Gyrodyne won subdivision approval Wednesday night for his 75-acre property in St. James, among the largest, mostly undeveloped sites in Smithtown and western Suffolk County.
Smithtown’s five-person planning council voted unanimously without public deliberation after two and a half hours of commentary. The former defense contractor’s request was to divide his property into eight lots for purposes such as a hotel, assisted living facilities and medical practices. The Flowerfield Celebrations catering service, located on site, will not be affected by the development and its operations will continue.
The subdivision is not needed to develop the North Country Road property, most of which is zoned for light industry, but it will allow the company to sell or build on portions of its land. The sprawling property once housed a helicopter manufacturing plant and before that, a flower bulb farm.
The company still needs final city subdivision approval for technical and engineering issues, as well as individual site plans and possibly special exceptions. City officials said last week that any construction was at least a year or a year and a half away.
Wednesday night’s hearing was contentious, mostly over battle lines drawn after the company submitted its claim in 2017. Neighbors who attended the hearing, which was held virtually, said plans of the business were threatening to destroy a bucolic corner of the North Shore due to increased traffic and unsightly concrete. Gyrodyne representatives said they had taken care to mitigate any negative development impacts by including in their designs a vegetative buffer along North Country Road, prohibiting left turns into and out of a complex entrance and d other steps.
“When it’s gone, it’s gone – we’ll never get it back,” said Arlene Goldstein, an artist from St. James who spoke of the area’s rural vibe.
Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine and Chief Harbor Mayor Douglas Dahlgard, who both represent constituencies close to the Gyrodyne site, but who have had no control over the town of Smithtown’s land use , resumed their longstanding opposition to the project on Wednesday evening.
“There are a lot of people in my town who are adamantly against it,” Romaine said, adding that local roads already carry a lot more traffic than they were designed to.
“It’s right on the border of our town,” he said, “less than 300 feet from historic Stony Brook.”
A traffic study commissioned by the company during an environmental review found that the additional traffic would be manageable. The city set traffic load limits, but neighbors questioned the veracity of the study. Some have questioned the feasibility of monitoring and enforcing these limits and others that the city imposed as part of its subdivision approval, such as a sewage flow limit for a wastewater treatment plant. wastewater proposed to serve the site.
A Gyrodyne attorney, J. Timothy Shea, Jr., didn’t refute all concerns, but said the company designed the project specifically “so you don’t have to be stuck in traffic.” A Gyrodyne traffic expert who testified in 2010 that commercial development would cause traffic to skyrocket, had spoken of land the company once owned in Brookhaven and since taken by Stony Brook University, not its holdings in Smithtown, he said.
Most speakers opposed the subdivision, but not all.
Matthew Aracich, chairman of the Nassau and Suffolk Counties Building and Trades Council, said he was looking forward to hundreds of well-paying construction jobs, without giving details. And Natalie Weinstein, designer and founder of the civic group Celebrate St. James, said Gyrodyne businesses will bring business to the hamlet’s Lake Avenue downtown. Traffic can be controlled, she said, and a hotel would be “an asset to the community”.