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.