ safety. Millionare Richard Handley personally funded a bike path from his estate in Hauppauge out to Smithtown. Eventually, Suffolk County constructed a path along Jericho Turnpike. 

Bicycling quickly became a nuisance to town officials. In 1911, Smithtown’s town board issued a motion banning bicyclists from riding on town sidewalks. Any rider caught violating the order could be fined up to $5.

Thirty years after the railroad came to town, automobiles began appearing. By the 1920s, the automobile was replacing the horse and buggy. Town officials were eventually forced to pave the roadways, and by the 1930s, the town was primed for a boom in both population and land development.

Marianne Howard is the executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society. For more information on the society, its events or programs or on becoming a member, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org or call 631-265-6768.

A rendering of what the front of the proposed new St. James firehouse would look like. Image from St. James Fire District

Residents within the St. James Fire District voted “no” Sept. 19 to tearing down the Jefferson Avenue firehouse and replacing it with a bigger and better one.

The $12.25 million capital bond proposal sought to knock down the existing 7,404-square-foot firehouse on Jefferson Avenue and build an updated 22,458-square-foot structure in its footprint. The proposal was rejected by voters, with 775 “no” votes and 459 “yes” votes.

The concept of the new firehouse — which would have been more than three times as large as the current building — served to accommodate for modern requirements of firefighters while also taking care of renovations and repairs within the pre-existing infrastructure, which sustained significant damage in an August 2016 storm.

The estimated cost of the proposed facility would have made for an approximate increase of $118 to $198 a year for taxpayers based on their home’s assessed value.

“On behalf of the entire St. James Fire District, we would like to thank those community members who came out to vote today in our bond election,” the district’s board of commissioners said in a statement. “We are disappointed that the proposal was defeated. … As commissioners, we will now regroup and begin discussions of what our next steps might be. We will continue to keep the community informed throughout the process. As always, we will continue to respond to all emergencies in the quickest manner possible, as it is our duty and privilege to protect the residents of St. James.”

Prior to the vote Sept. 19, St. James fire commissioners said they would move forward with selling the Route 25A/Lake Avenue building — which was purchased by the district for $500,000 in 2013 —  regardless of what residents’ decision was.

As they exited the voting booths, residents explained their stance on the proposal.

“I voted ‘no’ because the tax increase is too much and I was disappointed that the only plan that was put forth was a $12 million plan,” a resident who asked to remain anonymous said. “There was no B plan or C plan and I also don’t understand the sale process of the 25A building. If they’re going to sell it, then why don’t they use that money to renovate? It’s silly. Nobody needs more taxes at this point.”

Jerry Ruggieri, a 50-year resident, agreed.

“I voted ‘no,’” Ruggieri said. “I live two blocks down the road and I think it would cause havoc on Jefferson Avenue. They have two facilities that are more than enough to satisfy the town as far as fires and I don’t think we need the expense, in this day and age, creating a new fire department. We don’t need it. We’re fine.”

Victoria Johnston, however, voted “yes”.

“I just feel as though it’s in our town’s best interest to go with this new firehouse so that these guys have the best,” Johnston said. “These are people who wake up at 3 a.m. to go save your family members. They give up time with their families to come out and save yours. For a little bit more, everything could be good for them and be good for so long. I don’t get how you can say no to them.”

This version corrects the amount of “yes” and “no” votes casted.