Suffolk County legislator Democratic candidate, Mike Siderakis, is keeping his eye on development in Smithtown.
On April 27, Siderakis held a press conference in front of the site for The Lofts at Maple & Main along Main Street. Currently, the property features a variance and special exceptions sign that lists a Town of Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals meeting April 13. The virtual meeting before the BZA was adjourned to July 13, even though the original variance sign remains on the property.
The candidate said developers, VEA 181st Realty Corp., are now asking for the proposed building to be all apartments instead of mixed use. The developer could not be reached by phone for comment.
Siderakis said after fanfare about the groundbreaking a year and a half ago, there hasn’t been much information about modifications.
“Seventy-one units wasn’t enough for them,” Siderakis said. “They want more, and they intend to get more by going to the Board of Zoning Appeals, in the dead of night. They intend to use the cover of a pandemic, with meetings on Zoom, and with the link only available to those who know how to request it, to make this major change without public input.”
Ground was broken on the former site of Nassau Suffolk Lumber & Supply Corp. in October 2019. The initial plan was to build a three-story 71-unit one- and two-bedroom apartment complex with 15,000 square feet of retail space on the lower level.
The goal of the developers was to create a transit-oriented development in Smithtown, with the building one block away from the train station. The apartments would be geared toward young people starting out or seniors looking to downsize. According to an October 2019 The Times of Smithtown article, the apartments are expected to generate $250,000 in tax revenue and result in 50 new jobs.
Siderakis said the developers, consultants and local leaders said Smithtown needed projects such as the proposed building.
“They brushed aside concerns about traffic, about who is going to pay for the influx of kids into our schools, about the costs of roads, maintenance or public safety,” he said. “They make glossy renderings of pristine buildings and tell us that these projects reduce our tax burden — our taxes, apparently, have been going up year after year after year because we haven’t built enough? And so, we swallow this tough pill. And we deal with the new construction. We tell ourselves that we need more housing for our kids, affordable housing, even though at thousands of dollars per month — $1,900 for a one-bedroom and $$2,900 for a two-bedroom — it’s anything but affordable.”
After the developer bought the site in 2008, according to an October 2019 The Times of Smithtown article, it violated a Smithtown stop-work order and in 2009 illegally demolished the building. After piles of debris and concrete were hauled away, the situation became the subject of a 2011 Suffolk County grand jury investigation alleging that an unnamed town official recommended demolishment to save taxes. No charges were filed, but Smithtown Town Board members voted in July 2014 to tear down the already demolished structure and adjacent buildings and approved the site plans for The Lofts at Maple & Main at its August 2018 meeting.
Siderakis said county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) should be making noise about the project instead of brushing it off as a town problem.
“She should have gotten on her soapbox, like I am here today, and warned the community about this bait and switch,” he said. “But where is Leslie Kennedy? She’s not part of this fight. Actually, she isn’t part of any fight that involves sticking up for the residents — not the 200-units on Smithtown Boulevard in Nesconset, not the four-story hotel in Smithtown and certainly not the millions in county tax giveaways for unpopular projects throughout the district.”
After the press conference, TBR Newsmedia reached out to Kennedy’s office for comment. The county legislator said in an email Smithtown’s agendas are available on the Town of Smithtown’s website.
“The town chose this project for two reasons — to make temporary housing available and to add strategically located business space, contributing to a walkable downtown,” Kennedy said.
The legislator added the last she heard was the requested variance asked for an increase to 76 apartments and decrease of 800 square feet of commercial space, which she said, “may be too intense on this heavily trafficked dangerous roadway and defeats the original purpose of mixed-use development and a walkable community.”
“I am fairly certain that this is how the Zoning Board of Appeals will view this, but I always encourage community involvement in any level of governmental permitting decisions,” Kennedy added.