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Suffolk hires architects to advise towns on building projects

The county has hired architects who have worked

The county has hired architects who have worked on local projects, such as the Ronkonkoma hub, which is pictured here. Credit: Town of Brookhaven, Tritec Real Estate

Three architectural firms will be paid up to $200,000 to provide planning help to towns, villages and hamlets in Suffolk County.

However, some municipalities aren't sure they need the assistance.

The county's Economic Development Corp. last week hired the architects to help communities with proposed building projects in downtowns and near Long Island Rail Road stations. The money comes from fees that the corporation earns from issuing tax-free bonds, not from taxpayers.

Corporation officials said the architects will provide advice to government leaders who are considering various development proposals.

"Sometimes municipalities don't have the expertise in house when a developer approaches them," said Joanne Minieri, chairman of the development corporation's board of directors. "We have an opportunity here to assist in creating smart-growth, walkable downtowns."

Still, several towns and villages contacted Tuesday said they hadn't been consulted and wondered how helpful the new service would be.

"Generally the projects proposed in Southold Town are of a much smaller scale," said Southold Supervisor Scott Russell, "and we have more than enough talent in-house to thoughtfully, thoroughly and professionally review such plans."

He also said the town requires that an architect serve on the town's Architectural Review Commission.

Huntington Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the program "is news" to the town.

The architects selected by the development corporation from a field of five are: Spector Group; Torti Gallas and Partners, and Beatty Harvey Coco Architects.

Spector, based in Woodbury, is Long Island's largest firm based on the number of architects employed. It has done work for corporations, school districts and redevelopment projects, such as the Nassau Hub.

Maryland-based Torti Gallas and Hauppauge-based Beatty Harvey have both worked on the Wyandanch Rising blight removal project, among others.

Among the three firms, Spector hasn't contributed to the political campaigns of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone. A Torti partner gave $500 in 2011, and Beatty Harvey and its partners contributed $7,300 between 2011 and 2014, according to campaign finance filings.

The development corporation will pay the architects' bills from a $200,000 retainer that is funded from fees charged by the corporation to hospitals, social-welfare agencies and others for issuing tax-free bonds on their behalf.

Suffolk Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) Tuesday called on the corporation to lower its fees if it "can afford to look for interesting ways to give away money, which is exactly what this is . . . The whole thing stinks of crony capitalism."

The corporation's board decided unanimously that Minieri, who also is economic development commissioner in the Bellone administration, and consultant Anthony Manetta, a former executive director of the county's industrial development corporation, would decide which architectural firm will work on each project.

Manetta said Tuesday that he came up with the initiative, called the Master Plan Design Program, after seeing some municipalities struggle with building projects.

Separately, the Suffolk IDA in 2013 hired the Manhattan-based Regional Plan Association for up to $300,000 to help local governments with development.

-- with Matt Clark

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