Government

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The building at 116 West Broadway was once used by the SCWA and by a bank. Photo by Kyle Barr

The Port Jefferson ferry owners have big plans for Port Jeff, which could include removing and replacing existing structures along West Broadway, and potentially, at the ferry dock itself.

Fred Hall, the vice president and general manager for the Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Steamboat Company, said the company’s intent is to demolish an existing structure owned by the company at 116 West Broadway and install a new, two-story structure where they would move their offices. 

Site plans for the new ferry company office building at 116 West Broadway. Photo by Kyle Barr

Their current offices, right next to the ferry dock, would remain for the time being, but the eventual plans, Hall said, are to demolish them as well. 

That building on West Broadway, which the company bought in December 2018, has sat vacant for a number of years, it once housed a well by the Suffolk County Water Authority, and had previously been a bank. Hall said they asked their architects if any part of the structure could be preserved. According to planning board documents, architects said the base could not support a second story.

“As much as we wanted to preserve that building, we asked our architects and they said virtually all of it needs to come down,” Hall said.

Currently, the ferry company is seeking permits for demolition, which it expects in a matter of weeks, and will start on the building’s removal. 

The new building will stand at 36 feet and 9 inches tall. The village code sets the standards for such buildings at 30 feet, and the company is currently seeking a variance on the building’s height, which should come up in a public hearing at the village’s planning board of appeals Feb. 27 meeting. The building plans show an accounting center, call center and multiple offices.

Documents from the village Building and Planning Department show members from the planning board at the Dec. 23 meeting requested a handicap lift be added instead of a ramp for the front gate and their preferences to break up the “flat, planar aspect of the facade,” by possibly adding recessed entrances and other elements. The next planning board meeting is set for March 12.

While plans for a new office are underway, the ferry manager said the larger issue is trying to reconfigure the pier area to add more space for vehicles and pedestrians.

With offices moved out the way, Hall said removing the existing building next to the ferry terminal will also allow for what he called a “separation of vehicles and walk-on traffic.” Currently, pedestrians offload from the stern of the ferry, but have to walk across the street along Broadway to get access to Port Jefferson. The company has plans for jetways, like what’s usually seen in an airport when boarding a plane, for people to exit or enter the ferry. 

Removing the building, he added, would allow line of sight to the harbor from Main Street. 

The ferry building has been a fixture in Port Jefferson for more than 70 years, having once been a restaurant called The Ferry House, but that aspect of the site closed in 1985, according to Hall. The current building is “cobbled together” of three separate buildings.

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By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

While the beginning of the year is typically tax season, it is important to remember that property tax exemptions can be applied for at this time. There are different programs that homeowners should be aware of in order to potentially save with respect to property taxes. 

Most individuals are familiar with the STAR program, which is the New York State School Tax Relief Program. Another program that people may not be as familiar with is the exemption for persons with disabilities. New York State offers local governments and school districts the ability to opt into a grant reduction on the amount of property taxes paid by qualifying persons with disabilities.

The eligibility requirements for this exemption is based on the individual’s disability, income, residency and ownership. For the disability component, the individual must demonstrate a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits the person’s ability to engage in one or more major life activity (e.g., walking, hearing, breathing, working). The applicant must submit proof of disability via an award letter from the Social Security Administration, an award letter from the Railroad Retirement Board, a certificate from the State Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, an award letter from the U.S. Postal Service or an award letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 

If the disability is not permanent, the applicant will be required to certify the disability each year. For the residency requirement, the property must be the “legal residence” of the disabled person and currently occupied by the disabled person. There is an exception for absence due to medical treatment. For the ownership requirement, all property owners must be disabled. The only two exceptions are for spouse- or sibling-owned property. In those cases, only one owner needs to be disabled.

With respect to the income eligibility, the basic exemption is a 50 percent reduction in the assessed value of the legal residence. New York State allows each county, city, town, village or school district to set the maximum annual income limit at any figure between $3,000.00 and $29,000.00. If the disabled person makes between $29,000.00 and $37,399.99, the localities can give a less than 50 percent exemption based on a sliding scale. Proof of income of the most recent tax year is required to be submitted with the application. 

All income sources are countable except Social Security Income (SSI), Foster Grandparent Program Grant monies, welfare payments, inheritances, return of capital and reparation payments received by Holocaust survivors. Certain medical expenses can be used to offset gross income. For example, medical and prescription drug expenses that are not reimbursed or paid by insurance may be deducted from total income. 

Additionally, if the owner is an inpatient in a residential health care facility, the monies paid by the owner, spouse or co-owner will not be considered income in determining the exemption eligibility. Each municipality may be more generous with the exception than others.

Finally, even if all requirements are met, if there are children living in the home and attending public school, the disabled owner is typically not eligible for the exemption. This can be waived by the school district under specific circumstances.

New York State sets out broad eligibility requirements that each municipality can narrow down. It is important to find out the exact requirements for your specific municipality to determine if you qualify for the exemption. The exemption for persons with disability can offer a substantial relief for those who qualify.

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Stony Brook and Smithtown residents are concerned about future traffic problems if developments like Gyrodyne's proposed plans and others are completed. File photo by Jonathan Kornreich

One county committee’s hope to analyze the impact of development along a local road has been dashed for the time being.

At its Feb. 11 general meeting, the Suffolk County Legislature tabled a resolution to study a segment of road in the vicinity of the Smithtown and Brookhaven border.

The resolution, introduced by county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), would allow the county to analyze the Route 25A corridor in St. James and Stony Brook to determine the regional impacts associated with proposed and planned development projects in this area. It would also identify vacant and preserved parcels as well as existing zoning, amongst other criteria.

The county’s Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee recently passed the resolution, 5-1, with only county Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) voting against it.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist.”

— Rob Trotta

In the vicinity, the proposed development of Gyrodyne, also known as Flowerfield, which would include a hotel, assisted living, offices and sewage treatment plant, has drawn criticism from residents and elected officials in both Smithtown and Brookhaven. While the property sits in Smithtown, many have expressed concerns that additional traffic will impact Stony Brook, and the sewage treatment plant would have a repercussions on local waterways. Other properties with proposed and rumored development have also been cited as concerns.

Trotta, before the Feb. 11 general meeting, said he voted “no” in the committee because while he would like to see preservation of open spaces in the area, he said there is not much the county can do. In the case of Gyrodyne, the property is already zoned for light industrial use.

“I don’t disagree with the bill, but I’m a realist,” he said.

Trotta, as well as opposers of the resolution who commented at the Feb. 11 meeting, said Gyrodyne will only be developing 25 acres of their 75 acres and there will be a 200-foot buffer of trees and shrubs. The property is already partially developed with rental space.

Hauppauge-based lawyer Timothy Shea criticized the resolution and said larger projects in Yaphank and Ronkonkoma have not undergone the same scrutiny from the county as the Gyrodyne project. The lawyer said when representing the developers of Stony Brook Square, which is being completed across from the train station on Route 25A, he faced similar opposition.

“The resolution here is designed to wrest control of the Gyrodyne process from the Town of Smithtown,” he said. “The catalyst is the Stony Brook community. They are a very well educated, well-organized community.”

Natalie Weinstein, president of Celebrate St. James, said the sewage plant on the property would help with the revitalization of Lake Avenue. She said there have been a number of government and private studies that have been conducted regarding the roadway, adding the proposed Route 25A analysis would be a waste of money which could be better spent on a traffic circle at Stony Brook Road or to hire experts in street light timing. 

Speaking of Gyrodyne’s plans to include a buffer, Weinstein said, “The plan is actually a beautiful use of space from a design point of view.” 

Cindy Smith, who heads up United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development, spoke in favor of the corridor study that she hopes will take a cohesive look at both sides of the road.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent.”

— Cindy Smith

She said in 2017 the county’s Planning Commission’s superficial review for the Gyrodyne proposal allowed the project to move forward without a traffic study.

“If they had actually done their homework back then they would know that 25A is already over capacity and the major north-south road, which is Stony Brook Road, is over capacity by 60 percent,” Smith said.

George Hoffman, 2nd vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, also spoke in favor of the bill and said there needs to be a balance between smart development and preservation.

“I think it would be helpful to planners,” he said. “It’s not to stop Gyrodyne. It’s just to get a good picture of what’s going on there, and that information will help planners in Smithtown and in Brookhaven make the right choices for the community.”

In a phone interview Feb. 12, Hahn said she was disappointed that the resolution was tabled.

She said when it comes to Gyrodyne she disagrees that the 200-foot buffer would be beneficial. She said it will not block the view of what they want to build. Hahn added that the study is not only about Gyrodyne but also proposed and rumored projects.

She added when heading east on the 25A corridor, the familiar locations around Gyrodyne and BB & GG Farm in St. James make you feel like “you’re home.”

“It’s so bucolic,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It holds a special place in my heart. Just the sense of place it establishes with those open vistas. I would just hate to lose that because it’s on both sides of 25A.”

She said she is concerned that there hasn’t been an adequate traffic study or consideration of a regional sewage plant, adding the amount of nitrogen that travels into the Long Island Sound has to be looked at carefully.

Hahn indicated she is not opposed to revitalization in St. James, but she said there needs to be a longer discussion of a sewage treatment plant and to look at a central location that would be more beneficial to other areas in Smithtown.

“I think there’s a bigger plan that should happen for that so that we’re not talking piecemeal with just one downtown getting what they want,” she said. “There could be something on a larger scale that would benefit multiple communities, multiple business districts and protect our water.”

The resolution will be on the agenda for the county Legislature’s March 3 general meeting which will be held in Riverhead.

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A Town of Huntington official resigned over an alleged “vulgar” email sent to other staff members about another employee. This comes after board members questioned his two-week suspension last week.

The office of Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) confirmed that Public Safety Director Peter Sammis resigned from his position Feb. 10 in the middle of a two-week unpaid suspension.

In a Feb. 4 statement, Councilwoman Joan Cergol (D) said she was contacted by members of the press who asked her to comment on “inappropriate and unacceptable behavior of a town department head.”

She said she was informed by a journalist that a department head sent an email to two male employees Nov. 26, 2019. The email, from his town account, contained “vulgar and sexual reference about a female town employee.”

“The town supervisor and town attorney subsequently confirmed the information was accurate but could do little to assuage my outrage over having learned about it in this manner and failed to provide satisfactory answers as to the many questions I have over its handling and eventual questionable disciplinary action,” she said.

In a statement last week, Lupinacci said the town could not comment on personnel matters.

“The town’s policy regarding not commenting on personnel matters is one that is very important and in place to respect the interests of all parties involved in any particular situation,” he said. “As a result, we intend to continue to honor that policy and not discuss the specifics of the matter referred to in recent media reports. That being said, we believe it is important to note that the matter at issue came to the town’s attention through its normal oversight procedures and not through a complaint from any employee. The matter was addressed with the employee involved in a manner consistent with town practice.”

In her statement last week, Cergol said she expected answers to various questions including why, as a Town Board member, she wasn’t notified of the incident and why wasn’t the department head suspended immediately after the discovery of the November email. She also questioned whether the employee’s email account was reviewed to see if there were any other emails that violated the town’s email policy.

“The manner in which this incident was handled, its lack of transparency and apparent departure from Town of Huntington protocol demand further investigation and satisfactory answers to the Town Board,” Cergol said at the end of the statement.

After Sammis’ resignation, Lupinacci said in a statement that the town takes such incidents “very seriously” and provides “mandatory training for all employees to address and help prevent these types of situations.”

“The employee was dealt with harshly, immediately, and in a manner consistent with the advice of our director of personnel and outside labor counsel, who also advised that the Town Board’s involvement in disciplinary action was not warranted,” he said. “I would remind my colleagues that outing the alleged subject of the email, and not respecting her privacy, was completely inappropriate and initiated the victimization of this employee, who was not aware of this incident before town officials ran to the press with it, which is exactly the reason why it is our policy not to comment on personnel matters.”

On Feb. 12, state Sen. Jim Gaughran’s (D-Northport) office announced in an email he would introduce state legislation “that will strengthen reporting requirements for sexual harassment complaints and violations of the Human Rights Law.”

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Work proposed for the end of this year will eliminate the access ramp from 25A onto Nicolls Road from eastbound Route 25A. Photo from Google Maps

Due to consistent resident complaints, Suffolk County is planning to start work on easing traffic concerns on the northern part of Nicolls Road sometime by the end of the year. The planning has been several years in the making.

A recurrent issue for travelers on Nicolls Road has been drivers weaving quickly to the left lane when coming from eastbound Route 25A to make a left onto Lower Sheep Pasture Road.

William Hillman, Suffolk County Department of Public Works chief engineer, attended the Feb. 3 Three Village Civic Association meeting to discuss changes planned for the county road.

“It’s a relatively simple project,” he said. “Vehicles traveling eastbound to go south on Nicolls Road — many of them weave across to make the left on Lower Sheep Pasture Road. Simultaneously, someone who has made a left from 25A, quite often there’s conflicts there. We’re looking to eliminate that.”

He said the slip ramp on Route 25A approaching Nicolls will be removed, bringing a right-turn lane up to the signal. The only time the right-turn lane will stop is when the left-turn lane on the westbound side has the green arrow.

“About 80 percent of the cycle is green for this movement, so it’s only 20 percent that it would be stopped,” Hillman said. “From a capacity standpoint, it will have very little effect.”

The chief engineer said while Route 25A is a state highway, the county received a permit to remove the access ramp due to it causing problems on the county road.

Daniel Dresch, assistant chief engineer, said the lane will be about 450 feet long. When asked if a study was done regarding traffic on Route 25A, he said it wasn’t undertaken due to it being a state road, and instead the county focused on remedying the problems on Nicolls.

“It’s well outside of the scope of what we can do,” Dresch said.

However, the county has conducted a study of the area at Nicolls Road, Hillman said. During the morning peak hour, between 8 and 9 a.m., about 600 cars make the right from 25A. In the same hour, approximately 130 vehicles then make a left onto Lower Sheep Pasture Road.

Civic members asked what may happen to pedestrian crossings.

Hillman said the changes will improve pedestrian safety due to the county eliminating the slip ramp. Suffolk will also construct sidewalks from the north entrance of Stony Brook University up to 25A on the west side of Nicolls and a sidewalk on the east side as well.

Members also questioned Hillman and Dresch about bicyclists. Hillman believes the removal of the slip will help cyclists heading eastbound on 25A due to not having the conflict with drivers making a right before the light.

Those in attendance also used the opportunity to ask about possible plantings in the median, and if the civic association could help. Hillman said while community members can’t legally work on medians and islands, which are considered part of the road, members can sponsor landscaping work on the spaces.

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By Lisa Scott

The new year brought the optimism of lengthening days, even as the undeniable effects of climate change frighten and yet drive the desire to “do something.” 

Nationally, January brought the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. stopping us to think about his legacy, inspiring yet so unfulfilled more than 50 years after his death. The legions of civil rights workers, volunteers, freedom riders, protesters and women and men of all faiths, colors and origins knew that past and present wrongs could be exposed through demonstrations and civil disobedience, and then made right by law. 

And 100 years ago, after many decades of struggle, women finally won the right to vote in the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet the United States was born out of compromise and states’ rights, leading to today’s patterns, in many states, of voter suppression eroding the democracy we had strengthened for nearly 250 years. 

Yes, all women and men 18 and over have the constitutional right to vote. But in practice many eligible individuals don’t register, or don’t exercise their right to vote, or have that right taken away if they’ve been convicted of felonies, or are arbitrarily removed for the voting rolls, or they are gerrymandered to limit the value of their vote, etc. 

Yet voting this year, 2020, is critical; for president, for all members of the House of Representatives, and for one-third of senators. In a polarized and cacophonous political climate, what can be done to ensure a fully participatory democracy?

Meet Lisa M. La Corte, a resident of Riverhead township, who wanted to honor King as an icon for civil rights and voter engagement, and honor the suffragists and all people who risked and gave all for the right to vote in a free election. The League of Women Voters learned about someone who was riding the Patchogue-Riverhead Suffolk bus in the afternoons in January, getting passengers to register to vote. We invited her to a recent board meeting, and heard her story.

La Corte boarded the bus at the beginning of its weekday route, introduced herself to the driver, and when everyone had boarded she stood at the front and made a public announcement, introducing herself. She said she was there to help register voters and hear riders’ concerns of poor transportation for underserved communities as well as other issues. She stressed the importance of the passengers’ having their voices heard through the vote. She then walked from the front to the back asking each person individually if they were registered and if not (but eligible) she would register them then and there. 

Most passengers are shy or skeptical but La Corte perseveres. When speaking with riders who do not want to register, she reminds them that “what they want for you to not do is vote” and reminds them by staying out of the democratic process elected officials can ignore or minimize their needs and concerns. Their voices are not heard and their community exerts no pressure for change.

The challenge for someone working with communities of color, in her view, is that black and brown people have no trust in any level of government or the process in general because they have been left behind so many times. Poor people feel that they don’t count no matter what they do, resulting in a sense of hopelessness. Our fractured communities are separated by a chasm of real-life experiences; why should they participate in a system that ignores or mistreats them? Why is authority not being held accountable? Why are black and brown people incarcerated on a hugely disproportionate basis, breaking up families and communities? 

La Corte engages with all riders, whether or not they register to vote. She listens to their stories and challenges and hopes to build trust and commitment to the vote. As she said to the league, “I would love a movement that would transcend what I could ever imagine. I am but one person with ideas that hopes to inspire others. Like James Baldwin said, ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until its faced’.”  

What are you doing to ensure access to the vote for all our fellow citizens, educate them on the issues, and reestablish trust in our civic institutions and government?

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.

Mariano Rivera made an appearance at Brookhaven Town Hall Jan. 16 in support of his proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by David Luces

Yankees National Baseball Hall of Fame closer Mariano Rivera was known throughout his professional career for his knack of nailing down tough victories. On Jan. 16, baseball’s all-time career saves leader added another victory to his business career when he won approval of a zoning change from the Brookhaven Town Board for a proposed Honda dealership in Port Jefferson Station.

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station, we’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.” 

– Mariano Rivera

The dealership on Route 112, dubbed Mariano Rivera Honda, could open later this year if the town Planning Board approves a site plan. The Town Board voted 7-0 to rezone parts of the 8.1-acre property to allow expansion of an existing building and construction of a new one. The Planning Board has yet to set a date to hear Rivera’s plan. 

“It feels great to be able to be a part of Port Jefferson Station,” Rivera said after the vote. “We’re excited to make new friends, be able to help others and do the right thing for this community.”

Don King, the Kings Park-based lawyer representing Rivera, said the business will be a good fit in the community 

“They love him, the excitement is there — I had one guy tell me he wants to buy a car in [Yankee] pinstripes,” he said. 

The Hall of Fame pitcher met with the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association last May to discuss the project. While the civic submitted a letter to the town with no complaints, Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said there were a few suggestions that would help the site fit better into the area. 

“The [sales and service] building was originally 55,000 square feet and we reduced down to 35,000,” King said. “The neighbors asked if we could do something smaller and we would if we got permission from Honda — and we did.”

Rivera’s plan also calls for expanding an existing 6,425-square-foot auxiliary building by more than 30 percent and increasing the parking lot’s capacity to hold over 350 vehicles. The dealership would be built at an existing car dealer site at 1435 Route 112, between Jefferson and Washington avenues.

King said they don’t have a date yet of when the dealership could open but said it comes down to a number of things like designs tweaks and how soon the Planning Board can review the site plans. Once these are approved and necessary permits are obtained, construction will start. 

After the hearing, Rivera interacted with Yankees fans and residents who came out to Town Hall in Farmingville. He posed for pictures and signed autographs for a number of Brookhaven officials. 

“This man has the golden touch,” Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) said after the hearing concluded. 

 

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By Nancer Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

The new Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, effective Jan. 1, 2020, is the broadest piece of retirement legislation passed in 13 years. The law focuses on retirement planning in three areas: modifying required minimum distribution (RMD) rules for retirement plans, expanding retirement plan access and increasing lifetime income options in retirement plans. This article will focus on the modifications to the RMD rules and their effects on inherited individual retirement accounts. 

Before the SECURE Act, if you had money in a traditional IRA and were retired, you were required to start making withdrawals at age 70½. But for people who have not reached age 70½ by the end of 2019, the SECURE Act pushes RMD start date to age 72. By delaying the RMD start date, the SECURE Act gives your IRAs and 401(k)s additional time to grow without required distributions and the resulting income taxes.

Since RMDs will not start until age 72, the new law will give you an additional two years to do what are known as Roth IRA conversions without having to worry about the impact of required distributions. With a Roth IRA, unlike a traditional IRA, withdrawals are income tax-free if you meet certain requirements and there are no RMDs during your lifetime. The general goal of a Roth conversion is to convert taxable money in an IRA into a Roth IRA at lower tax rates today than you expect to pay in the future.

The SECURE Act also removed the so-called “stretch” provisions for beneficiaries of IRAs. In the past, if an IRA was left to a beneficiary, that person could stretch out the RMDs over his or her life expectancy, essentially “stretching” out the tax benefits of the retirement account. But with the SECURE Act, most IRA beneficiaries will now have to distribute their entire IRA account within 10 years of the year of death of the owner. 

There are, however, exceptions to the 10-year rule for the following beneficiaries: surviving spouse, children under the age of majority, disabled, chronically ill and an individual not more than 10 years younger than employee. 

The SECURE Act means it is now very important to review the beneficiary designations of your retirement accounts. You want to make sure they align with the new beneficiary rules. Prior to the SECURE Act, a spousal rollover was generally the best practice to preserve the IRA. For many with large retirement accounts, it may now be better to begin distributing the IRA earlier in order to minimize exposure to higher tax brackets. It may also be beneficial to name multiple beneficiaries on an IRA to spread the distributions to more taxpayers, so the 10-year rule has less of an impact on the beneficiary’s income tax bracket. 

Prior to the SECURE Act, many people used trusts as beneficiaries of retirement accounts with a “see-through” feature that let the beneficiary stretch out the tax benefits of the inherited IRA account. The benefit of the trust was to help manage the inherited IRA and to provide protection from creditors. 

However, many of these trusts provided the beneficiary with access to only the RMD. With the new rule that all money must be taken out within 10 years, these trusts no longer have the same effect and could be troublesome, requiring that significantly more money be distributed to the beneficiary annually than initially intended. In addition, the trust funds would likely be exhausted after 10 years rather than providing funds to the beneficiary over his or her remaining life expectancy. 

Anyone with a trust as the beneficiary of an IRA should immediately review the trust language with an experienced estate planning attorney to see if it still aligns with his or her intended goals. 

If you are not sure what the new SECURE Act means for your retirement account, you should also contact an experienced estate planning attorney to review your beneficiary designations. 

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

Community members and public officials gather in Smithtown for a public hearing on the development of the Flowerfield/Gyrodyne property in St. James. Photo by David Luces

Residents of both Brookhaven and Smithtown spoke during a Jan. 8 public hearing about the impact of the proposed development of the 75-acre Flowerfield/Gyrodyne site on Route 25A in St. James. While opinions varied, one thing was certain: The project will be the largest development the area has seen in quite some time. 

The proposal seeks to subdivide the land into nine lots, keeping existing businesses and a catering hall while adding a 150-room hotel with a restaurant, two assisted living centers, two medical office parks and a 7-acre sewage treatment plant.

During the hearing, Gyrodyne representatives said they are taking a sustainable approach and have come up with multiple alternatives to the original plan that balance out potential impacts to the surrounding communities. 

Kevin McAndrew, a partner at Cameron Engineering, a Woodbury-based firm hired by Gyrodyne, discussed the potential benefits of the project. 

“The project would bring in significant economic benefits — generate over $3.5 million dollars, bring in high quality jobs and no increase to [area] school enrollment,” he said. 

McAndrew said the firm has acknowledged traffic concerns in the area. The proposed plans, he said, such as the assisted living center, would contribute minimal traffic congestion during peak commute hours. The developer pointed out the inclusion of walking trails, bike lanes, green infrastructure and a potential sewage treatment plant at the site, which representatives said could be used for sewering for downtown St. James. 

Despite what they heard from the presentation, many speakers and civic leaders said they were not convinced, including officials from Brookhaven, Suffolk County and New York State. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation.”

– Ed Romaine  

Ed Romaine (R), Brookhaven supervisor, said the project would impact the communities of Brookhaven in a devastating way. 

“This 75-arce project will undoubtedly be the largest development in the Smithtown/Brookhaven area for the next generation,” Romaine said. 

Romaine and others complained that Brookhaven is being left out of the planning process and their concerns are not being addressed. As the site is just outside their borders, it would impact their roads, particularly Stony Brook Road. 

“I submitted extensive comments on the scope of the project, to this date I haven’t been contacted about any of these concerns,” the supervisor said. “25A is over carry capacity and we are going to add more? I have concerns about Setauket Harbor and water quality as well as this sewage treatment plant.” 

Maria Hoffman, press secretary read a statement from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket):

“Shortcomings of this DEIS include the project’s impact on Stony Brook Harbor, will the onsite [treatment] plant become a regional sewer district? What type of sewer system will be purchased and installed, and will it remove nitrate? These meaningful unanswered questions need to be answered and resolved before the project is allowed [to move forward].”

Stony Brook resident Curt Croley said he’s worried about the project’s impact on property values. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that this proposal is opportunistic based on available land,” he said. “I can’t help but wonder if there’s been enough diligence about the sewage treatment plant, the runoff and all the potential impacts that are so close to all these municipalities.”

Joy Cirigliano, chapter president of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, expressed concerns about the nearby harbor and other waterways.

“We already have water quality issues in Stony Brook Harbor and Smithtown Bay with Ecoli and hypoxia, adding more nitrogen to the harbor is significant,” she said. The applicant must analyze these impacts and the repercussions before proceeding with the plan.”

Artists, such as Kevin McEvoy, who had a thriving studio on the Flowerfield site, have already left. The atelier now has limited operations at Gyrodyne. 

 “The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

– Natalie Weinstein

Some Smithtown residents welcomed the project, because the St. James business district on Lake Avenue could tap into the project’s proposed sewage treatment plant. 

Natalie Weinstein of Celebrate St. James stressed the importance of the potential project and how it would finally allow for the revitalization of Lake Avenue as a cultural art district. 

“The development of that property will only enhance us and allow us to grow,” she said. “[St. James] will become the microcosm of small-town life we yearn to be again.” 

Following the public hearing and end of the public comment input later this month, the Smithtown Planning Board will await submission of a final environmental impact statement in preparation for a vote on the Gyrodyne applications. 

TBR News Media has previously reported that Smithtown has already received $3.9 million from Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), so it can connect the Lake Avenue business district in St. James to the Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant. 

 

Nissequogue River State Park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psych Center. Photo by Donna Deddy

A piece of legislation that would have begun the process of creating a master plan for the Nissequogue River State Park was vetoed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Jan. 1, putting the future development of the park up in the air. 

“The park described in this bill is the subject  of  recent  litigation against  the  park’s office  and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Cuomo stated. “In light of the fact  that  the  litigation  addresses  an environmental review conducted by the State related to uses in this very park, it would be inappropriate to sign this legislation.”

The park, located on the grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, has been a popular destination for area residents who enjoy hiking, jogging, bird-watching and accessing the local waterways via its marina. But many of the site’s derelict buildings prevent the place from being truly enjoyable. Many people find the old institution creepy. 

New York State lawmakers passed a bipartisan bill in June sponsored by Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) that would have required state parks officials to begin a master plan for the park. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

– John McQuaid

The introduction of a master plan would have included input from residents, state agencies and other stakeholders. It would also include assessing park resources, outlining future goals/cost of development and allowing the demolition of a number of dilapidated buildings on the grounds. 

John McQuaid, president of the Nissequogue River State Park Foundation, said he was disappointed to hear of the governor’s decision. 

“If there is any park that is in need of a master plan it is Nissequogue River State Park,” he said. “The pieces are already in place and were working toward that.”

McQuaid admitted that he believes the veto may have been political, stemming from the foundation’s decision to sue the state park’s office and Department of Environmental Conservation over the siting of a DEC Division of Marines Resources building in the park. 

Smithtown, state and local officials including County Executive Steve Bellone (D) attended a rally Dec. 20 in support of the proposed project.  

According to Smithtown and county officials, the state project is expected to be an economic boost that would bring  in approximately 500 construction jobs, 100 permanent positions, plus the added year-round police presence in the state park. 

“We have never been against a DEC building on the property,” McQuaid said. “But we were against the location of the building, if we had the master plan process we could avoid this, everyone would have their say and input.”

The proposed site of the building would be in close proximity to the park’s marina. McQuaid deemed the location “inappropriate.”  

State officials who helped sponsor the master plan legislation were left confused about Cuomo’s decision.  

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan. It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

– Steve Englebright

“I am both shocked and disappointed by this action and feel like our community deserves better,” Flanagan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew Cuomo decided to veto this legislation instead of joining us in protecting our community, our environment and our way of life.”

Since 2006, Flanagan said his office worked with former Gov. George Pataki (R) to ensure the land is protected by halting the sale of land to developers, adding additional land to the park system. In addition, they secured over $31 million in state funding and worked with local leaders to ensure continued efforts to preserve and remediate the property.

Flanagan said he stands ready to work with all interested parties to see if they can reach an agreeable compromise on this important issue. 

“I continue to be optimistic that we can work out a solution, and will return to Albany in January ready to work to find an amicable solution that protects the residents of Kings Park,” he said. 

Englebright offered similar sentiments and was hopeful lawmakers would revisit this issue. 

“The veto made no sense, there is an obvious need for a master plan,” he said. “It feels like the state has walked away from the property.”

McQuaid echoed the state officials’ thoughts saying the foundation is anxious to sit down with the parks office and state officials so they come to some type of agreement. 

Previously, there had been discussions about repurposing park land for a sports field, a concert area and a community center.