Local residents packed a hearing last week held by the Smithtown Town Board on the proposed building of a continuing care retirement community for property at St. Johnland Nursing Center.
The proposal calls for a four-story building with 24 assisted living spaces, 153 apartments and 22 townhomes, which would be built on 50 wooded acres across from the center. A lap pool, salon, banking and a convenience store, among other amenities, are expected to be on site with sale prices for the units at $395,000 to $825,000.
A total of 32 residents spoke at the meeting, with 30 opposing the development and two in support of the facility.
Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, said the group supports the need for senior housing in Kings Park, but said the association cannot support the project “due to its sheer size and location.”
Lehmann called the project “massive”.
“The 50 acre property has so many environmental conditions; its location in the Nissequogue River corridor, slopes, wetlands, shallow ground water and a fresh water pond, that they had no choice but to go up, instead of out,” said Lehmann.
The project also calls for an underground parking garage to be built. A number of zoning variances and special exceptions by the town board would have to be made if the process were to go forward.
"These variances are excessive and precedent setting and will not only lead to over development and a significant change in character of this site, but to other potential sites in the future," said Kings Park resident Brendan McKenna. "The variance for a parking garage should be dead on arrival. It's simply not permitted in the district that the applicant is requesting."
Several residents who spoke at the meeting suggested the project be moved to the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center property.
A so called "land swap", was proposed several years ago between St. Johnland and the state where the retirement center would be built on land at the former psychiatric center and the 50 acres for the retirement center would be incorporated into Sunken Meadow State Park or the Nissequogue River State Park.
In a phone conversation on Tuesday, Mary Jean Weber, CEO of St. Johnland, said at the time when there was talk of a possible swap, she met with state officials. "It didn't seem that it would work out," said Weber.
Jan Porinchak, science teacher, naturalist and Kings Park resident who spoke at the meeting said he moved to the area for its open spaces.
"Open space is becoming ever more rare on Long Island as a whole and they ain't making any more of it," said Porinchak. "If this land is cleared and altered, it will be permanent."
Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio read into the record several questions he had regarding the project. As Vecchio finished, members of the meeting gave him a standing ovation.
“Why aren’t there more assisted living units and fewer apartments so that the need is equal to the supply?” said Vecchio. “The DEIS states the plan is to build 90,000 square feet more than the proposed ordinance would allow. This seems to be all about maximizing profits,” he said.
The process still has several steps to go through, according to Frank DeRuebis, Director of Planning for Smithtown.
"The town board will have to wait for the final environmental impact statement, which includes the response to all comments within the draft," said DeRuebis. "Which, realistically is about six months. After that is submitted, the town board has to consider what it wants to do."
DeRuebis said there are several options for the board.
"The town board could adopt the ordinance and deny the application. They could deny the ordinance and the application. They could approve both or they could ask for an amendment on the ordinance based on the comments."
There would then be another public hearing and then it would be voted on by the town. According to DeRubeis, this project is required to be passed by a super-majority according to a petition that has been attached to the proposal.
"As it stands now to approve you need four votes of the board," said DeRuebis.
Residents have until 5 p.m. on Dec. 10 to submit public comments to the town. Residents wishing to do so can send them to Department of Environment and Waterways at 124 West Main Street, Smithtown, NY 11787, attention Russ Barnett.
Copies of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement can be found here and a site map of the project can be found in the photo gallery of this article.
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