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The Flowerfield Fairgrounds in St. James. File photo by Heidi Sutton
By Samantha Rutt

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation recently advised the Town of Smithtown of its consideration to acquire Flowerfield Fairgrounds, a St. James community staple. Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim (R) has stated no objection to NYSDEC acquiring the property.

Community residents strongly feel the importance of protecting this rural area from overdevelopment. The potential state acquisition signifies a breakthrough in the longstanding controversy over a proposal for sprawling commercial development on-site.

“This is a huge step forward in the fight to preserve Flowerfield Fairgrounds for future generations,” Judith Ogden, a Village of Head of the Harbor trustee and spokesperson for the Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said in a statement.

NYSDEC proposed using the Environmental Protection Fund to obtain the property. 

“New York State is committed to the conservation and protection of the state’s natural resources and recognizes the significant conservation values of the Gyrodyne property,” a NYSDEC official said. “The Environmental Protection Fund is one of the sources used to acquire lands identified as conservation priorities in the New York State Open Space Plan.” 

The Flowerfield property would then be used for open space preservation and conservation, potentially including active-use recreation amenities such as biking and walking trails.

“I am certainly happy about this development,” said Joe Bollhofer, also a member of the coalition. “We’ve been working on this for almost three years now.”

If not acquired by NYSDEC, the property has been proposed to facilitate a multistory, 125-room hotel, 175,000 square feet of office space, 250 assisted living housing units, a 7-acre sewage treatment plant and parking for more than 2,000 vehicles. 

The development plan was initially proposed by St. James-based Gyrodyne, a real estate investment trust firm that owns, leases and manages commercial properties along the Eastern Seaboard.

The state’s interest in preserving the land comes from discussions between NYSDEC, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and the Peconic Land Trust.

“The state has a tremendous interest in what happens to Stony Brook Harbor,” Englebright said. “The state owns 90% of the bottom” of Stony Brook Harbor.

“The water chemistry of the harbor is pristine right now, or nearly, so it will not be if they build what they have proposed for the Flowerfield property,” Englebright added. “It’s really a matter of protecting the state’s interest and the community’s interest.”

Interactions between the state and town regarding state efforts to preserve the open space portion of the site occurred several months after the Town of Smithtown rejected a controversial proposal to develop a congregate-care facility on nearby Bull Run Farm, citing the desire to protect the area’s rural character.

“Part of comprehensive planning in a community is thinking about how you’re going to develop space so that it works and you protect the integrity of the community,” Ogden said. “So if we look at that area, we don’t need to add more traffic volumes.”

The agreement between the state and town comes as the legal challenge brought upon by the Village of Head of the Harbor and nearby property owners opposing preliminary approval of the controversial plan remains tied up in the state Supreme Court. “Unfortunately, there are other issues involved here — environmental, et cetera,” Bollhofer noted.

Local residents have contributed generously to fund the coalition’s lawsuit to block Gyrodyne’s development plans from moving forward. In a press release in April 2021, Gyrodyne announced that it planned to sell the property and would consider offers for portions of the property or the entire site.

“There’s a lot of water under the bridge here,” Bollhofer said. “And we’re finally having some kind of movement from the state,” adding, “We don’t know if there’ll be other organizations that are going to be involved in helping to manage the property if it is purchased. But there are 48 acres, there’s still open space. … That’s really what we’re concentrating on right now.”

According to a recent statement by a NYSDEC representative, “The DEC has been involved in preliminary discussions with stakeholders regarding the property’s future conservation.”

By Chris Mellides

[email protected]

Concerned local property owners were joined by members of Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition and other representatives to block the planned subdivision by Gyrodyne to repurpose the 63-acre Flowerfield site. A legal challenge was filed April 26 to overturn the March 30 preliminary subdivision approval by the Town of Smithtown Planning Board.

The application proposal from Gyrodyne included a multistory 125-room hotel along with 250 assisted living housing units, 175,000 square feet of office space, parking to accommodate over 2,000 cars and a 7-acre sewage plant. 

Among those who spoke at Tuesday’s press conference on the corner of Mills Pond Road and Route 25A outside of Flowerfield were local attorney Joseph Bollhofer; Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook); legal counselor E. Christopher Murray; and Judy Ogden, Head of the Harbor village trustee and neighborhood preservation coalition spokesperson. 

“Our lawsuit has been filed and the decision to file this litigation against the Smithtown government was not made lightly,” Bollhofer said. “Like many of you, I love this town. I grew up here, my wife was born in St. James. In the 1970s, I did my Eagle Scout project for the benefit of the people in this town.”

Bollhofer went on to say that the “Smithtown government is doing a very good job” yet its handling of the Gyrodyne application has been bungled. “It’s been our hope that we are able to preserve this property,” he added. “We’ve been doing our best to get the people involved with this to come together to try and find a way to get the money to pay Gyrodyne fair compensation for this open space.”

Representing Three Village Civic Association was Herb Mones. “Smithtown has to go back and review its determinations on this property,” he said, while also saying that in the opinion of many in the civic association, the Town of Smithtown did not pay close enough attention to the law that required them to “carefully review what the buildout would mean to the surrounding community.”

Living just 600 feet up the road from Flowerfield, Ogden spoke on behalf of residents in the communities of both St. James and Head of the Harbor. Together, Ogden said community members have been speaking publicly against the Gyrodyne subdivision application for the past two years.

“We’ve been speaking at public forums, at Zoom meetings, writing letters and sending emails at every opportunity that has been provided to express our concerns with the proposed Gyrodyne megadevelopment,” she said. “But no matter what we say or how many people show up, our voices have been ignored.”

For more than a year, opponents to the subdivision application have said that the environmental impacts of changes Gyrodyne made to its original plan after the initial environmental review was completed have not been evaluated and “did not comply with state law,” according to a press release issued on the day of the event.

“The role of government is to show leadership, which represents all people of the community and follows a comprehensive plan steering development in the right direction, while preserving and enhancing the nature of our community and natural resources,” said Ogden.

Local citizens are concerned that a proposed sewage plant on the Gyrodyne property in St. James will negatively affect local waterways. Photo by Chrissy Swain

The Town of Smithtown’s Planning Board voted unanimously March 30 to give Gyrodyne preliminary subdivision approval for its property located on Route 25A in St. James.

Before the company receives final subdivision approval from town officials, which would then allow development on the property, it must secure approvals from Suffolk County Department of Health Services and Department of Public Works, New York State Department of Transportation and final subdivision map approval from Smithtown, according to a press release from Gyrodyne. 

The pending approvals require the company to provide additional engineering analysis due to a proposed sewage treatment plant, traffic changes on local roads, storm drainage and more on the property known as Flowerfield.

The March 30 Planning Board vote came after nearly two-and-a-half hours of testimony from Smithtown residents as well as Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard and Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) during a Zoom public hearing. Many have been against the proposed development of the 75-acre parcel.

Opponents have cited concerns about the possibility of excessive traffic on Route 25A, the proposed sewage plant dumping sewage effluent into Stony Brook Harbor and have criticized the town’s environmental review, calling it flawed. In addition to local criticism of the current proposed plan, the community advocacy group St. James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition has suggested an alternative plan and are planning to file a lawsuit, which could delay the current process.

Gyrodyne plans to divide its land into lots that can be used for, in addition to a sewage plant, a hotel, assisted living facility and medical offices. There are currently no prospective buyers.

Joseph Bollhofer, a lawyer and chair of the Head of the Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals, spoke during the Zoom hearing. He said in addition to traffic and environmental concerns that could occur due to development on the Gyrodyne parcel, he is also worried about other properties in the vicinity of Flowerfield that could be developed and the any buildout of Stony Brook University Research and Development Park.

“All of these properties essentially are contiguous with Gyrodyne’s parcel right in the middle,” he said. “Gyrodyne’s application cannot and should not be evaluated as if these other properties and their likely development will not impact traffic or other issues.”

He and others have said the environmental impact statement conflicts with the town’s draft master plan, citing that the plan calls to enhance the historic, cultural and architectural character of Smithtown. The plan also calls for development in existing downtown areas and heavily traveled highway corridors. Many residents have said the Route 25A property does not meet those requirements. According to a town zone study, the hamlet of St. James has only 1.6% of open space and the rest of Smithtown has an average of 18%, which opponents say is an additional reason the development goes against the draft master plan.

Bollhofer said that a few people have been working for more than two years to create a plan where Gyrodyne would be compensated for the parcel and development would be avoided, and it has received support from state and county elected officials.

“I urge town officials with authority to join with those state and county officials, and private parties who are also interested in this, and concentrate their efforts on finding the money to compensate Gyrodyne for its property and make what I consider to be the only logical solution of reality — preservation of the open space,” Bollhofer said.

Dahlgard said during the public hearing that Gyrodyne being zoned for industrial use is wrong and the Village of Head of the Harbor will be affected negatively as the company is liquidated.

“The town as the lead agency on this application has the responsibility to protect our community’s character,” he said. “We asked the members of the Planning Board to be open minded on this issue, follow the town’s draft master plan that promotes retaining open space and maintaining the character of a community. I speak to you as a neighbor, as a resident of both the Town of Smithtown and the Village of Head of the Harbor.”

Matthew Aracich, president of the Building and Trades Council of Nassau & Suffolk Counties, spoke in favor of the proposed subdivision. He said the council represents 65,000 members, with many of them living in St. James and Smithtown. Aracich said the proposed development represents hundreds of jobs in the future that will provide not only salaries but pensions and health care.

He added senior housing is important on Long Island as the available units in Suffolk and Nassau counties are insufficient.

“We want to keep people who have lived here their whole life and want to continue to live here to see their grandchildren and their children,” he said. “We have to make sure projects like these are both sustainable and able to be built.” 

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said there are many people in his town “who are adamantly opposed to this development.”

He said one of the main concerns is that Route 25A and Stony Brook Road cannot handle any more traffic. While he agrees in some ways with Aracich, he said development is not fitting for the particular area.

“Not every square inch of Suffolk County needs to be developed, and this is one area that doesn’t need to be developed to the maximum,” Romaine said.

The Brookhaven supervisor said that he agreed with many Smithtown residents that the proposed development goes against the town’s draft master plan, and he feels the traffic and environmental impact reviews have been insufficient.

He added 300 feet from the property is the Stony Brook Historic District and therefore Brookhaven resources will be used by those traveling to and from the development, and Stony Brook Harbor would be in jeopardy due to the sewage treatment plant.

Natalie Weinstein, a St. James business owner since 1985 and resident since 1973, said in earlier years the town’s administration wasn’t open to progress but the new one since 2017 has been. Weinstein added that no matter how residents feel about the plan, they all love St. James.

“I think that we all are looking at it from a different vantage point,” she said. “I, as a business owner and someone who has been actively involved in creating change in the Lake Avenue historic business district, sees the value of things that occur that are well controlled and well documented.”

Nicole Garguilo, Smithtown public information officer, said in a phone interview, that it’s important to remember the plan is conceptual in order to determine the possible impacts if the property was developed. The preliminary subdivision application approval is just the beginning of the process as no development is approved or pending at this time.

Once a lot is bought, the owners will also be required to go through the land use process, which will include presenting site plans and going through the environmental process.

She added it could be up to six months for Gyrodyne to file its final application with the town.

Updated April 6 to reflect comments from public hearing.

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Saint James – Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition has proposed an alternative plan for the Gyrodyne property. Image from Saint James – Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition

By Judy Ogden

Now that there is a broadly-supported alternative plan to allow reasonable development at the Gyrodyne site in St. James while preserving Flowerfield Fairgrounds for use by the community, it is critically important for elected officials to make sure  that this common-sense plan is implemented, which will be a win-win for the community and Gyrodyne, and will avoid years of uncertainty and litigation.

It should come as no surprise that support has grown very quickly for the Compromise Plan. It has been clear from the outset that Gyrodyne’s plan for a hotel, 250 assisted living units and 175,000 square feet of medical offices on the last remaining open space in St. James is simply too much development for the site and would completely destroy the character of the community and overwhelm the surrounding roads. 

But with intelligent planning, there is no reason why we can’t have reasonable development of the Gyrodyne site while also preserving Flowerfield Fairgrounds. That is why a diverse group of stakeholders including Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) and state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) have expressed support for an alternative plan that would cluster development on part of the 75-acre property while preserving the Flowerfield Fairgrounds portion  for passive recreation and community events. 

Head of the Harbor trustees have pointed out repeatedly that Gyrodyne’s massive proposal is in direct conflict with key recommendations contained in the Town’s new Draft Comprehensive Plan. A key finding of the Draft Comprehensive Plan is that the St. James community severely lacks open space compared to other areas of  Smithtown. Under the new Compromise Plan, the Fairgrounds would become a new open space and made available for events such as the car shows that are already held there and other community events, addressing  the need identified in the Town’s Plan. 

Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard has called for the property to be preserved in its entirety as a park. If that turns out not to be possible, however, there is still a way to preserve much of the property while allowing reasonable development that would have less of an impact on the environment and the community. 

Now there is a realistic solution to the problem that can benefit all parties, including Gyrodyne. But that solution can only be successful if Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and members of the Town Board exercise strong leadership by joining other elected officials who are already supporting the Compromise Plan.  

The beauty of the Gyrodyne Compromise Plan is that it would require relatively minor changes to Gyrodyne’s subdivision proposal but would address many of the community’s most serious concerns, avoiding the possibility  of costly litigation that could tie the property up for years. Our elected officials need to hear from the community regarding the importance of the Gyrodyne Compromise Plan and work hard to see it to fruition. There are  several ways to let your voice be heard. 

First, the Town of Smithtown Planning Board will meet via Zoom at 6 p.m. on March 30 to consider preliminary approval of the original Gyrodyne subdivision. The meeting is open to the public and a great opportunity to urge the Planning Board not to approve Gyrodyne’s subdivision plan and support the new Compromise Plan instead. The meeting link can be found on the town’s website, smithtownny.gov. 

Residents can also directly e-mail the supervisor and members of the Town Board and urge them to show leadership by working to support the Gyrodyne Compromise Plan. For more information, go to stjameshohnpc.org.

Judy Ogden is a Head of the Harbor trustee and founding member of  Saint James – Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition. 

Cindy Smith, left, at a press conference in 2021 helped organize efforts against Gyrodyne’s development in St. James. In the above photo she is flanked by allies in the Stop Gyrodyne movement, Judy Ogden of Save Flowerfield and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. Photo from Warren Strugatch

Cindy M. Smith, a Stony Brook resident who helped organize community efforts against Gyrodyne’s development efforts in St. James, died Tuesday, Feb.15, in Manhattan. She was 61 and had leukemia.

Cindy Smith at the New York Botanical Garden. Photo from Warren Strugatch

A steadfast supporter of the arts, a dedicated environmentalist, and a proud advocate of the North Fork’s cultural heritage, Smith became a civic activist in order to protect the community’s quality of life, said her husband and business partner, Warren Strugatch.

“Cindy linked the Flowerfield project with increased traffic congestion,” Strugatch said. “The more she looked into the planning, the more she believed there was no planning. She hated politicians building a sewage treatment plant over Stony Brook Harbor and no one stopping them.”

To help civic leaders speak in a unified voice, Smith organized the Greater Stony Brook Action coalition in 2017. “The coalition came out of our conversations about Jane Jacobs and how she confronted Robert Moses in the 1960s,” said Strugatch. “Cindy enrolled eight civic organizations in the new coalition. Eight isn’t a huge number, but 30,000 is. That’s how many residents were enrolled in the civics, collectively. Now, politicians had to listen.”

Smith spoke exhaustively about how the planned development would snarl traffic up and down the North Shore. “Cindy understood that medical facilities are the worst traffic generators you can imagine,” said Strugatch. “Thousands of people come in and out at all hours. Cindy pressed the fact that traffic would be at perpetual standstill.”

Smith also researched sewage runoff, toxic sewage effluent, emergency vehicle access, and damage to historical continuity and quality of life.

“Cindy didn’t think the project was good for either Brookhaven or Smithtown,” said Strugatch. “She felt public opinion would turn when people learned the truth. That’s exactly what happened.”

James Bouklas, president of We Are Smithtown, said: “Stony Brook and Smithtown residents have lost a tough fighter and a true friend. She worked tirelessly to sound the alarm about how our water, traffic, and quality of life are in danger.” 

Friends and allies describe Smith as a big supporter of the arts, which she often called an economic driver. While confronting Gyrodyne over its development plans, she applauded the company’s support for onsite arts programs such as the Atelier studio and the Brick ceramics studio. She was a regular at studio openings, often leaving with spur-of-the-moment purchases.

“Cindy and I became friends after running into each other at community art exhibitions, concerts and gallery openings,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. “Cindy was passionate about the arts and recognized the positive impact local artists have on enriching our community, our cultural experience and unique sense of place.”

Born in Smithtown in 1960, Smith was the daughter of Lawrence Smith Sr, who owned auto restoration shops, and Patricia (Slattery) Smith, a homemaker who eventually worked in the home mortgage industry. She and her younger brother Larry distributed Pennysavers after school in various neighborhoods, earning money their parents put toward college tuition. 

Cindy Smith on her wedding day. Photo from Warren Strugatch

As a girl, Cindy attended Sweetbriar Elementary School and  Avenue Junior High School. She graduated from newly constructed Smithtown West in 1979. Throughout high school she volunteered at the Smithtown Public Library and other community programs.

As an undergrad, Smith attended Hofstra University where she studied marketing and communications. She interned at the Smithtown News under editor Vicky Katz, who later taught at Stony Brook University. “Everything she knew about communications, she attributed to Vicky,” Strugatch said.

After graduating Hofstra, she took the first of a series of small company marketing jobs. Blockbuster Entertainment hired her in 1985 as Northeast marketing director. Her experience promoting the 50th anniversary videocassette release of “The Wizard of Oz” provided her favorite career story.

Responsible for getting major media coverage of the anniversary release, Smith led a tour of midtown Manhattan for several actors who’d played Munchkins in the film. At nearly six feet tall, Smith towered over her charges. The appearance at Carnegie Deli produced major media coverage.

When Blockbuster’s growth slowed down, Smith was hired by the EGC Group, a marketing and advertising firm. As a vice president she handled accounts of Brother International, Häagen-Dazs, the International Flower Bulb Center, the Long Island Aquarium, and the Oyster Festival. “Everything I do is about customer experience,” she once said.

After EGC, Smith partnered with her husband, Warren Strugatch, creating a consulting organization called Inflection Point Associates. The company helped clients improve efficiency, increase sales and profitability, and create scalable growth solutions. The company also provided event management and marketing services to clients across the Northeast. 

In recent years, Smith served as vice president of Select Long Island, a pro bono effort to raise Long Island’s stature among corporate location advisors. She helped organize a groundbreaking economic development meeting bringing together Long Island’s top economic development officials in April 2019.

Smith purchased a rambling home in Stony Brook 20 years ago and, with her father’s assistance, converted the purchased house into a residential showplace photographed by décor magazines. She and her husband hosted many small gatherings of local artists, musicians, and arts administrators. Many featured Smith’s extensive collection of Christopher Radko holiday ornaments and 11-foot Christmas trees.

Ned Puchner, executive director of Gallery North in Setauket, recalled how Smith “helped welcome me and my family into this community. She made me feel supported as both the new director and as a person trying to find his place” here.

In addition to Strugatch, Smith is survived by her brother Larry, an industrial executive; his wife, Dawn Smith, and their daughters, Lauryn and Kathryn.

Another cultural leader, Neil Watson, executive director of the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook, described Smith as a familiar face at openings and educational programs. “Cindy was a person full of grace and deep humanity,” he said. “She had a sense of caring and knowing that shined through.  She was also whip-smart. We have lost a wonderful part of this arts community.”

Hospitalized in late September, Smith received treatment for leukemia at NewYork-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medicine’s oncology program. Her husband said he held her hand just before she died, unquestionably seeing the grace of God in her forgiving face — three times. Hours later, she died as her husband retold her Munchkins-in-Manhattan story to a trio of visiting doctors.

“I got to the end, and she breathed her last,” Strugatch said. “She finally went over the rainbow. Cindy always had exquisite timing.”

Cindy M. Smith was buried Saturday, Feb. 19, and services were held at Branch Funeral Home in Smithtown. In addition to friends and family members, speakers included state Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn.

Cindy will be remembered for dedicated service preserving our community’s quality of life,” said Englebright. “She was a great civic leader. The work she did to hold the line on overdevelopment means a lot.”

Strugatch said: “Cindy was a very gentle soul and an extraordinarily kind person. But she was a firebrand when it came to defending her community.”

Stock photo

The St. James Fire Department Engine Company No. 1 will hold its 2nd annual St. James Community Holiday Gift & Toy Drive-Thru on Saturday, December 4 at Gyrodyne/Flowerfield in St. James from noon to 4 p.m.  Visitors will enter via the entrance on Route 25A.  Donations of an unwrapped toy or gift card are requested.

This year, multiple St. James organizations are collaborating on the event. The organizations are as follows:

St. James Fire Department Engine Co. 1

Celebrate St. James

Troop 7 Boy Scouts

Smithtown High School East Leadership

Smithtown High School East Chamber Choir

Veterans Recovery Coalition

St. James Girl Scouts Troop

St. James Civic Association

Smithtown Food Pantry


Live holiday music will be performed by John Zollo, lead singer of The Dedications, as well as performances by the Smithtown High School East Chamber Choir.

Santa will make an appearance on a Fire Engine with a mailbox handy for children to drop off their letters. All donations will be distributed by the Smithtown Township Emergency Food Pantry to families and children in the community.

Toy donations can also be dropped off at TD Bank, 621 Lake Avenue, St. James, during business hours. Gift cards can be mailed to: St. James Holiday Gift & Toy Drive, c/o Celebrate St. James, 459 Lake Avenue, St. James, NY  11780. In the event of bad weather, the event will be held on Sunday, December 5th.

For more information, call (631) 584-5799.

Map shows the original conceptual plans of developing the Gyrodyne /Flowerfield property in St. James. Image from Suffolk County

By Warren Strugatch

Economic development sounds good. In fact, it sounds great. Reasonable people will tolerate immense inconvenience resulting in financial betterment — for their community and for themselves. Unfortunately, the $150 million megadevelopment planned for Flowerfield, Gyrodyne’s approximately 70-acre campus along 25A in St. James, is to true economic development what a wolf is to sheep’s clothing: a mis-planned, ecologically tone-deaf cover for self-serving overdevelopment.

Jim Lennon Photographer
175-H2 Commerce Drive Hauppauge NY

When the Town of Smithtown made Gyrodyne’s subdivision application public, its details — the 150-room hotel, the 250-unit assisted living facility, and — most ominously — a 100,000-gallon-a-day sewage treatment plant sited above a vulnerable watershed — earned the immediate ire of prominent environmentalists and civic activists. Opponents vastly outnumbered supporters at the one public forum the town held, in late 2019.

Supporters, following the staunch, pro-business lead of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), touted the project as an engine of economic growth. When plans for the subdivision were unveiled, the supervisor lauded the proposed sewer plant as a solution to perhaps the town’s most pressing economic problem, its lack of commercial sewer treatment services. Wehrheim promised to speak with Gyrodyne officials about providing sewage treatment services to the Lake Avenue business district. His remark forged a connection between wastewater treatment access for business and Gyrodyne gaining permission to build.

As a dry sewer line was installed under Lake Avenue, the supervisor’s theme was echoed approvingly by chamber presidents, business district champions and labor leaders. It certainly sounded good. Who could possibly object?

That argument, however, has been thoroughly debunked. Early this year Gyrodyne acknowledged in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it could not provide treatment services to Lake Avenue businesses nor anyone else not located on its premises. The town, however, has yet to acknowledge this reality. Many residents are still not aware that allowing Gyrodyne permission to build will not mean sewer treatment access.

Local business and labor leaders, along with town officials, continue to make the economic development argument, refocusing on job creation for residents and tax-base expansion. These are canards as well. In fact, few full-time jobs will be created. Construction jobs will be temporary and cannot by law be restricted to Smithtown residents. Most permanent jobs will be relatively low-paying hourly work in the service sector, such as housekeeping posts and positions as health care attendants. Creating high-paying jobs in industry clusters — the key definition of economic development — is not in the cards.   

As for expanding the tax base, that too is problematic. About 20 years ago, Stony Brook University — Flowerfield’s immediate neighbor to the east — acquired about three-quarters of the property through eminent domain. The moment the property was annexed by the state, it fell off the tax roll, costing the Town of Brookhaven a fortune in lost revenues. As for the prospect of the university acquiring Flowerfield’s remaining acreage, Gyrodyne has acknowledged in papers filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it’s sought to make the property more appealing to the university. The company has not ruled out the university purchasing what it left behind on the Smithtown side of the town line in 2005, similarly removing it from the tax roll.

Since the megadevelopment was proposed, opponents have documented how this project has run roughshod over environment safeguards, ignored the planning profession’s best practices, and disregarded community quality of life. In contrast, supporters have cited economic arguments, suggesting we grant developers the benefit of the doubt.

Sound economic development is indeed a strong advantage. Given the transformational nature of this project, and its planning history, can any community afford to be that trusting?

Warren Strugatch is president of Select Long Island, an economic development advisory organization.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn speaks at a May 13 press conference while George Hoffman and Herb Mones from the Three Village Civic Association and Judith Ogden, spokesperson for Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, look on. Photo by Rita J. Egan

On a bright spring day May 13, community advocates were joined by a Suffolk legislator in St. James to shine some light on one county commission’s procedures.

At the Suffolk County Planning Commission’s May 5 meeting, the commission members reviewed revisions to a proposal to subdivide the 75-acre Flowerfield property in St. James owned by Gyrodyne LLC for development. Despite residents from Brookhaven and Head of the Harbor, which is a village in the Town of Smithtown, submitting letters and speaking during the public session, remarks from people in those areas were discarded according to the committee’s guidelines.

The county commission ultimately didn’t pass the resolution, 5-4, and the decision goes back to Smithtown’s Planning Board without a recommendation from the county.

Suffolk County legislator and deputy presiding officer, Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and community advocates called for reforms at the May 13 press conference.

Hahn exploring options

“As chair of the Legislature’s Economic Development, Planning and Housing committee, I was deeply disappointed in the planning that has been on display during the review of this proposed project,” Hahn said. “I am exploring options as to what can be done legislatively to fix the key problem identified during the Gyrodyne planning debacle.”

Hahn said she believes conditions need to be broadened so neighboring municipalities can object to a project being reviewed. She also suggested that the distance from 500 feet of a proposed development should be changed regarding those whose comments could be considered.

“I would imagine there could be a size and scope scale that would be maybe up to a 2-mile radius of important projects,” she said. “If I can run it in less than a couple of minutes, you can travel in the car in a split second, and it will impact neighboring communities.”

She added that rules need to be changed as far as public participation, which she said may involve a change to state law.

“Right now, my understanding is that only paperwork from the referring municipalities can be considered, and this is ridiculous,” the legislator said. “I am calling for a full review of the rules to maximize community input, and opportunity for neighboring municipalities to have their concerns addressed for the benefit of the planning process.”

Community groups speak out

George Hoffman, president of the Three Village Civic Association, said people made the effort to speak to the commissioners at the meeting only to find that their concerns were disregarded.

“We just couldn’t believe the rules they claimed bound them to discount everything that the public said during the hearing,” Hoffman said.

He added concerns range from the failure to consider the county’s new subwatershed plan; whether the proposed sewage treatment plant would release nitrogen into Stony Brook Harbor; and traffic increases on the Route 25A corridor that both towns share.

Hoffman called it a bad day in Suffolk planning and that concerns from Brookhaven and Head of the Harbor should have been considered.

Judith Ogden, Head of the Harbor trustee and spokesperson for the Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said she lives right down the street from the proposed development. Ogden was one of the people who wrote a letter to the town Planning Board stating Head of the Harbor’s concerns about the proposed development, which it feels doesn’t fit Smithtown’s current development plan.

“I’m currently standing in the historic district, Mills Pond Historic District,” she said. “My property is included in part of that and part of the Gyrodyne application, one-third of it, is in the historic district, and it includes putting a hotel and parking lot in the historic district.”

Cindy Smith, of United Communities Against Gyrodyne, said when she was in high school in 1976 she worked on a project asking residents what they wanted to see in their town. She said community members listed more parks and open spaces, more arts and culture that families could participate in. On the top of the list, they wanted residents to be heard by their elected officials.

“Flash forward to today and what happened last week at the Suffolk County Planning Commission, right up front, we were told, your voices would not be heard,” she said.

Herb Mones, head of the Three Village Civic Association land committee, said it felt as if they were told to sit down and shut up, and when a project is so vital such as Gyrodyne, he said he feels all concerns should be considered.

“You would think everyone would want to hear the voices of concern about the specifics as to how it impacts the community — not Suffolk County Planning Commission,” he said.

James Bouklas, president of We Are Smithtown said the various concerns need to be heard by Suffolk planning.

“That means a collaborative process where town officials, residents and civic leaders, environmental groups and others are brought to the table with developers to make sure proposals are vetted through a citizens advisory board — as part of the commission’s process — and that means real public hearings that have real impacts on projects and not kangaroo courts where the fix is in before the hearing even starts,” he said.

Current plan changes

Recently, Gyrodyne’s plans were changed to include the preservation of slightly more than 15 acres to be a separate lot, and a proposed sewage treatment plant to be on a separate lot of more than 7 acres instead of on the open space lot. While a proposed medical building will take up more square feet, and there will be an increase of units for an assisted living building, the revised plan also includes a reduction of rooms in a hotel structure.

Gyrodyne has also eliminated from the plan a proposed 150-seat restaurant, a foot day spa and a 500-seat conference center for the hotel from the plan. Instead, the hotel will include a 133-seat, 4,000-square-foot multipurpose room.

'Low Tide' (Stony Brook Harbor) by Gerard Romano

It is most unfortunate that state Assemblyman Steve Englebright [D-Setauket] has elected to mischaracterize and misrepresent the environmental facts in his effort to stop the proposed development on the Gyrodyne property (Aug. 6, 2020 op-ed, “The Gyrodyne Project Threatens Stony Brook Harbor”).

John D. Cameron

What Englebright has failed to recognize is the significant reduction in nitrogen loadings to Stony Brook Harbor that will be accomplished by not only hooking up all the existing as well as new buildings on the Gyrodyne property but also the construction of a new state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment plant that will reduce the nitrogen concentration of incoming wastewater by over 85 percent. The proposed plant is actually less than 5 percent of the capacity of the Stony Brook University plant which processes, in addition to the university wastewater, hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater daily from the Stony Brook Medical Center and discharges into Port Jefferson Harbor.

Additionally, typical nitrogen concentrations from the septic systems of homes and businesses surrounding Stony Brook Harbor are seven times greater than what this advanced treatment plant will discharge. This area includes the unsewered Stony Brook University Research and Development Park operating on onsite septic systems, located on the 245 acre parcel seized by the university from Gyrodyne through an “eminent domain” action back in 2005 when Gyrodyne was attempting to build a residential golf course community. It also includes the business corridor of St. James which the Town of Smithtown has asked Gyrodyne to consider connecting into its treatment plant when it gets built. The Lake Avenue business area presently discharges high nitrogen loadings that flow into Stony Brook Harbor. The Gyrodyne board has consented to consider such request.

This is a subject area of which I have considerable knowledge and experience.  I possess undergraduate and graduate degrees in marine engineering and marine and environmental science respectively. As a licensed professional engineer, I have decades of experience in wastewater treatment and environmental protection projects. I have served in pro bono executive board capacities of environmental and planning organizations and am presently serving in a management role on the Long Island Nitrogen Action Plan, a program that is specifically addressing nitrogen pollution of Long Island’s surface waters which is responsible for harmful algal blooms, eutrophication [overly enriched with nutrients] and fish kills.

As greater than 70 percent of Suffolk County is presently unsewered, onsite sewage disposal systems have been identified as the primary cause of nitrogen pollution of the county’s surface waters. Increased sewering and installation of innovative and alternative on-site septic systems is rigorously being pursued by the county with the support of the state.

Gyrodyne’s proposed mixed use development project is anticipated to include assisted living, commercial office and a hotel. Of the 75 acre site, only 26 undeveloped acres are planned for new development. A significant portion of the site will be dedicated to natural and managed landscape with a substantial buffer along Route 25A. The mix of development uses was selected to not only satisfy market demand but also to minimize external environmental impacts from a traffic as well as wastewater perspective. Traffic mitigation at the intersections of Route 25A at Mills Pond Road and Route 25A at Stony Brook Road are planned as part of the project’s traffic mitigation plan, as well as other improvements. w

Another point raised in Englebright’s letter stated concern from Professor Larry Swanson of Stony Brook University regarding potential medical office use on the site. Medical office use was studied as part of the comprehensive environmental impact analysis performed, including projected sanitary flows and traffic generation analysis, though there is no definitive plan that medical use will occupy any of the commercial office space if developed as part of the Flowerfield subdivision. If included, it would be a low wastewater generator as opposed to a hospital or other use. That use determination will depend upon the office market at the time of development.

Swanson also cited concern over the soils at the Gyrodyne site. A detailed investigation of the soils was conducted by another environmental engineering firm which specializes in environmental testing and remediation. Their report states that although sampled soils at the site meet restricted residential standards, which are applicable to the planned future use of the property, construction generated soils at the site will be managed in accordance with applicable regulations.

What both Englebright and Swanson have failed to acknowledge is the fact that the significant amount of nitrogen and other pollutants that are discharged into the ground from onsite systems ultimately reach the harbor thereby adding loadings far in excess of what would be present if the wastewater were treated in an advanced wastewater treatment plant.

In closing, I would like to state that the proposed development of the Gyrodyne property has been designed to provide a smart, balanced and environmentally responsive development plan. As Gyrodyne’s consulting engineer for over 20 years, I can attest that the company’s board of directors, represented by a number of local community members, has always prided itself as being a good neighbor to the greater St. James and Stony Brook communities. This plan is reflective of that continuing commitment.

John D. Cameron Jr., P.E. is a managing partner with Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP.

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'Low Tide' (Stony Brook Harbor) by Gerard Romano

By Steve Englebright

Steve Englebright

During this peak of summer, Stony Brook Harbor and its interconnected waterways are at their delightful aquatic best. Sadly, in future summer seasons the harbor’s pristine marine waters may also be at their most vulnerable due to a threat not from nature, but from intensive commercial development.

As part of a light-industrial subdivision proposal filed with the Town of Smithtown in August 2017, the Gyrodyne company wants to build a regional sewage treatment plant on its property. Some suggest grafting the entire St. James’ business district onto Gyrodyne’s proposed new sewage treatment plant  While this may spur a building boom that could remake bucolic St. James into yet another commercial strip, there is no doubt that sewage effluent from the combined overdevelopment projects now being considered for St. James will devastate nearby Stony Brook Harbor.

A former commercial nursery turned helicopter manufacturing plant turned real estate investment trust, the property’s antiquated zoning contrasts with the historic state highway called Route 25A and the beautiful communities adjoining it, reflecting 300 years of history. Built to service the needs of the development’s planned occupants, including medical practices and assisted-living facilities, the plant would discharge upward of 180,000 gallons of lightly-treated medical and commercial effluent daily into the permeable glacial soils that drain directly into the harbor. The contaminants would travel about 8,000 feet to reach Stony Brook Harbor’s shoreline.

This groundwater-transported effluent will contain unhealthy amounts of nitrogen in liquid that is treated sewage waste. Once this reaches the harbor it will change its ecology and recreational appeal forever.

Professor Lawrence Swanson, of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, who has studied Stony Brook Harbor’s ecology for decades recently stated that the Gyrodyne sewer project is “one of the biggest menaces right now to preserving clean water in Suffolk County. Stony Brook Harbor is probably the cleanest and least disturbed harbor we have left on Long Island.”

In addition to processing human waste, the proposed plant will act as a pass-through for a significant volume of contaminants flushed out of the medical offices and assisted living facilities Gyrodyne is proposing. Unfortunately, this sewer plant is not designed to remove anything other than nitrate nitrogen. Most of the other chemicals will reach and contaminate the harbor.

The list of possible contaminants is long and worrisome. A short list includes radioactive imaging compounds; substances used in routine nuclear-medicine functions; pharmaceutically-laden human waste; and such legacy toxins as methyl bromide, lead arsenate and trichloroethylene (TCE). Some of these chemicals were commonly used by agricultural businesses such as the Flowerfield Bulb Farm in the last century. TCE, a known carcinogen, has long been used by the aerospace industry as a solvent. Because helicopter blades were assembled and tested for the military on an industrial scale at Gyrodyne, TCE almost certainly was used and allowed to escape into the ground. Unfortunately the Gyrodyne site has not been adequately sampled to definitively determine whether or not this is so. I am concerned the engineering firm which Gyrodyne hired to do a mandatory environmental report, only glosses over this threat.

Unsurprisingly, when those engineers dug wells in Flowerfield and sampled soil patches they found no evidence of contaminants. Yet local environmental advocates like Cindy Smith and her team conducted archival research and found potential evidence of legacy toxins such as methyl bromide and lead arsenate. The evidence is indisputable, in the form of price quotes printed on Dow Chemical letterhead in 1941. Lacking evidence of environmental cleanup, we can only assume these toxins may remain in the soil today and may be mobilized by the proposed construction.

Although the Gyrodyne report is hundreds of pages in length, it only superficially analyzes the environmental risk to the harbor and the historic corridor. Underestimated is the anticipated impact that vastly expanded traffic will have on ground and surface water quality.

What is needed is a truly objective report. Within this context I have called upon the town to commission a new independent study. Such a step is necessary to preserve the water chemistry of the harbor and the quality of life and character of the nearby villages and communities. As Swanson observes, “Stony Brook Harbor is a jewel and ought to be preserved, not destroyed.”

Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) chairs the New York State Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation. He represents the 4th Assembly District.