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Town of Smithtown

The owner of The Oasis club in Smithtown is in talks with town officials to negotiate a sale of the building. Photo by Donna Deedy

The Town of Smithtown is looking to close a deal with the owner of The Oasis club, a business that calls itself “a gentlemen’s club’ located under the railroad trestle across from the town’s iconic bronze bull.  

“We’re seeking appraisals,” said Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski. “It’s going to take some time, if it’s going to happen at all.”

The transaction is part of multifaceted plan to create a swath of parkland along the Nissequogue River where a Suffolk County park vendor currently rents canoes and kayaks.

Since at least 1994, court records show that the town has attempted, so far with limited success, to enact and legally enforce ordinances against The Oasis club that would prevent adult entertainment from being located near parks, playgrounds, schools, churches and residential districts. 

The decades-old dispute may ultimately end with the sale of the property.  

A privately held company, 490 West Jericho Realty Corp., owns the premises, with Thomas Murray of Pelham Manor named in public documents as owner. The Oasis club has paid its $10,943 tax bill for the first half of 2019 through TJS of New York, a corporation referenced in town and court documents as the club’s owner, with Murray as CEO. He was unable to be reached for comment. 

Attorney Howard Greenberg, of Smithtown, who represents the club, said in a phone interview that his client is working in a coordinated effort with the town, but added that talks are in the early stages and noted that his client is operating a business and not necessarily eager to sell. 

“The town board is taking some preliminary measures to potentially purchase the property,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “However, this is all contingent on whether we can secure a mutually beneficial idea that was discussed during talks with the County Executive [Steve Bellone (D)] and myself to swap some parkland with the town.”

In an April 4 letter to Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Brown, Jakubowski described exchanging the town-owned Bill Richards Park with county-owned Givens Park, which is adjacent to The Oasis club along the Nissequogue River. The county-owned former Bavarian Inn site along Lake Ronkonkoma is also part of the swap. The exchange, according to the letter, complies with New York State law, but will require special legislation from the New York State Legislature as parkland is involved.  

State Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James) said in a phone interview that he expects the parkland swap agreement between the town and county to sail through the Senate and Assembly and is happy to act as a vessel to get the agreement passed as long as the state’s Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation system gives it the thumbs up. 

According to the town attorney, Smithtown would continue to contract the county’s kayak vendor once the swap is complete. 

Watermill Catering Hall requests special exception to allow a new four-story hotel. Photo from the Town of Smithtown

The Smithtown Town Board will hear at its May 23 meeting a request for special exception to allow the construction of a 130-room hotel at the Watermill Caterers’ catering hall on the southeast corner of Route 347 and Terry Road.

The site is currently zoned for industrial and neighborhood business and will need to be granted the special permission for a hotel, according to Allyson Murray, principal planner in the town’s Planning Department.

The project’s size, height, parking and traffic are issues that board members will evaluate.

Ultimately, the board will either approve or deny the project, or ask the applicant to modify the plans. But the Planning Department expects the meeting to be a hearing, where the public speaks.

“Residents can rest assured that the Town Board has been working closely with our Planning Department on this prospective plan,” town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “We’ll be meeting with the attorneys for the project Friday, May 17, to go over the proposal that was submitted for the project.”

Watermill and the new hotel is owned by Anthony Scotto Restaurants, the same organization that runs Insignia restaurant in Smithtown and Blackstone Steakhouse in Melville, among other high-end hospitality and food service establishments. 

The proposal will allow its catering hall guests, which are often out-of-town wedding guests, the option to spend the night there.

Nicole Garguilo, the town’s press officer said that the hotel idea could potentially become a benefit to local businesses and turn into significant tax revenue for the community.

Donald King, lawyer for the proposed hotel from Kings Park, said that he is happy to meet with residents and experts in the nearby communities, if necessary, to answer their questions. 

The applicant submitted site plans in November 2018 following a Planning Board review in April 2018. The board found the application to be out of compliance with a range of standards.

“Before the plan is approved, the project would need to comply with all standards,” Murray said. “Or else the applicant could request Zoning Board Appeals approval.”

The Town Board will not be able to approve the plan on May 23, because no State Environmental Quality Review Act analysis has yet been conducted, Murray added.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) spoke on the House floor April 30, ahead of a unanimous House passage of his legislation to honor former Congressman Bill Carney. The bill, H.R. 828, designates the United States Postal Service facility located at 25 Route 111 in Smithtown, New York, as the Congressman Bill Carney Post Office.

 “Congressman Carney was an incredible man who fought tirelessly for his constituents everyday. Even before his life in politics, his commitment to serving his country and community never wavered,” Zeldin said.

William Carney, formerly of Hauppauge, died May 22, 2017, at the age of 74, after a four-year battle with prostate cancer. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corp from 1961 to 1964 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He also served as a Suffolk County legislator in 1976 for a single term, before his election as U.S. congressman for New York’s 1st Congressional District, where Zeldin now serves. The district is comprised of Smithtown, Brookhaven and the East End. 

Carney served eight years in Congress and was a member of the Conservative Party. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, according to obituaries after his death, Carney sponsored a bill to reduce strategic arms and freeze nuclear weapons, which was backed by then President Ronald Reagan. Carney was also known for supporting the $4.5 billion Shoreham nuclear project. Carney left office in January 1987.

“Congressman Carney will be remembered for his strength, integrity and commitment to his district and nation, and there is no place he loved more than Long Island. Now, every time someone enters the Congressman Bill Carney Post Office, his legacy will be remembered forever,” Zeldin said. 

“Bill was a beloved husband, father and grandfather. For our community, for New York’s 1st Congressional District, for our nation and for the ideals in which he believed, he was a fighter until the very end,” the Carney family said in a prepared statement. “Bill loved the 1st Congressional District and it was his highest honor serving its people. Smithtown was our family’s home for decades, and it is particularly meaningful that this Post Office continues to serve the people about whom he cared so deeply. Thank you to Congressman Zeldin for helping preserve his memory in a place that was always very special to him. We know that he is smiling at being remembered back home.”

The bill is expected to pass the Senate.

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Smithtown decked out for autism awareness. Photo by Alexandra Damianos

By Donna Deedy

The Town of Smithtown held a special Light the Town Blue ceremony in front of Town Hall April 3. Local families and members of the community living with autism joined with elected officials and town employees in the ceremonial kickoff for the month-long campaign. 

The ceremony was led by 21-year-old Brendan Lanese, who lives with autism, and his family. Prior to the lighting ceremony, Lanese invited any residents living with autism to assist him in illuminating the town in blue.

For the duration of April, blue lights and giant puzzle ribbons, the Autism Society’s official symbol for autism awareness, will embellish major landmarks throughout Smithtown, including Whisper the Bull, Town Hall, the Smithtown Parks and Highway Department grounds. 

In 2018, Councilman Tom Lohmann (R)and Parks Director Joe Arico helped to revive the tradition, which began for the first time in April 2015. Residents can pick up free blue light bulbs at the Town Council Office, 99 West Main St., Smithtown.

For more information, call 631-360-7621.

The Town of Smithtown Town Hall. File photo by Phil Corso

The Town of Smithtown is currently in the process of hosting a series of Public Input Workshops for each hamlet to take part in their overall master plan. Workshops are being held to ensure the plan for each of the hamlets reflects the vision of those communities. Check out the flyer for your hamlet’s workshop date, location, and time! This is a great chance to get involved in your local community, whether you’re new to the area or a lifelong resident.

 

Smithtown: Thursday March 7th, 7PM-9PM; Eugene Cannatoro Senior Citizens Center
Nesconset: Tuesday, March 12th, 7PM-9PM; Great Hollow Middle School
Hauppauge: Tuesday, March 19th, 7PM-9PM; Hauppauge Pines Elementary School
St James: Wednesday, March 27th. 7PM-9PM; St James Elemetary School
Commack: Thursday, April 4th, 7PM-9PM; Commack High School Art Gallery
Kings Park: Thursday, April 11th, 7PM-9PM; Kings Park High School

For further information, call Smithtown Town Hall at 631-360-7512.

The site of the proposed community residence on Twixt Hills Road in St. James. Photo from Google Maps

By David Luces

Nearly 100 residents filled the Eugene A. Senior Citizen Center in Smithtown Feb.14 to discuss a proposed St. James group home on Twixt Hills Road. Previously, St. James residents raised concerns over the home, but the latest meeting saw a shift in the majority of residents speaking in favor of the proposed plans.

The St. James residence would be operated by Life’s WORC, a Garden City-based private nonprofit organization, to provide housing for six adults with developmental disabilities and autism. The organization currently runs a total of 41 group homes and rehabilitation programs in Nassau, Suffolk and Queens.

“If these were people of a different religion or race, we wouldn’t be having this hearing,” Joseph Winters, of St. James said. “It should be no different for people with disabilities.”

If these were people of a different religion or race, we wouldn’t be having this hearing.”

— Joseph Winters

Winters said his son Sean would be one of the  individuals who would reside at the proposed group home. He said it was upsetting that his family had to attend a hearing so his son can continue to live in the town where he grew up.

Mary Rafferty, chief operating officer at Life’s WORC, said over the past couple weeks she has spoken to about 36 neighbors who have reached out to the agency with questions and concerns, and who have voiced support for the group home. She said the nonprofit organization was formed by parents raising children with developmental disorders concerned for these individuals’ future.

Rafferty acknowledged that many of the concerns St. James residents shared with her  had to do with how the home would affect the block. She said the agency purchased the home with the understanding that it would need renovations and updates. The organization plans on doing exterior work on the home, including fencing the yard to match the neighboring property owner and a circular driveway to ease traffic and parking issues.

“I’m asking you to give us a chance to show how it can work when it’s done right,” she said. 

Mary Lu Heinz, of Nesconset, said she similarly related to Winters as a parent of a 21-year-old son with autism. As she and her husband near retirement age they are facing tough decisions she said, while displaying her son’s high school graduation photograph.

“We are contemplating our son’s life when we are gone,” Heinz said. “Where will he go?”

She said a home, like the proposed residence, provides living opportunities for her son and others like him.

The sole opposition of the group home at the Feb. 14 meeting came in the form of an email from the Damin Park Civic Association stating that the home could permanently alter the nature and character of the neighborhood, as well as significantly increase motor vehicle traffic. The association also said its concerns are in no way a reflection on those individuals with either a physical or a mental disabilities.

Life’s WORC purchased the home Jan. 9 for $575,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island’s website. The four-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom home boasts 2,857 square feet of living space and will have a residential manager and on-site staffing 24/7.

“[quote_left]“I’m asking you to give us a chance to show how it can work when it’s done right.”

— Mary Rafferty

Denise Walsh, an employee at Life’s WORC who oversees all staff training, said the agency’s philosophy for each person they support is “living with dignity and growing with pride.”

“Due to the Padavan Law, people with disabilities still have to advocate for inclusive —but you and I have free will on where we would like to live — without any opposition,” Walsh said. “Each of these young men are people first, and their disability comes second.”

Smithtown officials have 40 days to respond to Life’s WORC, or until Feb. 24, to raise any objections to the planned Twixt Hills group home, under New York State law. The main objection the town could argue is citing a saturation of group homes in the area, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

Will Flower, who has known the Winters family for many years, asked for people who oppose the home to open their hearts.

“In the end there are only three truths,” Flower said. “Fact is, is that every town has residents with special needs and the best communities are those that welcome and have homes for them. The second is that this home is needed now and third is that this project shows that the St. James community is a community that cares.”

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

By David Luces

The Town of Smithtown has received nearly $100,000 in grant funding it will use for critical infrastructural projects to improve the area’s water quality and revitalize downtown business districts.

Smithtown officials received notice at the end of December 2018 it received $97,375 from the Regional Economic Development Council of Long Island. The majority of the funding will be used for a stormwater management plan to protect Stony Brook Harbor and approximately one quarter will be used to further the town’s revitalization plans for St. James.

“”We’re excited to begin implementing these studies and we couldn’t be more grateful for the many ways this funding will benefit our residents.”

— Ed Wehrheim

The bulk of the grant,  $72,375, will be used to undertake a stormwater management feasibility study for the town-owned Cordwood Park off Harbor Road in Smithtown. Working together with the villages of Head of the Harbor and Nissequogue, the town looks to continue the preservation of the water quality in Stony Brook Harbor by creating and then implementing new stormwater and erosion control plans.   

Russell Barnett, the town’s environmental protection director, said stormwater runoff has always been a concern because of the high likelihood of contaminants in the water.

“Stormwater carries everything with it,” he said. “It’s important to protect the quality of water in the harbor.”

Barnett said Stony Brook Harbor is the cleanest harbor on the North Shore of Long Island and many people use it for boating, fishing and bird watching. As part of the study, he hopes to capture stormwater for testing, accurately map stormwater routes, improve drainage infrastructure and look to protect the natural river bed from further erosion.   

“This has been an issue for quite some time,” Barnett said. “We have the funds now to study the situation and hopefully fix the problem.”

This is an opportunity for residents to have voices heard on how they would want their communities to look like in the future.”

— Nicole Garguilo

The town also received a $25,000 grant for its St. James Visioning Study, whose aim is to economically and visually revitalize the business district and restore its place as a cultural and social hub of the community.

“We’re excited to begin implementing these studies and we couldn’t be more grateful for the many ways this funding will benefit our residents,” Supervisor Edward Wehrheim (R) said in a press release.

In conjunction with the visioning study, the town is making plans for community outreach that include input on the modernizing of town and hamlet zoning maps. The future plans intend to shape the physical, social, environmental and economic future of these communities.

Town spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said the Smithtown council members are looking for help from the community.

“This is an opportunity for residents to have voices heard on how they would want their communities to look like in the future,” Garguilo said. “This is their chance to have the ultimate say.”

In addition to these projects, the town hopes to organize community engagement meetings this spring where residents will be encouraged to voice their opinions on various topics including changing zoning, modernizing master plans for each hamlet and future town development.

A screenshot of the Town of Smithtown's website as it appeared Jan. 8.

By David Luces

Town of Smithtown officials are looking for input from the community on what they would like to see in a remodeled town website.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said in a statement that the redesign of the town’s website is long overdue.

“Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing,” Wehrheim said. “We hope this survey will give those who have suggestions or ideas the chance to share them with our web design team and later the community.”

Smithtown’s website was last updated eight years ago, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

Many residents have asked that our website be a little more modern, easier to use and visually appealing.” 

— Ed Wehrheim

“One of the primary things I’ve wanted to see get done was the remodeling of the town’s website,” she said. “I spoke with our IT director and he agreed with the plans to update the website.”

When it came to decide how the town would update the website, Garguilo said the town board considered a few options, including WordPress and other web-design services. However, it decided to stay with CivicPlus, a web development business that specializes in building city and county e-government communication systems that currently maintains the website.

“We have worked with them for quite some time,” she said. “They offered to upgrade our current web page and we thought it would be more efficient.”

As part of the remodeling, the town has put out a survey for residents to complete by Jan. 11.

Kenneth Burke, the town’s IT director,   said the main goal of the survey is to see what residents like and don’t like in a new website.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website,” Burke said.

The community survey consists of 10 questions that ask respondents to answer how frequently they visit the town’s website, the ease of finding information, what pages they visit the most often and what features they would like to see included in the redesign. There is also a section where residents can give written answers to any special needs they have regarding webpage browsing and suggested changes.

He estimated the redesign would be approximately a six-month project and hopes to roll out the new website in June.

“We want to address residents’ needs and kind of build a road map of how we are going redesign the website.”

—Kenneth Burke

The town has also reached out to local online groups, such as Smithtown Moms, to get their opinions on a new website. Once the final results of the survey come in, town employees will start data mining and compiling content for the new website.

Garguilo said the content creation side of the new website should take about four to five months to be completed because of back-end organizing, which includes record transfers and archival data. The new interface should take less time to be completed.

“We are working on a 30-second teaser video for the Town of Smithtown,” the town spokesperson said. “It will be like an about us video right off the bat when you get on the website.”

Garguilo said that the video will include  important facts and pictures of landmarks to showcase the town.

Another plan the town has is the creation of an app that can work in conjunction with the new website.

“Lets just say a resident wanted to report something — they can go to the app and fill out a form — and that’ll be sent right to our system,” Garguilo said. “This will lead to faster results and hopefully residents are happier.”

To participate, visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/SmithtownWebsiteRedesign through Jan. 11.

Town moves forward with design, engineering for Lake Avenue despite uncertainty of future site hookup

A plan for what Lake Avenue would look like post-revitalization. Photos from the Lake Avenue renovation capital project report, prepared by the Smithtown Planning Department

Town of Smithtown officials aren’t willing to risk wasting any time, so they are forging ahead with plans to sewer downtown St. James.

Smithtown town board voted unanimously Dec. 11 to issue a request for proposals for engineers to plan and design a sewer system for the Lake Avenue Business District this coming January. Three days later, the town hired Bohemia-based engineering firm P.W. Grosser Consulting to prepare the documents needed to do so.

We’re on a tight leash with the engineering for sewer projects to be ready to go in summer 2019.”

— Ed Wehrheim

“We’re on a tight leash with the engineering for sewer projects to be ready to go in summer 2019,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “If we waited another two weeks, we’d be pushing back our timeline.”

Town officials are hoping to have the plans and funding necessary to sewer Lake Avenue’s business district by next summer, which the $2.4 million replacement of St. James’ aging water mains is slated for, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. Replacement of the business district’s water mains has already been delayed once by the town with a desire to complete both infrastructural projects at the same time while the roads are ripped up.

“We are going to sewer because we are opening the ground already,” Garguilo said. “We don’t want to put residents through the inconvenience twice.”

Smithtown officials will need to have these design and engineering plans in hand and submitted, as well as other necessary documentation, in order to receive the $3.9 million grant from the State and Municipal Facilities Program, a nonspecific discretionary pot of funding for municipal assistance, announced by New York State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) in October.

“We don’t want to put residents through the inconvenience twice.”

— Nicole Garguilo

The town does not have any official agreement with developer Gyrodyne LLC, according to Garguilo, to access the sewage treatment facility it has proposed building as part of its plans for the Flowerfield property in St. James. The developer has proposed plans to construct a 150-room hotel with a restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings and a 220-unit assisted living complex. It is currently completing the final environmental review to present to the town’s planning board for approval.

“If we need to, we’ll find another sewer plant, hook into Kings Park or another pump station,” Garguilo said.

Many St. James business people and civic leaders have stated while they are excited by the prospect of sewers, they were also aware that construction, both the tearing and replacing of sidewalks and asphalt, could disrupt existing businesses. Wehrheim said the town could plan to doing the work in sections, separated by the connecting streets all the way down Lake Avenue.

“It’s going to be a huge disturbance, but we’re prepared for that,” the supervisor said.

Kerry Maher-Weisse, president of the Community Association of Greater St. James, previously stated the civic group believes the community will benefit more from construction.

The Town of Smithtown's Whisper the Bull statue as decorated for the 2017 holiday season shows the Happy Hanukkah sign that was destroyed. Photo from Corey Geske

Whisper the Bull has long been an iconic landmark in Smithtown, standing at the west entrance of town at the intersection of Routes 25 and 25A, but recently is gaining attention at the state level.

Smithtown resident Corey Geske announced the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has determined the Whisper the Bull statue is officially eligible for the New York State and National Register of Historic Places. Geske called on Town of Smithtown officials at their Dec. 11 meeting to sign off on and complete the application that could protect the statue for generations to come.

“I’m bullish on seeing downtown revitalized with historic preservation leading the way,” she said. “So, let’s get Whisper registered.”

I’m bullish on seeing downtown revitalized with historic preservation leading the way.” 

— Corey Geske

Geske said it was in 2017 she first proposed a three-part conceptual plan for revitalization of downtown Smithtown to elected officials. One key component was the creation of a historic corridor along Main Street/Route 25A starting at the western edge with the bull statue.

“It’s comparable to the Charging Bull on Wall Street, the famous sculpture that brings in tourists from around the world” she said. “We have something to be very proud of, it’s a world-class sculpture.”

The concept of creating a statue for Smithtown was first conceived in 1913 by town founder Richard Smythe’s descendant, Lawrence Smith Butler, while he attended the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. He asked a fellow student Charles Cary Rumsey for help, who came up with depicting the centuries-old legend of Smythe riding the town’s boundary on a bull to claim it.

Geske said she uncovered the sculpture’s history when drafting the nearly 80-page report in April to be submitted to the state for a determination on whether it was eligible to be named a historic place.

New York State’s Registry of Historic Places is an “official list of buildings, structures, districts, objects, and sites significant in the history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture of New York and the nation,” according to the state’s website. Four criteria considered by the state in evaluating the statue include: whether its associated with events that have made a significant contribution to history, associated with the life of a significant person, if it possesses high artistic value or yields information important to history.

The cement platform on which Whisper the Bull stands has a crack. Photo from Corey Geske

Geske said she received a letter in July from the state parks department that Whisper is eligible, but the Town of Smithtown must be the applicant as they are the official owner of the statue.

“We will be moving forward with the approval on that,” town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said. “Once it’s on the registry, we will be applying for grants to take better care of it.”

One immediate concern of both Geske and Smithtown’s elected official is a crack visible on the cement pedestal on which the 5-ton sculpture rests. It is visible immediately along “Smithtown” in the inscription and can be seen running from front to back of the platform. Garguilo said the town has plans to repair the base this upcoming spring under the direction of Joseph Arico, head of the town’s parks department.

“It’s our understanding any restrictions the historical register would require [to] be maintained pertain to the bull itself, not the base or anything around the base,” she said.

If Whisper the Bull is approved as a state historic place, Geske said it would be the first phase before applying to have it placed on the national registry. She hopes to follow up by seeking historic status for other Main Street buildings, including the 108-year-old Trinity AME Church on New York Avenue, the 105-year-old Resurrection Byzantine Catholic Church on Juniper Avenue and the 265-year-old Arthur House.

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