Smithtown is moving ahead with plans to beautify its downtowns, this time with St. James.
The town board voted May 9 to amend the 2017 capital projects plan and budget to add a $2 million reconstruction to enhance the St. James business
The project, adopted in a 3-2 vote, will renovate approximately 4,300 feet of Lake Avenue, from Moriches Road to Woodlawn Avenue, by restoring its sidewalks and putting in new street trees, street lighting, curbs, concrete gutters and crosswalks, driveway aprons, asphalt, driveway aprons, benches and other decorative amenities.
The project, spearheaded by Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) in collaboration with the traffic, engineering, highway and planning departments, aims to make Lake Avenue the focal point of the St. James community, improve business activity in the downtown area, and encourage private investment in adjacent properties.
“It’s about time we step up to the plate, swing the bat, and make St. James Village and all our other villages the light of Suffolk County,” McCarthy said to the board during the work session Tuesday morning. “We have the best budget of all towns in the county and some of the most affluent people in the county … and I think we have to lead the way for the community to fix our infrastructure that’s aged and decrepit and if we don’t, then shame on us.”
According to Town Planning Director David Flynn, Lake Avenue was last reconstructed with a crown and base and street trees, concrete curbs, sidewalks and gutters in the 1930s. The work done at the time served the hamlet well for many years but new surfacing is desperately needed today, Flynn explained to the board.
“The sidewalks in St. James today would be rated the lowest in terms of walkability, smoothness, and crookedness, and the trees have been cropped severely by utilities to the point where they are more like weeds,” Flynn said. “The vacancy rate in the business district has increased the past few years and our approach is to bring downtown back to what it was, add amenities, put some trees back, rebuild what’s there … restore the pavement and make the pedestrian environment better, safe and more attractive.”
To further improve the aesthetic of the streetscape, according to the project proposal, the species and locations of street trees will be selected based on overhead wires, underground utilities and other urban conditions.
When asked by Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) why St. James should be the first of the hamlets to be worked on, as opposed to Kings Park and Smithtown, Flynn said it is the only one not sitting on a state highway, so state approval wouldn’t be necessary. The state of repair is also better in other hamlets, he added.
Nowick said during the work session she was in agreement with the project.
“We need to take care of our downtowns, whether it’s Smithtown or Kings Park or St. James,” she said. “There is no foot traffic in St. James … it’s a little sad.”
According to Superintendent of Highways Robert Murphy (R), renovations to Lake Avenue will begin as soon as possible, in coordination with schools and local businesses.
The cost estimate total of $1,994,836.60 — for asphalt, concrete, trees, amenities, surveying, drainage and lighting — will come out of the town’s general fund balance and will not be bonded.
“It’s a great project and we’re moving in the right direction,” McCarthy said.
During the vote, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R), McCarthy and Nowick said yes. Councilman Ed Wehrheim (R) and Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R), saying they support the project but request it be tabled for a couple weeks, voted no. The two opposed said they wanted more time to review the plan in its entirety.