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St. James

A view of how Gyrodyne intends to subdivide the land. Image from Suffolk County planning department

The Town of Smithtown now knows it faces an estimated price tag of $7 to $10 million to bring St. James sewage systems into the modern era.

Smithtown officials are poring over the evaluation of the St. James Sewer District prepared by Melville-based H2M Architects & Engineers where they broke down the projected costs of installing dry sewer mains and pump stations needed to build a sewer district for the Lake Avenue business district.

“[W]e’ve already proceeded with sending those to state Sen. [John] Flanagan’s office to get us grant funding to put in sewer lines along Lake Avenue and pay for the pump station.”
– Nicole Garguilo

In its report dated June 8, H2M projected that installing sewers and a force main at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A would cost approximately $1.78 million, including funds for curb-to-curb roadway restoration, if undertaken in 2020.

The engineers considered two different options for providing sewers to 18 properties along North Country Road/Route 25A from the Long Island Railroad track near Edgewood Avenue east to Clinton Avenue. The first method would cost approximately $3.8 million to install gravity sewers, a force main and pump station needed to reach a sewage treatment plant but would not provide for full road restoration. A second
design would cost the town roughly $6.2  million with road restoration costs included.

“Now that they gave us these cost estimates, we’ve already proceeded with sending those to state Sen. [John] Flanagan’s office to get us grant funding to put in sewer lines along Lake Avenue and pay for the pump station,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said.

Smithtown officials are hoping Flanagan (R-East Northport) can secure the funding through New York State’s Clean Water Infrastructure Act, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in April 2017, which provides money for drinking water infrastructure and groundwater protection.

The estimated cost for St. James Sewer District are calculated on the premise that Gyrodyne, LLC will build a sewage treatment plan with the capacity to accommodate neighboring Lake Avenue businesses. Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) first opened conversations with Gyrodyne about considering such a move earlier this spring.

“We continue to be supportive of Supervisor Wehrheim’s vision for Smithtown, as well as the hamlet of St. James.
– Gary Fitlin

“We continue to be supportive of Supervisor Wehrheim’s vision for Smithtown, as well as the hamlet of St. James,” Gary Fitlin, CEO and president of Gyrodyne said. “Our plans include a sewage treatment plant, which is tremendously beneficial to the community versus traditional cesspools.”

Gyrodyne announced its intentions to work with the Town of Smithtown to its shareholders on June 29 calling it “an opportunity to create added value for both the company and the towns of Smithtown and Brookhaven.” It has hired Woobury-based Cameron Engineering & Associates to redesign its proposed sewage treatment plant to handle the plans it has for Flowerfield property and have excess capacity to service the business district of St. James.

Wehrheim said hearing Gyrodyne is sharing these intentions with its investors is positive news for St. James business owners and Smithtown.

“I think it’s great,” the supervisor said. “The fact they are selling it to their shareholders and having their engineers look at it means they are serious about doing it.”

St. James Route 25A firehouse. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James residents have spoken: The iconic Route 25A firehouse will remain firmly in the hands of the taxpayers.

The taxpayers of the St. James Fire District voted down the June 19 public referendum which would have sold the fire station to St. James Fire Department for $500,000 by 792-498 votes.

“The St. James Fire District Board of Commissioners thanks all residents who voted in today’s referendum,” said Commissioner Ed Springer, Sr. in a statement Tuesday night. “The board will reconvene and discuss its next steps for the future of the Route 25A firehouse and use of its space.”

St. James resident Troy Rosasco, founder of Citizens for a Safer St. James, led roughly a dozen residents in a rally against the sale of the historic fire station June 16. Citizens alongside local firefighters took up positions on the triangular grassy median at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A bearing signs that read, “We must protect this house, vote no,” and other slogans.

June 19 referendum results
792 “no” votes
498 “yes” votes
1,290 total ballots cast

“The people of St. James have once again overwhelmingly said they want to maintain control of the main firehouse,” Rosasco said, whose home is in the Village of Head of the Harbor. “We all own the main firehouse and want to continue to see it as a working firehouse for the foreseeable future so that both St. James and Head of the Harbor are adequately protected.”

Suffolk County police said that they received several 911 calls at approximately 10:20 a.m. Saturday reporting the picketers were impeding vehicular traffic. A patrol unit was dispatched to the scene where officers said they did not observe any protestors impacting traffic and advised the group they could continue as long as they did not disturb traffic flow.

Many rally attendees said they were distrustful of what fate might befall the Route 25A firehouse if entrusted to the hands of the St. James Volunteer Fire Department — a nonprofit organization representing approximately 100 volunteers for fire and emergency response services.

“It’s an organization of private individuals,” Augie Cocuzza, a resident of Fairfield at St. James apartment complex said. “They could do whatever they want with it.”

Head of the Harbor resident Troy Rosasco led a “vote no” rally in front of the Route 25A firehouse June 16. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James firefighters launched a public campaign encouraging citizens to vote “yes” June 19 to put the firehouse back into the hands of its volunteer members.

“It is imperative,” said Kevin Barattini, a fire department spokesman.

In a public Facebook statement made June 15, the group had promised to protect the building if the sale went through, by amending its organizational constitution.

“People need to realize this firehouse isn’t going anywhere, it will always remain a firehouse,” Barattini said.”

The spokesman said the department was concerned about misinformation and “blatant lies” circulating prior to the vote. He said firemen reported hearing that the sale would allegedly lead to an increase in taxes or that the building would later be sold for profit to CVS or another business — an option he said hasn’t been entertained in years.

“Prior to selling it to the fire district in 2013, the fire department heard pitches from other entities including CVS but those talks were stopped after 2011,” Barattini said. “That’s seven years ago, people in the
community have to let that go.”

The St. James Fire Department did not respond to requests for comment immediately following the June 19 referendum.

The district had purchased the building from the volunteer fire department in 2013 with the original intentions of operating it as a fire station in addition to the Jefferson Avenue substation and make necessary
repairs. Since then, two proposed capital bond referendums have failed — the first in 2013 and the second request for $12.25 million in September 2017.

St. James Fire Department has sponsored signs urging residents to “Vote Yes” June 19. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

The outcome of the June 19 referendum closely resembles the polling totals of the September 2017 capital bond vote. There was a slight increase in ballots cast, up from 1,234 votes to 1,290 votes, but the split of residents’ opinions remains relatively unchanged — a small increase from 775 to 792 against, and from 459 votes to 498 votes for.

St. James resident John Rowan, who resides on Jefferson Avenue, said it was clear to him what the point of friction is.

“My biggest thing is they don’t bring the community to the table to discuss this,” he said. “Even though they say they have, they never have.”

Rowan attended the May 30 public forum held at Smithtown High School East about the June 19 referendum, where he said fire commissioners restricted public questions and comments to two minutes per person, stifling the community’s discussion of the issues. He recommended that in the future, St. James fire commissioners host a town-hall-style meeting to listen to what residents have to say on the future of the Route 25A firehouse.

“That’s all they needed to do,” Rowan said. “It could easily be a win-win situation for everyone.”

St. James fire officials plan to move ahead with public referendum as planned

St. James Route 25A firehouse. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Editor’s note: This post was updated 12:58 p.m. June 25 with a statement from Ron Graner of RFG Fire Rescue Consulting. 

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James Fire District’s Board of Fire Commissioners has been professionally advised not to move forward with the June 19 public referendum to sell the iconic Route 25A firehouse at this time.

The board of fire commissioners publicly released the 71-page “Final Report Review of Fire Rescue Stations and Service Capabilities” June 15. The study was conducted by third-party RFG Fire Rescue Consulting, dated May 28, 2018 just days before the scheduled June 19 vote. The two-part study was aimed at evaluating several concerns of the community including the sale of the Route 25A firehouse, a functional evaluation of both fire stations capacity and whether the district’s proposal to consolidate services would affect emergency response times.

The top recommendation of Ron Graner, a public safety consultant with RFG Fire Rescue Consulting who prepared the report, strongly advises the district against moving forward with the June 19 referendum to sell the building to the St. James Fire Department – a 501(c)(3) organization of the volunteers who act as firefighters and emergency rescue services.

“It is my professional opinion and strong specific recommendation that the fire commission should take no specific action to conduct a public referendum to sell this property at this time,” reads page 10 of the study.

Graner strongly recommended the fire district should assemble a strategic planning committee made up of community members, emergency responders, fire department and fire district members to weigh in on the future of the building and the fire district. In addition, the consultant suggested the Route 25A firehouse should be made a community landmark, no matter who owns it in the future, and should seek status as a National Historic structure.

The St. James Fire District Board of Fire Commissioners released a statement addressing why it had not released the initial study up until this point.

“While it is our goal to be transparent with the community, we have not released the initial draft until this point due to concerns over methodology used and validity of the information provided within,” reads a statement from the fire commissioners. “We have repeatedly asked to meet in person with the consultant to review our concerns and seek clarification on some of the recommendations; as of this date however, we have not been granted a meeting.”

Graner said fire district commissioners never contacted him with any questions or concerns about the study for several weeks after receiving the initial draft. While he confirmed the fire district did later request an in-person meeting, Graner said he provided a list of dates he was available and the estimated costs of travel to meet with the district in person, as he resides upstate in Fayetteville, before suggesting a conference call or remote meeting would be more cost-effective to immediately address any concerns. However, Graner alleged that a meeting date, time and method was never confirmed by the fire district.

As such, the fire district officials said the study and its findings will not be adopted until questions are answered and clarification is obtained from RFG Fire Rescue Consulting.  The June 19 referendum will move forward as scheduled for 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue substation, located at 221 Jefferson Avenue, according to district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

St. James Volunteer Fire Department issued a public statement via Facebook urging residents to vote yes to approve the sale of the firehouse while promising to protect its future.

“We will be closely engaging with our legal team in the coming weeks and months to develop a framework that would bind the property to the corporate constitution,” reads the fire department’s June 15 Facebook statement. “A change of this nature would look to legally ensure that as long as the department is in existence the main firehouse will be permanently paired with the department.”

Click here to download and read the full 71-page report by RFG Fire Rescue Consulting.  Keep an eye on TBR News Media for more to come on this breaking news.

 

St. James Route 25A firehouse. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

St. James residents are planning a rally against the June 19 referendum on the sale of the Route 25A firehouse, feeling they have too many questions left unanswered.

Troy Rosasco, founder of the community organization Citizens for a Safer St. James, is working with others to encourage voters to say no to the sale of the landmark Route 25A firehouse proposed by the St. James Fire District. A group of concerned citizens is planning to gather at 10 a.m. June 16 on the grassy median at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A.

“I would like to see the main firehouse be owned and retained by the community and by the taxpayers,” Rosasco said. His Facebook following has grown to nearly 400 concerned residents. “We have more control over the future of that building if the entire community owns it, rather than selling it to a group of only 100 firefighters.”

We have more control over the future of that building if the entire community owns it, rather than selling it to a group of only 100 firefighters.”
 – Troy Rosasco

On June 19, the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use — will ask community residents to approve a sale of the Route 25A firehouse for $500,000 back to St. James Fire Department, a nonprofit organization representing volunteers for fire and emergency response services.

Rosasco, a practicing attorney, said he feels it’s unfair to the taxpayers that the sale price is set at $500,000; the building is listed on the tax rolls as being valued at $1.5 million. He cites New York State Consolidated Town Law Section 176, Chapter 23, which governs the sale of excess equipment and property by fire districts, claiming the board of commissioners has a fiscal obligation to the residents to sell the building for as much as possible.

Fire Commissioner Ed Springer has said the sale is legal due to a clause in 2013 contract of sale for the firehouse, which switched ownership from the fire department to the district, was granted the state’s approval. The clause allegedly grants the volunteer firemen organization first rights to purchase the building back, if and when it went up for sale, at the same price paid.

“Even if this referendum passes, anyone in the district can go to court and challenge the sale of that firehouse because it was not sold in the taxpayers’ best interest,” Rosasco said.

The St. James resident won a New York State Supreme Court case against the district earlier this month. A state judge ordered the fire district to provide Rosasco with a copy of the 2013 contract of sale, emails between the fire commissioners before and after the failed September 2017 capital bond vote and other documents he requested back in December 2017 under the Freedom of Information Act.

St. James Fire Department has sponsored signs urging residents to “Vote Yes” June 19. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

“I wanted to see what their true positions are, their desires of what to do with the firehouse in the future,” Rosasco said June 12. “To date, I still don’t have those emails.”

The St. James resident, the fire district and their attorneys were schedule to appear in court June 13. The fire district did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding the court case and the outcome was not available by press time.

St. James Volunteer Fire Department is actively pushing for approval of the June 19 referendum both on its Facebook page and by posting lawn signs throughout the town.

“We want the property back,” Glen Itzkowitz, chairman of the board of the St. James Fire Department, said in January. “We think we can be the best stewards of that property as we’ve been the best stewards of that property since 1922.”

But St. James and Head of the Harbor residents, who contract their fire rescue services through the fire district, say the legality of the vote is not the only thing raising questions. The fire department publicly stated at a May 30 community forum the board is considering consolidating all fire rescue services out of the Jefferson Avenue substation in the future. The potential change has raised questions about the impact on response times as the Route 25A firehouse and Jefferson Avenue substation are on opposite sides of the Long Island Rail Road tracks that bisect the town.

“We think we can be the best stewards of that property as we’ve been the best stewards of that property since 1922.”
– Glen Itzkowitz

This spring, the fire commissioners hired a third-party consultant RFG Fire Rescue Consulting to conduct a study on response times of both fire houses to different parts of the hamlet. While an initial draft
report of the findings was in the board of fire commissioners’ hands by May 30, Springer
said the fire district would release the report only once it is reviewed by the district and consultant.

TBR News Media immediately verbally requested a copy of the draft report after the May 30 community meeting from Springer and was denied. A formal written FOIA request was submitted to the fire district last week by TBR News Media, asking for a copy of the study to be released, and the request was not fulfilled by press time.

“I think they are hiding something that will hurt their position on the June 19 referendum,” Rosasco said. “It’s absolutely outrageous that they are asking us to vote on the sale of the firehouse without having the safety study done and released to the public.”

Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard first voiced his concerns about the safety of his residents if the Route 25A firehouse were to be sold and then shutdown, no longer serving as an active station, at a January community meeting. Since then, the village has officially requested the fire district provide it with a detailed proposal identifying where equipment will be located and anticipated response times to the village.

They haven’t figured it out or they are not providing the information to the residents of St. James.”
– Douglas Dahlgard

“We have not gotten the answers yet, but they say its pending,” Dahlgard said. “I assume we will be getting it shortly.”

The mayor said residents of Head of the Harbor are not eligible to vote in the June 19 referendum.

Both Rosasco and Dahlgard said the fire district has not been forthcoming in providing enough detailed information on its plans after the June 19 referendum.

“They haven’t figured it out or they are not providing the information to the residents of St. James,” the mayor said. “It’s rather strange in my view.”

St. James Fire District officials said publicly if the sale is approved, it will consider leasing space in the Route 25A firehouse from the department at a possible rate of $20,000 per year to hold events and meetings. If the sale is approved by the referendum, the volunteer fire department will still have to officially vote on whether to purchase the building.

The referendum will be held June 19 from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue substation on 221 Jefferson Ave.

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Fire commissioners have preliminary results of study on rescue response times; may not release outcome before the vote

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

By Kyle Barr

Some St. James residents are feeling burned over the St. James Fire District’s plans to sell the Route 25A firehouse as the hamlet heads toward a referendum vote June 19.

More than 70 people attended a May 30 community forum where the St. James Fire District presented its plans to sell the iconic two-story, white firehouse back to the St. James Fire Department, as well as its
future plans for the building.

On June 19, Commissioner Ed Springer said the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings, fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use — will ask community residents to approve a sale of the Route 25A firehouse for $500,000 back to St. James Fire Department, an organization representing volunteers for fire and emergency response services.

The fire district purchased the building in 2013 with original intentions of operating it as a second firehouse to the Jefferson Avenue facility and pass a bond for upcoming repair work. Two bond votes have since failed, one in 2013 and a second request for $12 million in September 2017.

We’re going to have to do [a] tremendous amount of work on both firehouses.”

– Ed Springer

“The department wants the building back, and we need to do work on both buildings” Springer said. “We could rent the space to them for $20,000 a year, which we think is pretty reasonable.”

If the vote passes, St. James residents raised questions over what fate holds for the iconic firehouse and how it may impact their local fire rescue services.

Springer said the district will consider leasing space in the building at a rate of $20,000 a year to store equipment and host community events, but final cost and specific details have not been finalized.

Glen Itzkowitz, board chairman of St. James Fire Department, said the department would then use the money from that lease to complete much-needed renovations on both the Route 25A firehouse and the Jefferson Avenue headquarters. The organization’s members would offer their time and skills during construction to help reduce labor costs of the project.

“We’re going to have to do [a] tremendous amount of work on both firehouses,” Springer said. “Back when we wanted the last bond to pass it would cost $250 per square foot, now you’re talking about $450 per square foot.”

But it remains unclear whether or not the Route 25A firehouse would continue to serve as a base of fire rescue operations.

We are so fortunate to have a fire station on both sides of the train tracks.”

– Peter Macari

St. James resident Peter Macari, a 24-year member of the fire department, said many in the community fear response times would increase if the Route 25A firehouse is no longer used as a working fire station.

“We are so fortunate to have a fire station on both sides of the train tracks,” Macari said. “If that building can get a fireman to that person’s house in the time it takes to save them, then that building did its job.”

The district currently operates one fire truck out of the Route 25A fire station, but Springer said the district does have plans to perform a trial run of operating all fire department services out of the Jefferson
Avenue headquarters — once it can make much-needed renovations.

“Is there sometime in the future where we might look to do a trial period to bring all apparatus down to the one firehouse, yes, but we still plan to lease that firehouse for a number of years,” the fire commissioner said. “Understand that its difficult during the day to have two crews out in two different places.”

This spring, the commissioners of St. James Fire District hired a third-party consultant RFG Fire Rescue Consulting to conduct a study on response times of both fire houses to different parts of the hamlet. The study includes public feedback on performance collected through an online survey. While an initial draft report of the findings is complete, fire district officials said that they will release the report only once it is reviewed by the district and consultant, but gave no specific date on when that might be or whether it will be released before the June 19 referendum vote.

“It seems silly to sell it when they don’t have a complete plan.”

– John Rowan

Itzkowitz said almost all operations for the department already occur at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse, and that current response times are sufficient to anywhere in the 4.5-square-mile area.

John Rowan, of St. James, asked why the department wouldn’t hold off the vote until they could confirm exactly what they wanted to do with the property down the line.

“It seems like [the fire district] doesn’t have those exact numbers on how much renovations or how much a new building will cost,” Rowan said. “I don’t think they know what they want to build in the future. It seems silly to sell it when they don’t have a complete plan.”

Springer said that three of the five commissioners, including himself, have promised long-term commitments to lease the 25A firehouse into the foreseeable future. But Springer’s term as commissioner is up this coming January, and he said he does not plan to seek reappointment.

If the referendum is approved June 19, the fire commissioner said the sale or lease of the Route 25A firehouse would not have any impact on residents’ taxes. Should it fail, Springer said the necessary renovations would require raising the tax levy.

The referendum to sell the 25A firehouse will take place on June 19 from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Jefferson Avenue firehouse on 221 Jefferson Ave.

Hundreds of St. James residents wore red, white and blue this Memorial Day to pay solemn remembrance to those who have served our country.

St. James held its annual Memorial Day parade and remembrance ceremony May 28. The parade stepped off from Woodlawn and Lake avenues at 10 a.m. featuring local marching bands, fire departments and both Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.

The community gathered for a wreath-laying ceremony outside Saint James Elementary School. Each veterans group laid a wreath to honor its members, before the names of each member of the services who had passed away in the last year was read while a bell was rung.

St. James artist Arline Goldstein stands with a piece of her work in Studio 455. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Among the empty storefronts, cracked sidewalk and blighted buildings along Lake Avenue, local artist and longtime St. James resident Arline Goldstein drives down the road and pictures something better, something that will draw crowds and make the area vibrant with art and music.

“When I ride down Lake Avenue, I don’t see [the blight], I see boutiques and cafés and art galleries,” Goldstein said. “I use my imagination.”

In a new twist on St. James revitalization, local artists are putting forth the idea of creating an art district along Lake Avenue in an effort to make St. James a hot spot for art and culture. Goldstein presented the idea to Town of Smithtown officials at the May 8 board meeting.

“It’s in my heart for artists to show their work, and for others to see that work,” she said. “This project is the culmination of all my ideas about art.”

When I ride down Lake Avenue, I don’t see [the blight], I see boutiques and cafés and art galleries. I use my imagination.”
– Arline Goldstein

In April, Golsdstein and Eric Neitzel, the owner of DeBarbieri Associates Real Estate agency, went up and down Lake Avenue from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue. Together, they counted nearly 20 empty storefronts along the approximately .8 mile stretch of road. Nietzel hopes the project could not only increase interest in the arts, but bring in restaurants, retail and other businesses.

“I think we could make a prosperous little downtown here in St. James,” Neitzel said.

The artists involved in the project believe this project could be a way to bring business back to downtown St. James.

“I think it is one thing that will help save this town,” photo artist Jack Ader said. “It has been proven all over the country that when places get together and create an art district, it revitalizes the town, it helps the local businesses.”

On June 12, Goldstein and some of her compatriots will meet with the town board and town planning department in a work group so she can fully explain what she has in mind. She said that if all goes well she hopes they could form a committee to truly start work on creating plans for the project. Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has already shown support for the idea.

“In my opinion it’s a great idea for St. James, and I think it could really work well,” Wehrheim said. “Once it gets advertised, and people come and see it, word of mouth goes around and it really attracts people to it.”

Smithtown historian Bradley Harris said there are a number of historical underpinnings of art in St. James, including the St. James Calderone Theater off Lake Avenue that was built in 1929 and hosted many early vaudeville shows.

“There were a couple of individuals, artists and musicians who made a big impact in the area,” Harris said. “We’re still rediscovering that history in what was devoted to the arts in the past.”

“It has been proven all over the country that when places get together and create an art district, it revitalizes the town, it helps the local businesses.”
– Jack Ader

Even with the excitement she’s seen from the community and town board, Goldstein said she knows that creating an art district could take quite a long time. In March, the Village of Patchogue named Terry Street an art and culture district, but the revitalization of the area into the artistic hot spot it is today took many years. Not only that, but making Lake Avenue an art district would require not a small amount of legal commitment. It would mean a total rezoning of the area, and Goldstein predicted there would likely need to be incentives for businesses to open along the road and for landlords to upgrade buildings while not increasing rents.

Wehrheim said the St. James revitalization project, slated to begin this month, has been pushed back approximately a year to allow the installation of dry sewer mains at the same time. The revitalization plan calls for the renovations of Lake Avenue from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue. This will include new sidewalks, planting of trees, installation of street lighting, curbs, concrete gutters and crosswalks, driveway aprons, asphalt, driveway aprons, benches and other decorative amenities.

Goldstein said she believed that if all goes according to plan and everything from the sewers to the new sidewalks are installed in time, then this project could really get underway.

Natalie Weinstein, the owner of Natalie Weinstein Design Associates and Studio 455 Art Gallery in St. James, said they are not going to wait for the sewers and revitalization to move forward. The artists are already looking to create events to promote art on Lake Avenue this summer, at the St. James gazebo.

“The art district will not be able to occur before we have the sewers hookup,” Weinstein said. “While we are waiting for that we are not sitting on our duffs. We’re doing exciting things to excite people and help spread the word.”

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

A vote that may determine the future fate of a St. James firehouse has been set for June 19.

The board of commissioners of the St. James Fire District voted to move forward with holding a June 19 public referendum on the sale of the Route 25A firehouse to the St. James Fire Department, a nonprofit organization that is made up of the volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

The white, two-story firehouse at the intersection of Lake Avenue and Route 25A was purchased nearly five years ago by the St. James Fire District — which consists of elected officials who are responsible for setting taxes to provide and maintain the buildings and fire and EMS service equipment the volunteers use. The district’s hope was that purchase of the building would help reduce its annual expenses, as it was paying rent for space to the St. James Fire Department.

“Given the current state of the building and the fire district’s needs, maintaining ownership of this property is no longer a fiscally prudent option,” Commissioner Ed Springer said.

The Route 25A firehouse, built in 1922, has not been significantly renovated or updated in more than 50 years. The fire district said the antiquated building cannot house a majority of its current fire engines due to height restrictions of the garage bay, so only one truck operates out of the location.

Given the current state of the building and the fire district’s needs, maintaining ownership of this property is no longer a fiscally prudent option.”
– Ed Springer

Under the original contract of sale, there was a clause that stipulated the St. James Fire Department would be given the first chance to repurchase the building should the district put it up for sale. This contract has been upheld by the New York State Supreme Court and the state attorney general’s office.

“Selling it back to the department would carry a number of benefits: the department, as they are under different laws and regulations than the fire district, would be able to expedite repairs and improvements to the facility, through the use of its budget,” Springer said.

If the building’s sale is approved June 19, there will be no tax rate impact on fire district residents.

The proposed sale has led to widespread concern through the St. James community about the future of the firehouse and whether it would still be an active station. Earlier this year, Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard voiced concerns about the district’s proposed plans to consolidate all operations out of its Jefferson Avenue headquarters. Dahlgard said he feared it would significantly increase response times for his residents, placing them at increased risk, as that station is farther away.

Bill Kearney, vice chairmen of the St. James Fire District board, said the goal of possible consolidation would be to improve emergency response times by bringing key personnel together at one location.

To better assess the community’s needs and concerns, the fire district launched an online survey asking residents, taxpayers and business operations in St. James and Head of the Harbor to anonymously provide feedback on their fire rescue services by April 30. A preliminary draft of the survey’s responses has been given to the fire commissioners, according to spokeswoman Jessica Novins, but had not been released to the public as of May 22. The fire commissioners have not had time to review the preliminary draft yet, according to Novins.

A community forum for residents within the fire district will be held Wednesday, May 30, at 7 p.m. where information will be presented about the sale, future plans for the Route 25A building will be addressed and to answer any questions regarding the referendum. The location of the May 30 meeting is to be determined by May 24 and then posted on the fire district’s website at www.stjamesfd.org.

The Irish Viking Pub in St. James has stood vacant for nearly a decade. Photo by Kyle Barr

The doors have been closed and the windows shuttered on the Irish Viking pub on Lake Avenue in St. James for nearly a decade. Town of Smithtown officials are considering turning the eyesore into a parking lot.

Smithtown Town Board voted unanimously at its May 8 meeting to hire John S. Goess Realty Appraisal Inc. to
appraise the value of 369 Lake Ave. property to see the viability of turning it into a municipal parking lot.

“That building’s been vacant for years,” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) said. “I have to be honest, even when the place was open the place was an eyesore. It’s really time for this thing to become something better.”

Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said that if the property owners agree to sell at the appraised value the town will look to turn the site into a parking lot that would include a center pavilion that could be used by local chamber or civics groups for many different kinds of events.

Additional parking is a key part of the revitalization efforts and is one of the main issues our residents want addressed, along with speeding and safety.”

– Ed Wehrheim

“This will help generate tourism, revenue and aid in the goal to encourage residents to shop local,” Garguilo said in an email.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said that the town will wait for a return on the appraisal before moving forward with contacting the property owners. He also said the parking lot could become an aspect of the St. James revitalization project, which is set to begin work early next year after the town installs a sewer system along Lake Avenue.

“Additional parking is a key part of the revitalization efforts and is one of the main issues our residents want
addressed, along with speeding and safety,” Wehrheim said in a statement. “By providing both the parking space and a venue that can be used for small business, markets and showcasing the arts, we can be proactive in our efforts to ensure that Lake Avenue will be an epicenter for arts and entertainment, while maintaining its quaint, historic charm.”

Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said that he expects the appraisal to be completed in three to four weeks.

Nowick said the town hopes to get a grant from the county in order to build the parking lot, if the town wants to acquire the property.

There are two municipal parking lots in the area. One is down the road from the Irish Viking property used by the St. James Long Island Rail Road train station. There is a second municipal parking lot behind Spage’s Pharmacy, hiding behind the front facing businesses along Lake Avenue. Nowick said there is a definite need for more parking along that road.

I do like the idea of parking, and we want people to walk to places and it is in the center of town. We still want to have more businesses to come in.”

— Kerry Maher-Weisse

“Cars often line up on both sides of the road where two cars in opposite lanes cannot pass through after that,” Nowick said. “You really cannot go through, and if you have a truck trying to get through, because there are trucks that need to deliver to King Kullen, it’s nearly impossible.”

Kerry Maher-Weisse, the president of the Community Association of Greater St. James said that while she likes the idea of a municipal parking lot, she also believes that Lake Avenue needs more restaurants to make the area more attractive to both businesses and customers.

“Here we are having people who are very interested to open up business in town, and [the Irish Viking property] would be a great place for a burger joint in the middle of town,” Maher-Weisse said. “I do like the idea of parking, and we want people to walk to places and it is in the center of town. We still want to have more businesses to come in.”

The town is required to buy the property at the appraised value. If the property owners decide they don’t want to sell, Nowick said there is not much the town could do and the only way the town would apply for eminent domain is if the aging building is posing a danger to the community. It would then take several hearings involving the owner.

“He’s still paying his taxes and it’s his property,” she said.

Surplus funds to be used to redesign Bellemeade Ave parking lot

A new playground is being installed at Gaynor Park in St. James. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

A trio of Smithtown parks are finally getting their day in the sun as upgrades are underway for the first time in two decades.

Joseph Arico, Smithtown’s park maintenance director, said town employees are working to finish updates already underway to Joseph Andreoli Park in Nesconset, and Gaynor and Veterans Memorial parks in St. James before schools let out for the summer. The capital projects are expected to come in at or below the approximately $1 million budgeted, according to Arico, and the leftover funds will go toward town’s redesign of the Bellemeade Avenue municipal parking lot.

“It has been a long time in coming,” he said. “I’m going to say that Gibbs Pond park, the last time work was done there was probably at least 15 to 20 years ago at the minimum.”

It has been a long time in coming.”
— Joseph Arico

Joseph Andreoli Park, commonly referred to as Gibbs Pond park, will be receiving a completely new playground set including one specifically made for younger children. The old rubber matting which covered the play space is being stripped and replaced with Classic Turf, which Arico said looks more like a synthetic grass “shag rug” than traditional artificial turf.

“When [the matting] gets old and you have to repair it, it never looks the same,” the parks director said. “There were patch marks all over the place, you could see the old and the new.

He said his hope is the new Classic Turf will be easier for town employees to fix and maintain in the future. Work at Gibbs Pond is about 80 percent complete, according to Arico, and is anticipated to be finished by mid-May.

In St. James, the construction vehicles sitting in Gaynor Park’s parking lot serve as a clear sign to residents of the nearly $500,000 in upgrades that are underway. The town’s two existing tennis courts are being resurfaced while the adjacent basketball court is getting enlarged from half court to full regulation size. A new playground was in the process of being installed April 20, which must be finished before the grass turf and brickwork can be done. Arico said he hopes construction will wrap up by the end of May.

“We should be close, but it’s hard to say based on how the weather goes from here forward,” he said.

If we are going to make these capital investments, we have to make sure we do it the right way to get the most longevity out of our investments.”
– Tom Lohmann

The town has set aside nearly $310,000 to improve Veterans Memorial Park off Moriches Road in St. James. While the park received updates to its fields recently, it will also be getting a new playground set and artificial grass surface, according to Arico. Construction will be starting shortly, with the aim of finishing by June.

“The water park playground will also be resurfaced so kids don’t get scraped-up knees,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Once all three projects are completed, Arico said there should be several thousand dollars left over to go toward the town’s other capital projects including the redesign of Bellemeade Avenue municipal parking lot off Smithtown’s Main Street. Originally slated only for resurfacing, Councilman Tom Lohmann (R) said a quick review of the lot showed drainage improvements and street lighting were needed.

“If we are going to make these capital investments, we have to make sure we do it the right way to get the most longevity out of our investments,” Lohmann said.

Arico and the councilman have pulled several town departments together to engineer plans to redesign the town-owned land to improve conditions and reconfigure the layout of spaces, hopefully, gaining a few.

“I think once it’s said and done, we will have a lot of people taking advantage of the lot,” Lohmann said.

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