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The Hills at Port Jefferson

Some residents and village officials object to a reduced recreation fee for private facilities at The Shipyard, here seen originally in construction. File photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Construction projects in Port Jefferson village and upper Port have raised concerns from some residents and merchants, but according to a study conducted by a Stony Brook University professor of economics and population, the juice will be worth the squeeze once the apartments are occupied.

Port Jefferson resident John Rizzo, who earned a Ph.D. in economics from Brown University and now teaches at Stony Brook University, presented at a meeting Feb. 22 the findings of a study done to analyze the economic impact of the partially opened The Hills at Port Jefferson and the under-construction The Shipyard, two new apartment complexes in Port Jeff.

“The economic impacts of these projects are substantial,” the summary of Rizzo’s report reads in part. “Apartment space is scarce on Long Island. The average vacancy rate was just 3.4 percent as of October 2016. Increasing apartment space is important, not only for stimulating economic growth, but for attracting and retaining younger workers on Long Island.”

The study concluded the additional living spaces in Port Jefferson will spur an additional $4 million approximately in increased discretionary spending for the area on an annual basis. The two projects also are expected to create 757 jobs, though not all are expected to exist in perpetuity. They are also projected to increase economic output, or the total value of all goods and services produced in an economy, by more than $122 million, according to Rizzo’s analysis.

“Increasing apartment space is important, not only for stimulating economic growth, but for attracting and retaining younger workers on Long Island.”

—John Rizzo

The estimates are based on multipliers produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which are used to quantify effects of a project on any U.S. county. The cost of construction projects, boosts in sales for suppliers involved in the projects, jobs created, and even spending in the area by workers on the project are all factored into an input-output model to assess a construction project’s potential economic impact, according to the study.

The results are drawn largely from expenditure data provided by Rail Realty, the developer of the two-phase, 38-unit and 36-unit complex located on Texaco Avenue in upper Port, and TRITEC Real Estate Company, the developer responsible for the 112-unit The Shipyard project near Port Jefferson Harbor. Because of this, the results of the study should be considered estimates, according to Rizzo.

Village Mayor Margot Garant, who has taken on elimination of blighted properties and overall beautification of Port Jefferson village and upper Port as a major aspect of her tenure in office, called the projects in an email exactly the kind of economic
injection the village needs to bolster property values, on top of the positives of cleaning up properties in need of attention.

“The introduction of more people living in the village within walking distance to shops and restaurants combined with the redeveloped properties that will have significant increase to our tax roll over the next decade, will support the businesses not only in the off-season when things are quiet, but year-round as well,” she said. “We need to stop the crawling blight and revitalize the west end of the village in addition to uptown.”

Village trustee Bruce D’Abramo echoed Garant’s vision.

“That was our goal. Some of those stores up there are not doing real well, but feet on the street will always improve that,” he said at the Feb. 22 meeting.

Rob Gitto, Port Jeff native and owner of the development company The Gitto Group, which owns Rail Realty, said in an interview in December building The Hills in upper Port was about more than profit for the company.

“We’re a business and we’re looking to make a profit, but at the same time we’re hoping it jump-starts revitalization up there,” he said.

Though it was not factored into the study, construction of a third set of apartments is slated to begin in the spring, after demolition of the vacant Islander Boat Center building on West Broadway adjacent to The Shipyard was completed in February. Hauppauge-based building company the Northwind Group owns the site of the new project, which will be called Overbay apartments and will feature 52 more units.

Village trustee Bruce Miller has expressed frustration in the past, over the look and size of The Shipyard project and the overall look of Port Jefferson village as a result of the various, unaffiliated construction projects. Garant has said all of the new buildings comply with village code.

A rendering of the Overbay apartment complex. Image from The Northwind Group

By Alex Petroski

Construction of a third set of apartments is slated to begin in the spring in Port Jefferson Village after demolition of the vacant Islander Boat Center building on West Broadway began last week. This comes after ground was broken in June 2016 on a 112-unit apartment complex by TRITEC Real Estate Company adjacent to the Islander Boat Center property called The Shipyard luxury apartments, as well as the opening of the 38-unit complex by Rail Realty called The Hills at Port Jefferson in upper Port, which will grow by 36 units upon completion later this year.

Demolition of the Islander Boat Center building is nearing completion. Photo by Alex Petroski

Hauppauge-based building company The Northwind Group owns the site of the new project, which will be called Overbay apartments. A Conditional Site Plan and Conditional Use approval were granted for the property by the village building and planning department in May 2015 for the construction of 52 apartment units, according to Special Village Attorney for the department Alison LaPointe, and Northwind managing member Jim Tsunis confirmed in a phone interview that is still the plan. LaPointe said in an email several other conditions laid out by the department need to be met by the property owner prior to the issuance of a Final Site Plan and a building permit. Tsunis declined to give a reason why demolition began nearly two years after receiving board approval.

Demolition of the original structure began Feb. 10 but was not complete as of the morning of Feb. 13. The new building will overlook Port Jefferson Harbor.

“It’s a cute little nautical style building — I’m looking forward to building it,” Tsunis said. He added he’s excited to be a part of the expansion and beautification process going on in the village.

“Hopefully within the week that building will be down, which is good news,” village Mayor Margot Garant said during a board meeting Feb. 8 after the demolition permit was issued.

Another board member shared his positive outlook on the future of the site.

“It’ll improve the western entrance to the downtown area,” Trustee Bruce D’Abramo said during the meeting.

At least one trustee is concerned about the impact all of the changes in the village will have for long-time residents.

“This is a Victorian village but we’re turning it into hodgepodge lodge here,” Bruce Miller said. “There’s just no cohesion here.”

Garant added the village board has no jurisdiction over the building and planning department, and the new apartment buildings all meet standards set in the village code. According to the village code, structures are not permitted to exceed 35-feet at their highest point.

Demolition of the vacant Islander Boat Center building is nearing completion. Photo by Alex Petroski

A member of the community who lives on Beach Street shared similar concerns to Miller, and voiced her displeasure during the public comment period of the meeting.

“I’m sick to my stomach when I look at it,” the resident said of The Shipyard building, which is under construction, adding she’s not looking forward to another building going up next to it. “I’m sick to my stomach when I drive down the hill. I feel bad for every other resident in the area who’s going to be looking at this massive structure.”

Barbara Sabatino, a village resident and business owner, as well as a member of the building and planning department, was at the meeting and expressed regret over approving the building of the large structure.

“We had a lot of discussion about this at planning board, we’re restricted to what they can build by code,” she said. “If the code says you can build ‘x’ amount of floors with ‘x’ amount of square footage, we’re kind of stuck. We can’t say ‘no you can’t build something,’ if legally in the code they can. What we can do is learn from this is that this looks a lot bigger than we had anticipated.”