The Smithtown Town Board wants to create a committee to recommend how the town should address zoning violations in the Kings Park industrial area that have persisted for decades.
Industrial business owners along roughly a one-mile swath of Old Northport Road have conducted operations illegally on property not zoned for those uses, officials said.
"It's really a variety of heavy industrial-type uses that range from sand and gravel processing to a contractor's yard with storage of heavy equipment and outdoor activity, which is generally prohibited," said Smithtown planning director Frank DeRubeis.
Despite fines and some Suffolk County Court restraining orders, town officials have largely failed to force business owners to comply with zoning regulations -- much to the chagrin of neighboring homeowners, who have complained of potential environmental hazards, truck traffic and excessive noise.
"We've heard it loud and clear," said Councilman Thomas McCarthy, who suggested the committee at a work session earlier this month. "I think the task force would be the first way to go, because it's totally nonpolitical and it puts the people [together] that have to live with it."
McCarthy suggested a 15-person committee comprising residents, industrial business owners and nonelected town officials such as those from the planning and environment and waterways departments. He said the committee would develop a plan that all stakeholders agreed upon and issue an advisory report within six months, because "if we just leave it in the political realm, nothing's ever going to get done."
Councilman Robert Creighton supports the proposal, but cautioned against appointing elected officials to the committee. "You've got to keep it nonpolitical," he said. "If you put either Eddie [fellow Councilman Wehrheim] or I on that panel, it's dead in the water."
Councilwoman Lynne C. Nowick said a 15-person committee could be problematic, but added, "If you want to do the task force, make a date certain .?.?. and let's do it."
McCarthy said the committee should wait for feedback from Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, who Creighton suggested should appoint panel members.
Vecchio, who was not at the work session, declined to comment on the panel.
Sean Lehmann, president of the Kings Park Civic Association, said he was reserving judgment on the panel until he consults with other civic groups, but he did express a concern.
"Do we want representatives sitting on a committee with the same people who are currently performing illegal activity on their property?" he said.
But Toby Carlson -- who owns 64 acres in the area and illegally operates outdoor recycling company Power Crush while awaiting approval to build an indoor recycling facility -- said the panel was a step forward. Carlson and the town admit Carlson's operation is illegal.
"When this area was developed decades ago, it is where all the industry was put," he said, adding that the town should consider creating an overlay district to provide businesses with a means for outdoor storage, similar to a current plan in the Hauppauge Industrial Park. "This area has been this way for so long, and we need to make it better."