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St. James

Under beautiful summer skies, the Deepwells Summer Art & Craft Festival was held this past weekend, July 22-23. It was a big hit.

On the historical grounds of Deepwells Farm, just a stone’s throw away from the St. James General Store, artisans displayed and sold original art, pottery, jewelry, fiber, candles, handmade soaps and lotions. 

Over 30 vendors toted their wares as hundreds of art lovers and bargain hunters enjoyed themselves at the fair.

Celebrate St. James hosted its first Kids Community Earth Day Celebration on Saturday, April 22.

The event was held at the new Celebrate Park on Lake Avenue. Children had the opportunity to learn about nature and Earth Day with story time, plant sales and the opportunity to make their own terrariums. 

Attendees also enjoyed listening to live music, getting henna designs and visiting a rabbit and a miniature screech owl at the Sweetbriar Nature Center table.

In addition to concerns over a proposal to build a house of worship and school on the grounds of Timothy House, village residents have had other issues with the monastery that owns the property, including a storage container that has been outside the historic house for months. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Many St. James residents as well as those in surrounding communities are breathing a sigh of relief after a recent update from the Town of Smithtown regarding a proposed assisted living facility. However, homeowners living near Route 25A in Head of the Harbor and St. James are growing concerned and impatient about a proposed church on the corridor.

Bull Run Farm

Town Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said in a statement that the Town Board would not move forward with a special exception for a proposed assisted living facility on the former Bull Run Farm parcel on Mills Pond Road.

“We as a board demanded community outreach by the applicant, prior to bringing this application to the board for a public hearing,” he said. “This is something we insist on when large development is proposed in an area that abuts up to residential zoning, and to provide total transparency to the community. In the end, there was insufficient support from the Town Board to proceed with a special exception.” 

Earlier this month residents crowded the second floor of the St. James Firehouse on North Country Road to air their concerns about the possible development of former farmland. An informational meeting was headed up by attorneys for Frank Amicizia. The Fort Salonga developer had proposed a two-story, 97-bed facility on 9.02 acres of property on Mills Pond Road that is zoned residential. The facility would have needed a special exception from the Town of Smithtown.

Residents’ concerns included the proximity to the Gyrodyne property on Route 25A which also faces potential development; 24-hour lighting on the property; increased traffic; and the building not fitting the community aesthetics. Others were concerned about a sewage treatment plant that is proposed for the property, ranging from how it would affect local waterways due to the disposal of pharmaceuticals in the facility to the noise it would make.

Judy Ogden, a Head of the Harbor trustee and spokesperson for the Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said, “This is exactly the kind of leadership that residents hope for in their elected officials.” The coalition along with the Facebook group Save Bull Run Farm headed up the opposition against the proposed development citing the plans were not in line with the town’s Draft Comprehensive Plan.

“The supervisor’s comments about the need to protect the bucolic nature of this portion of Mills Pond Road is especially encouraging,” Ogden said.

Timothy House

Less than 2 miles down the road, residents of Head of the Harbor and those surrounding the historic Timothy House on Route 25A were prepared to attend a public hearing Wednesday, March 15, to air their concerns about a proposed house of worship to be built on the property. The day before the meeting, Village of Head of the Harbor officials posted on its website that it was canceled.

According to an email from Head of the Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard, the monastery monks originally submitted an application to the village’s Planning Board in 2021. The application, which included constructing a house of worship and school, was delayed when the monastery decided to change counsel and amend the plan.

Dahlgard said the amended plan will require a special use permit and will also involve a time-consuming process.

“Prior to last week’s scheduled trustees meeting, we decided to delay to give us more time to prepare to properly represent our village,” Dahlgard said.

The mayor added they will be checking with the monastery’s counsel to see what date works for him for a public meeting.

The Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Glorious Ascension, also known as the Monastery of Saint Dionysios the Areopagite, purchased Timothy House in 2018.

The amendments to the proposed 3,341-square-foot building include being situated farther from Route 25A than originally presented and moving planned parking spots from the front of the building to the back.

Head of the Harbor historian Leighton Coleman III said in an email that local residents have concerns about multiple issues regarding the proposed house of worship and school, including the parking lot for 35 cars being situated close to neighbors’ properties.

Among the residents’ concerns are also the impact the construction will have on the historic property, lighting from the parking lot and increased traffic on Route 25A. Many have had issues before the application, including a huge metal storage container on the property that has become an eyesore.

Timothy House, constructed in the 1800s, was once the home of former Head of the Harbor historian and architectural preservationist Barbara Van Liew, who died in 2005. The house was built by a descendant of Smithtown founder Richard Smith.

Temperatures were low but spirits were high at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in St. James on Saturday, March 11.

Residents from across both shores headed to Lake Avenue this weekend to eat, drink and be merry. The hamlet’s annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade featured floats, the local Irish step dance team, kids from the Smithtown Bulldogs youth football league and leprechauns galore.

Kicking off the parade was Grand Marshal Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R), as he sported a bright green hat leading other elected officials, including Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D), right center, and State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-Saint James), below right.

While many parade participants were Smithtown-based, the event also welcomed fire departments from Northport, Stony Brook and Babylon.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, front, in the 2022 St. James parade along with Vincent Puleo, former town clerk. Photo by Rita J. Egan

After leading the town for five years, Town of Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) will head up the St. James St. Patrick’s Day Parade Saturday, March 11.

Supervisor Ed Wehrheim was announced the St. James parade grand marshal at the chamber’s Winter Gala. Photo by Rich Balter

Wehrheim, a native of Kings Park, said when he heard the news, he was humbled and honored. The town supervisor added he is mostly of German and English descent.

“As I told the chamber for that particular day, I will be all Irish,” he said.

The honor will be his first time serving as a parade grand marshal.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “It’s great for the community when the chambers put the parades and events on. I’m looking forward to it.

Kathy Weber, president of the St. James Chamber of Commerce, said the board chose Wehrheim as grand marshal for all his work for the hamlet, including being instrumental in making possible Celebrate Park, which opened in 2022.

“From the roads to the park and all the revitalization, he’s really there for St. James,” Weber said. “We’re so grateful.”

She added it’s apparent how Wehrheim cares about the St. James community.

“It wasn’t even a question as to who should be this year’s grand marshal,” Weber said.

Wehrheim said the town is proud of what has been done in St. James.

“It has resulted in a huge success for the community and the business community,” he said. “To be the grand marshal and go down the newly renovated Lake Avenue will be a great honor.”

The supervisor said after COVID-19 protocols prevented or limited community gatherings for a couple of years, returning to parades, festivals, concerts and more was welcomed. 

The St. James St. Patrick’s Day Parade was canceled in 2020 a few days before it was due to take place. In 2021 a car parade was held, and the 2022 parade was postponed until a few weeks later due to inclement weather on its original scheduled date. According to Weber, it was the first time there was a rain date.

She said this year planning and participation have returned to pre-COVID conditions.

“There are a lot of people and a lot of excitement,” she said, adding that several children will be participating as princes and princesses this year. A resident turning Sweet 16 will also be in the parade handing out candy after her grandmother arranged to make her wish to participate come true.

“It’s a great day to celebrate the supervisor and celebrate St. James,” Weber said. “The feeling in St. James, it’s such a close community feeling.”

The St. James St. Patrick’s Day Parade will be held on Saturday, March 11. The event kicks off on the corner of Woodlawn and Lake avenues at 1 p.m. and continues to the train station.

Concerned residents filled the second floor of the St. James firehouse on North Country Road to air their concerns about a proposed assisted living facility on Mills Pond Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

St. James residents are joining together to fight a proposed assisted living facility on the former Bull Run Farm, which takes up slightly more than 9 acres along Mills Pond Road.

Concerned residents filled the second floor of the St. James firehouse on North Country Road to air their concerns about a proposed assisted living facility on Mills Pond Road. Photo by Rita J. Egan

An informational meeting was held Thursday, March 2, at the St. James firehouse on Route 25A to provide residents updates on the proposed two-story, 97-bed facility that will be called Whisper Mills. Approximately 150 people, many living on the road and right next to the property, filled the room, half of them standing, to air their concerns.

Attorneys David Moran and Deirdre Cicciaro represented Mills Pond Group, owned by Fort Salonga developer Frank Amicizia, to moderate the event and field questions. Moran said the March 2 meeting was just the first step of the process. The assisted living facility proposal is contingent on receipt of all properties that make up the total parcel of land. Currently, the developer owns one lot and members of the Elderkin family, who once ran the farm, own the other two.

Cicciaro said the entire parcel was 9.02 acres and zoned as residential. The facility would need a special exception from the Town of Smithtown to be permitted. She said the client “shares the concerns about the preservation and the bucolic nature of the neighborhood.”

She added nearly 20% of the premises would be developed, leaving a little more than 80% of the total parcel landscaped, undisturbed, natural or vegetative. The attorney went over the development plans, including that there would be more than 800 feet of road frontage, and all setbacks will be more than required by town code. The facility would have 74 parking spaces.

Cicciaro said the plan was an attempt to “provide a necessary housing option for the community of St. James that does not currently exist while keeping with the character of the area and neighborhood.”

Residents took turns airing concerns at the meeting, including the proximity to the Gyrodyne property on Route 25A which also faces potential development; 24-hour lighting on the property; increased traffic; and the building not fitting the community aesthetics. Others were concerned about a sewage treatment plant that is proposed for the property. Concerns about the STP ranged from how it would affect local waterways due to the disposal of pharmaceuticals in the facility to the noise it would make. One attendee said the STP at Whisper Woods on Route 25A across from St. Catherine of Siena Hospital makes noise 24 hours a day.

Moran said the facility would be 100% code compliant, including proper maintenance of medication on the site and a traffic study is being worked on.

One woman said that residents “would rather see broken down tractors” than the proposed building.

“This is by no means compliant visually and otherwise with any of these beautiful homes,” she added. “This is our paradise. We have worked to preserve this all these years.”

A few of the residents, as well as the Facebook group Save Bull Run Farm, St. James and Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, have encouraged people to attend upcoming Town Board meetings to let Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and council members know their concerns.

“You are the ones who are responsible for putting the pressure on your elected officials whether you voted for them or not,” one woman said at the meeting. “You must reach out to them and tell them how you feel.”

As of March 8, a town public hearing was not scheduled. According to Nicole Garguilo, Smithtown public information officer, when a meeting regarding the development is scheduled, it will be held in the evening and at the town’s senior center.

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Right before the St. James Veterans Day Parade began on Nov. 11, the rain began. However, veterans, Scouts, fire department volunteers and school marching bands weren’t going to let that stop them from heading down Lake Avenue.

The marchers started at Woodlawn Avenue and continued down Lake until St. James Elementary School. 

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After canceling the St. James St. Patrick’s Day for two years in a row due to COVID-19, the parade had to be postponed from March 12 to April 2 due to inclement weather.

The sun was bright and the temperatures were mild this time around. On April 2, St. James residents were joined by their neighbors from surrounding towns and hamlets to celebrate the return of the parade. Hundreds lined the streets and put on some green to celebrate the tradition.

State Sen. Mario Mattera and Kerry Reilly DeJesus shared the honor of grand marshal. The parade also included bagpipes, Irish step dancers, firefighters from St. James and surrounding areas, representatives from various civic associations, businesses, and more.

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.

The 2022 parade will be the first one in the hamlet to feature two grand marshals

The Robedee and Maher families donated Irish flags for the St. James St. Patrick's Day Parade. With the help of the town, they are now lining Lake Avenue in St. James. Photo from Kerry Weisse

This post is an updated version of The Times of Smithtown’s March 10 edition. Due to inclement weather, the St. James St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been postponed from March 12 to April 2.

A decades-old favorite is about to return to St. James.

State Sen. Mario Mattera, second from right, takes time out for a photo with his fellow elected officials at the Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 5. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Hamlet residents were all set to celebrate the 36th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2020, when just a few days before it was to kickoff, COVID-19 mandates shut it and other activities like it down.

Once again, in 2021, the event couldn’t be held due to the lingering pandemic, and a car parade was held throughout St. James in its place. This year, events have been given the green light once again, and the parade, organized by the St. James Chamber of Commerce, will take place along Lake Avenue on April 2.

State Sen. Mario Mattera (R-St. James) and Kerry Reilly-DeJesus will finally be able to enjoy the honor of being joint grand marshals. The two were named for the 2020 parade, and it was the first time the St. James parade committee chose two grand marshals to lead the event.

Reilly-DeJesus, who works as a call center manager for Stony Brook University’s Southampton Hospital, said she was disappointed when the 2020 parade was canceled but wasn’t surprised.

“In the interest of public health, I think our town and our local government made the best decision to keep everybody safe,” she said. “I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed, of course, but did I support the decision? Absolutely. It was the best decision for the time.”

When Mattera was first named grand marshal, he wasn’t a state senator yet. Since he took office in January 2021, he has appeared at many community events, such as the Kings Park St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 5. At that event, he said he was looking forward to the parade in St. James, where he and his family have lived for more than 25 years after he and his wife moved from Nesconset. 

Kerry Reilly-DeJesus with her husband, Ralph. Photo from Reilly-DeJesus

“People are getting out,” Mattera said. “It’s very exciting. I know it’s going to be four to five people deep on Lake Avenue. I’m just honored and privileged that we’re still continuing with the parade, and we’re going to have a great day.”

While Mattera isn’t of Irish descent, Terry, his wife of nearly 30 years, is. The couple has raised two daughters in the hamlet. Before becoming state senator, he was the business agent for Plumbers Local Union 200 of Ronkonkoma. In addition to his work with the union, he was a member of the Smithtown Executive Board representing St. James, and on the boards of Community Association of Greater St. James, the Suffolk County Water Authority and the Suffolk County Consumer Affairs Plumbing, Licensing and Fire Protection. He was also a Suffolk County Workforce Housing Committee member, the plumber’s union chairman for the political PAC fund for the county and board member for the New York State Apprenticeship and Training Council.

Reilly-DeJesus has lived in St. James for more than two decades, where she and her husband, Ralph, for over 25 years, have raised four children.

The wife and mother has always been active in the community and has taught religion at St. Philip and St. James R.C. Church. She has also been involved in the Smithtown Central School District as a family living chairperson working on food drives at Mills Pond Elementary School and was vice president of the PTA at the elementary school for two years. She later went on to serve as PTA president for two years. As her children advanced in the school district, so did Reilly-DeJesus. She was PTA president at Nesaquake Middle School for three years and then did the same for six years at Smithtown High School East’s PTA. She’s continued being part of the high school’s PTA even though all of her children have graduated and is currently helping with the organization’s upcoming fundraising fashion show.

Outside of religious instruction and the school district, Reilly-DeJesus said she has been a Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts leader for her children’s troops.

While Mattera has participated in past parades with the local car club, and DeJesus has marched with the Scouts, both said they are looking forward to finally being grand marshal.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Reilly-DeJesus said. “I’m really excited about it — that it’s finally coming to fruition.” 

Mattera has another reason to look forward to the role as he said he sees parades such as the ones in Smithtown as a sign of moving forward. 

“The atmosphere — even with the Kings Park parade — people are excited to get out with their families and the kids,” he said. “They get dressed up in green, all the Irish attire. It’s just about our families.”

Reilly-DeJesus agreed that it’s what the residents need.

“This is just what our little town needs to get us back into the communal spirit,” she said.

Mattera and Reilly-DeJesus will be joined by the parade’s princesses and princes of 2022 and those from the 2020 court who missed their chance to march that year. Parade committeeperson Kerry Maher Weisse said the organizers are excited, especially after the recent renovation of Lake Avenue. Weisse, who is part of the Maher family that owns the St. James Funeral Home, said the Mahers and the Robedee family of WBR Enterprises donated Irish flags for the parade and worked together with the Smithtown Highway Department to hang them along Lake Avenue.

On behalf of the St. James Chamber of Commerce, Weisse said, “We’re excited to celebrate the green and St. Paddy’s Day, and we’re excited to be out there for the residents, excited to be out there for the businesses.” 

The St. James St. Patrick’s Day Parade will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 2. Bands, Scouts, dance groups, fire trucks, antique cars and more will travel from the corner of Woodlawn and Lake avenues to the viewing stand by the Long Island Rail Road train station.