By Phil Corso

It’s as literal as “not in my backyard” can get.

A zoning change request for half of a piece of property in St. James has residents worried that they will not only lose a buffer between their homes and nearby businesses, but also that they would see an unwanted increase in property taxes. A representative of Aldrich Management Co. LLC, of East Meadow, stood before the Smithtown Town Board at its March 17 meeting to make its case for changing the residential half of the property — located on the south side of 6th Street near Lake Avenue, close to Caligiuri’s Patio Pizza — to business zoning, but residents and some elected officials said it could do more bad than good for neighbors.

The other half of the property is already zoned for business, and the change would allow for a larger building and a parking lot to be built across the entire parcel.

“It seems to me that the property owner is being a hog,” Smithtown Supervisor Pat Vecchio (R) said of the proposal at a work session on Tuesday morning. “Why would we do that?”

David Flynn, Smithtown’s planning director, said the potential zoning change could result in a building roughly 900 square feet bigger than the current one on the property, if approved. At the end of the March 17 night meeting, Smithtown Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) asked Flynn to come up with alternatives that would allow the property owner more use within existing zoning rules. Flynn delivered his proposals to the board at Tuesday’s work session.

He recommended the town board rejects the proposal because it went against a board-approved plan decades ago that called for a roughly 50-foot buffer between businesses and homes already present at the site. But under the proposal, that buffer would be reduced to about 10 feet, Flynn said.

“It would impact the neighbors,” Flynn said Tuesday. “It isn’t in concert with the town’s plan. … The only benefit I could think of is that the building would be 20 percent bigger, and therefore the tax ratable would be more.”

The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski
The property sits just south of Lake Avenue in St. James, where a potential rezoning has residents wary. Photo by Alex Petroski

Vincent Trimarco, who represented the applicant at the March 17 meeting, said there were no set plans for any particular business to take the current structure’s place if the zoning change, which could include almost any commercial purpose, were to be approved.

“If it’s retail that is going to go there, the parking requirement would be one parking space for every 100 square feet of building area,” he said. “So, that would be a standalone parcel that right now has no parking and would probably enhance the ability for cars to park.”

But Sean Durham, who lives on Sixth Street, said the current setup results in cars parking on his residential road, making the potential of more parking daunting to neighbors.

“I’m a concerned neighbor,” he said. “You’re going to be adding parking; what’s going to be there, no idea. It’s already visibly shaken with the infrastructure there that can’t take it.”

His neighbor also stood up against the plan.

“It’s not about the parking, it’s about the increased traffic,” Anthony Martino said. “And No. 2, I don’t see how we can grant something when we don’t know what is going to be there. This gives them an open book. I don’t want an automotive garage there dumping oil and stuff right in my backyard.”

Beyond the parking woes, Martino also said he was concerned about the effect a bigger commercial building would have on his wallet.

“I pay $14,000 in property taxes and can’t go in the back part of my yard. The only savior was these little bit of trees that were going to be left. Now you’re going to have to put a septic in if it’s a commercial building,” Martino said. “It’s going to have be a bigger septic. It’s just more and more use of the property that it’s not [equipped] for. It’s not going to work in that corner.”

The Smithtown Planning Department recommended approval for the proposal, so long as the applicant preserved one large tree that stood in the back parking area of the property. Trimarco said he did not have an issue with such a proposal.

Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) suggested that the property owner works with the existing structure, a house, instead.

“That house could be fixed up and used,” she said. “This [proposal] just allows them to go bigger, which really is not in character with the area.”