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Developer drops apartment-art center project in Farmingdale, mayor says

Cary Staller, president of Staller Associates, speaks during

Cary Staller, president of Staller Associates, speaks during a public hearing on a proposed 54-unit apartment building at Howitt Middle School in Farmingdale on September 24, 2018. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

The developer who had planned to build a 54-unit apartment building and a performing arts center in downtown Farmingdale has abandoned the project, Mayor Ralph Ekstrand said.

Cary Staller, president of Hauppauge-based Staller Associates Inc., faxed a letter to Village Hall on Friday afternoon withdrawing his application, four days after a number of residents spoke out against it at a public hearing.

“I’m disappointed because this was an opportunity to have a 227-seat performing arts center and an art gallery that could be used by various charity organizations and the school district,” Ekstrand said.

Staller had faced community resistance to the proposed Main Street building from the beginning, with residents objecting to the building’s 3 ½ story height, its modern design and the traffic they said it would generate.

Staller initially had not planned to build a theater, but after an April hearing at which residents said a cultural center would be more appropriate for the site than an apartment building, he reduced proposed ground-floor retail space by more than half and added the arts center.

Ekstrand said Staller did not detail his reason for withdrawing and did not say what he now planned to do with his property.

Staller could not be reached for comment Friday. But he said at Monday’s public hearing — which attracted more than 200 people, many who opposed the current version of the project — that if he was not allowed to build an apartment building on the site, “we’ll be forced to lease the existing stores to bars and restaurants. Quite frankly that would be the easiest and most profitable alternative for us.”

Downtown Farmingdale has become a nightlife hot spot, and some residents said Monday the area was overly saturated with bars.

John Capobianco, chairman of the village’s cultural arts committee, criticized Staller for pulling out of the project. The arts committee had urged Staller to lease the theater to a public arts council for $1 a year, to allow more community control.

“I am upset he wouldn’t even consider the concept of a public-private partnership,” he said. “He had the opportunity to lead the way for Long Island and he abdicated that responsibility.”

Staller had said he would lease the theater to the nonprofit BroadHollow Theatre Company, which has sites in East Islip and Elmont, at a heavily discounted rate.

Several residents Monday objected to the modern look of the building and said it clashed with the nearby redbrick Village Hall and firehouse.

Ekstrand said he had planned to ask Staller to redesign the building’s facade, so “instead of making it more 21st century, could you make it more 19th century?”

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