Officials broke ground Monday morning on a housing complex many hope will spur redevelopment in uptown Port Jefferson.
After four years of plans and approvals, developer Rail Realty LLC can get started on demolishing homes and buildings along Texaco Avenue to make way for 74 rental apartments, a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom. The Hills at Port Jefferson apartments will be constructed as two three-story buildings on several parcels along that street: One building will take the place of two vacant houses and the former Port Jeff Auto Spa car wash on the north half of Texaco, close to Sheep Pasture Road; while the other will be built in what is now a grassy field at the intersection with Linden Place. Resident parking will be underground, with a final parcel on the south side of Texaco and Linden, currently holding Stony Brook Electric Inc., to be used for additional parking.
“This is the beginning of a renaissance and a jumpstart to upper Port Jefferson,” Rail Realty principal Tony Gitto said at the groundbreaking ceremony, after digging into the earth at the grassy field.
The shovel work was followed up on the car wash property next door, where Mayor Margot Garant climbed into an excavator and took the first crack at taking apart the building there. Concrete crunched as she closed the vehicle’s claws over a corner of roof and ripped it away from the rest of the building.
“I can get used to this,” she shouted from the operator seat.
Garant said that the apartment project will be “so important” to upper Port revitalization efforts.
The village has been working to enhance that troubled area around Main Street between North Country Road/Sheep Pasture Road and the Long Island Rail Road tracks. An entire section of the village’s draft comprehensive plan is devoted to upper Port, with recommendations geared toward improving quality of life, making it more pedestrian-friendly and attracting developers and visitors.
Rail Realty got final village approval on its project last year. Under the conditions of that approval, the developer will make improvements to a pocket park near the apartments and improve traffic flow in the area by redesigning the intersection of Main Street and Sheep Pasture Road.
The housing complex will be constructed in phases, with the first phase being the northern apartment building, the second being the other building, and the third being the parking area across Linden Place.
The Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency gave financial assistance to Rail Realty on the project, including sales tax exemptions on construction items, a mortgage tax exemption and a 10-year property tax abatement through which the owner will pay taxes on roughly the current value of the site, as opposed to the increased value of the property once work is complete.
The IDA aims to boost the economy within Brookhaven Town by assisting businesses in locating or expanding in the area.
IDA Chairman Fred Braun said Monday, “Cleaning up a semi-blighted area is the first step,” and Long Island needs rentals both in the area of Stony Brook University and elsewhere.