By Leah Chiappino
A local civic group is protesting a proposal to develop an overlay district that would add apartments to the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.
Nesconset resident James Bouklas, the president of the civic group We Are Smithtown, is leading the efforts a couple of weeks before a public hearing.
Bouklas said the group started in 2017, as the Nesconset Civic Association, in order to advocate for residents.
“We looked around at what was going on in our hamlet and saw untethered development at all costs,” he said. “We also saw that sidewalks were in disrepair, intersections were treacherous, and people died, and we saw that we had a bunch of new buildings going up, yet there was no restraint. We began to advocate for what we felt was the right path forward for Nesconset.”
He added that as the organization grew, the members started to see that things that were happening in other hamlets affected the entire town as he feels they set precedent the town to support similar developments. The group has led protests against subdividing the Gyrodyne development in St. James, which would make room to build a hotel, medical offices and assisted living homes on the Flowerfield property. They also took a stand against the proposal to build a boutique hotel on the site of the Watermill catering hall in Smithtown. Subsequently, the group changed its name to We are Smithtown in January.
Bouklas said the latest proposal to build apartments in the industrial park is poorly timed with COVID-19.
“Instead of trying to make sure Smithtown families are fed, food banks are in stock, and residents have the resources that they need, the town is spending time trying to figure out how to get developers to profit for building what we think is going to be Co-op City in Smithtown,” he said, referencing the cooperative housing development in the Bronx.
“People moved out from Queens so they can have some space,” he said. “We didn’t sign up for density. If they wanted density, then they would move to Queens.”
Town of Smithtown spokesperson Nicole Garguilo said that the group is putting out “a tremendous amount of bad information.” She confirmed that the project is just a proposal and is not in development.
“This is a public hearing to create an overlay district at the park so the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge can evolve and sustain as the economic engine it has been for the state for the next 20 to 30 years,” she said.
Garguilo said that if the apartments are built, there would likely not be an increase in traffic during peak times as they are seeking to create a “walkable workforce community,” so residents can walk to jobs in the industrial park. She added the town traffic director believes that the weekend may cause an uptick in traffic, as “young professionals may choose to head to the beach, parks or other fun recreational activities.” However, the town believes it would be “primarily unnoticeable,” as weekends are usually quiet in the park.”
Bouklas said that he has doubts that the apartments will be affordable and worries the town will give tax breaks to the developers of the property.
“A lot of people are going to make a lot of money,” he said.
He said he has additional concerns that the development will overwhelm the school system, the police department and the fire department. Garguilo said apartments would not be targeted to families with school-aged children, but rather millennials looking to start their careers. The town hopes that this would attract high-tech businesses such as Google, Apple and Facebook, companies college graduates are looking for jobs at.
“[Young people] want to enjoy the start of their careers, put together savings for a future home in the town where they were raised,” she said. “In addition to affordable living — that’s not their parents’ basement apartment — they want to find the perfect career.”
The proposal came from a 2019 report conducted by James Lima Planning + Development strategists to grow the industrial park.
According to the report, the park already accounts for 8.2 percent of Long Island’s gross domestic product and houses more than 55,000 employees of 1,350 companies. Currently, it generates $65 million in property taxes.
The report suggested that “a residential component within the peripheral areas of the park would not only provide potential housing for Hauppauge’s workforce but would enable the park to retain vitality and dynamism that could go beyond business hours and into the weekends.” It listed Motor Parkway and the sections of Old Willets Path that lies between Engineer road and Motor Parkway.
A public hearing will be held via Zoom May 21 at 2 p.m. Visit www.smithtownny.gov for more information.