On the evening of Jan. 8, the Town of Smithtown held its first public hearing about the subdivision and development for the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property on Route 25A in St. James. The plan, however, has already had a notable impact on the community.
Prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, members of a vibrant local art community with studio space at Gyrodyne disbanded, leaving some artists searching for a new home.
Kevin McEvoy, president and art director for The Atelier at Flowerfield, resigned Jan. 2. The studio’s operations director, youth program coordinator, two administrators and four teachers also resigned, he said, walking out along with more than 93 students. McEvoy is seeking new space in other towns. He was unable to respond to request for comments for legal reasons but did not deny that the subdivision and development situation was a factor.
The Atelier trustee Barbara Beltrami, one of six trustees, said Monday’s classes were canceled, but the studio is still open for business. She expects operations to resume under a new director, when they find one.
“Some classes are still functioning,” she said. “People should check with The Atelier for further information by calling 631-250-9009.”
The Atelier website lacked information about the resignations. Its class schedule still lists McEvoy as instructor for 10 out of 21 classes in the winter schedule. Sources said that all but two teachers are gone.
Paul Lamb serves as chairman for The Atelier at Flowerfield. He also has been Gyrodyne’s chairman of the board since 1999. Lamb, a lawyer with an office in Melville, was traveling and did not respond to messages left with requests for comment about the subdivision plans impact on the art community.
Gary Fitlin, Gyrodyne’s CEO, president, CFO and treasurer, said in a phone interview the company is laying low until after the public hearings. He explained that the existing facilities will remain intact, when and if the project is ultimately approved by the town. Gyrodyne tenants, he said, will not be impacted by the subdivision development. The proposed 150-room hotel, two assisted living centers, two separate medical office parks and a new sewage treatment system, he said, will be located on the site’s undeveloped land.
“It is all very positive for our tenants,” he said. “The subdivision doesn’t impact them, its beneficial to our current tenants because it increases their opportunities.”
Sama Millwork, a fine quality handmade cabinet maker has been located at Gyrodyne for 28 years. John Sama said that he doesn’t expect any impact from the subdivision/development plans.
“I’ve been hearing about this for a decade,” he said. “I’ll likely be retired by the time it happens.”
Vinny Galanti owns Picante Tex Mex, a Mexican deli and food truck kitchen that’s been located on the site for the last year. He said more development could be good for his operation.
But for McEvoy and his following, doors have closed.
A native Long Islander, McEvoy was classically trained as an artist in the Charles Cecil studios in Florence, Italy. He opened the studio in the spring of 2016 with a vision to revive the classical drawing and painting techniques and traditions taught for centuries in Europe. In addition to offering instruction and hosting exhibitions of local, national and internationally renowned artists, he incorporated free art history lectures open to the community. The events typically drew large crowds. The studio recently renovated a portion of its space to create a library and café comprised of special collection of thousands of fine art books. McEvoy feverishly sketched in charcoal on the building’s cinder block walls the design he envisioned for the library space. Once the studio was gifted a collection of art books, construction was completed.
In previous interviews, McEvoy said that his hope for the library was to offer artists a space where they could share ideas and offer inspiration to each other. McEvoy also had architectural renderings created to convert the outdoor space surrounding the studio into a less industrial, more inviting garden space.
It’s unclear how The Atelier’s unique original mission and vision will change with new leadership.
The Atelier news comes at a time when the St. James community and its Celebrate St. James campaign is gearing up for revitalization by emphasizing the arts. Ironically, those plans hinge upon Gyrodyne’s development.
Since the project would require the construction of a new wastewater treatment facility, town officials have been expecting to use the new plant to serve the Lake Avenue business district.
“The town has had talks with the folks at Gyrodyne regarding their sewer treatment plant and the Lake Avenue business district, and they verbally indicated they would be willing to build their facility to accommodate Lake Avenue,” said Smithtown council member Tom Lohmann (R). “Additionally, the town received funding from Sen. [John] Flanagan [(R-East Northport)], $3.9 million, so we could install a sewer line when we start the Lake Avenue project, with the expectation we would be connecting to their plant.”
Representatives from Celebrate St. James, a group focused on the revival of the community’s art district, is also depending upon the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant.
“If we don’t connect, the town has to find a new location and get approvals from local, state agencies and health departments, which would take not months or years, it could take decades,” said its president, Natalie Weinstein.