Smithtown mulls hearings on Kings Park senior housing project

The Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals will hold The Smithtown Board of Zoning Appeals will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss a controversial plan for an assisted-living facility in the hamlet. Photo Credit: Erin Geismar, 2012

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Smithtown officials are debating whether to hold public hearings on a controversial proposed Kings Park senior housing project before an environmental study is completed.

At a town board meeting Thursday, Supervisor Patrick Vecchio asked town attorney John Zollo whether the board can schedule a hearing on a proposed zoning change to allow the Uplands at St. Johnland, a 199-unit development proposed by the St. Johnland Nursing Home. Vecchio opposes the project.

"We have not had a public hearing on the zone change, and I wish we had one," said Vecchio, responding to a resident who said the town should kill the project. "If we had had it, I would have been in support of what you're saying here tonight."

Zollo said he believes a hearing cannot be held until a state-mandated environmental impact statement is completed. It is not clear when the study will be finished.

The exchange came during a heated discussion among town officials and residents over the fate of the $103.6 million Uplands project, which would be built on a wooded, 50-acre parcel on Sunken Meadow Road.

Vecchio and Councilman Thomas McCarthy, replying to a question from resident David Fennes, said they would vote against the project. Councilmen Robert Creighton, Edward Wehrheim and Kevin Malloy did not respond. Malloy said he is awaiting the environmental study.

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"When those answers come in, and we review it, we will go through the process," he told Fennes. "But to cut it short, and just say vote yes or no -- forget the process -- then why have public hearings?"

In an interview after the meeting, Creighton said "it's too early" to vote on the proposal. "We should at least listen and see what the final project looks like," said Creighton, who is seeking to unseat Vecchio, a fellow Republican.

Smithtown attorney Vincent Trimarco, who represents St. Johnland, said he would sue the town if the board voted prematurely to block the project. He said nursing home officials have spent $200,000 on environmental studies.

"How do you vote on something before you've got all the information?" Trimarco said in an interview Friday. "It's kind of shocking that they would come out and do this at this point."

Some residents at the meeting -- 40 attended -- said the Uplands would harm wetlands and wildlife. Kings Park Civic Association president Sean Lehmann said more than 1,000 residents signed petitions opposing the proposal.

"This project should be dead on arrival," Lehmann said. "It's setting a terrible precedent if this project moves forward."

Opponents want the project moved to a nearby state park, but officials of the nursing home and the state parks office have said talks were unsuccessful.

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