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Gillian Maser

Proposed site plan. Photo courtesy R+M Engineering

By Mallie Jane Kim

South Setauket may see three mega-warehouses with 77 loading stalls for tractor trailers, if a site plan by Northville Industries goes through. The petroleum storage and distribution company sent a letter to neighbors explaining the plan and inviting comment at a public meeting in the Centereach Holiday Inn Express set for Monday, March 25.

“This is an area that’s underserved for warehouse uses,” Northville’s lawyer Tim Shea said. “Most of the warehouses are by the freeway or on the South Shore.”

But that’s not the only plan on the table.

Shea indicated the company would also present the option of multifamily housing: “We had discussed the alternative of doing multifamily, and we plan to offer that alternative to the neighbors at that meeting.” 

Town board approval required

The property, bordered by Upper Sheep Pasture Road and Belle Mead Road, is zoned for industrial use, and that zoning would need to be changed to add an apartment complex or townhome community, for example. 

But that suggestion has already faced pushback at the town level.

Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) acknowledged Northville had approached him about rezoning for multifamily homes, something he is against. “I told them it’s not an appropriate site next to the gas tanks, and in the middle of this other neighborhood,” he said.

Shea contends any multifamily housing would meet setback requirements from the tanks, adding that he’s familiar with other areas of the country that have housing similarly situated near tanks like the ones in Setauket.

Kornreich, who deals closely with land use and zoning issues in his role on the town council, said he has seen developers in other situations use a “carrot and stick” method to rally community support: Asking for what they truly want but, in the face of resistance, offering something that might sound worse but is within their rights to build. Kornreich said he’d be curious to see if that is the strategy in this case. 

“Sometimes communities are given a false choice,” he said.

The potential “false choice” in this case is a proposed addition of a driveway onto Upper Sheep Pasture Road, where traffic is already tricky and not built for large trucks. At issue is a stipulation in a zoning lawsuit settlement from the 1990s, which contains a stipulation that, according to Shea, permits Northville to add a driveway north onto Sheep Pasture Road. According to Kornreich, the town’s legal department disagrees. 

In any case, Northville would still need town board approval. Kornreich said he would oppose a site plan if it includes that driveway, and he sees no reason his councilmember colleagues would break with him on this issue. 

“It would be extremely unlikely for them to override a decision in my district, especially over something as small as the position of a driveway,” he said, pointing to the respect among current board members.

Local reaction

George Hoffman, one of the Three Village Civic Association leaders who attended meetings between Kornreich and Northville, expressed grave concerns about adding that driveway on Upper Sheep Pasture. “It really jams up — it’s not a good corner,” Hoffman said. “This could be one of those last-mile warehouses where you have those trucks coming in and out, and the quality of life for people who live on those streets is really going to be impacted.”

Shea said Northville does not have a contract in place for use of the proposed warehouses, so it’s not decided who the final user would be and what the warehouses would be used for. 

He added that Northville sent its notification letter even more broadly than required by town code out of a desire to interact with the neighbors, and indicated the company has heard the concerns about a northern driveway. “When we did our traffic analysis,” he said, “it came out that having the entrance on Sheep Pasture Road would actually lessen the impact on traffic to the area, rather than pushing everything to Belle Mead Road.”

But Hoffman, who is also a water quality advocate and has raised concerns about Northville in the past, wishes the gas company would be more willing to work with community representatives, especially in light of its environmental record. In 1988, Northville revealed it had suffered a slow gas leak of about 1.2 million gallons of gasoline into the ground at the Setauket property, which, according to news articles at the time, led to years of remediation, $25 million in damages and repairs and a $7.2 million settlement with homeowners who said their property values had declined in the aftermath of the spill.

“They have a terrible environmental history,” Hoffman said. “Why do they want to be so confrontational to the community and to the town?”

For his part, Kornreich does not see a problem with new warehouses per se, as long as trucks are not funneled onto the residential Sheep Pasture Road. He said warehouses are within Northville’s industrial zoning rights, and they could help diversify the area’s economy while providing good-paying jobs. 

“You’ve got to have some industrial space around, and that’s the space for it,” Kornreich said. “You’re not cutting down trees, and it’s on land that’s not being used for anything else.”

Traffic disruption is only one of the concerns for nearby residents, though. Gillian Maser, who lives nearby on Upper Sheep Pasture Road and within sight distance of the large gas tanks, said she is also concerned about the environmental impact and noise pollution in a relatively quiet, family community. 

“I’m trying to stay as objective as possible, but there are definitely some red flags on this one,” Maser said. “With 77 tractor trailer bays, there could be a lot of noise in the middle of the night, with trucks loading and unloading.”

Maser said she and her husband are hoping to attend the March 25 meeting.