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Businessman's plan for Smithtown hotel met with skepticism at hearing

Businessman Anthony Scotto, center, looks on with others

Businessman Anthony Scotto, center, looks on with others at a public hearing in Smithtown on Thursday night regarding his proposal to build a hotel next to the Watermill catering hall.   Credit: James Carbone

The businessman who hopes to build a 130-room hotel next to his Watermill catering hall presented his plans to skeptical Smithtown neighbors at a public hearing Thursday night.   

Restaurateur and hotel-owner Anthony Scotto, of Sands Point, promised “a project that Smithtown will be proud of.” He left it to a team of consultants to fill in the details: $680,000 in property taxes a year, just a 1.09 percent increase in traffic on adjacent roads, a four-story building designed to be unobtrusive and rise no higher than the roofs of houses on a hill south of Scotto’s 7-acre parcel at Route 347 and Terry Road. Most of the hotel guests would be attending catering hall events, the consultants said at the hearing.   

“This will be a boutique hotel, not a Motel 6, not to talk ill of Motel 6,” said William Lahti, an engineering and environmental consultant hired by Scotto. His client, he said, “spares no expense in terms of the quality of what he produces.”

Scotto’s $28.2 million project would need a special exception to build the hotel in a wholesale service industry zone, but the town council is unlikely to vote soon on the matter. Former town planner David Flynn wrote in 2018 that the proposal appeared to be out of compliance with six of 13 standards for special-exception uses. The proposed design would need a number of zoning variances and an environmental review, town officials have said.

Scotto’s assertion that many in audience at the hearing would one day become customers drew scoffs as did an estimate from his traffic expert that the hotel would generate only 97 vehicle trips during the peak traffic hour Friday and 61 during the Saturday peak.

“When was the last time a developer produced a traffic study that said traffic was going to get worse?” asked Bob Goykin, a board member of the We Are Nesconset civic group and an opponent of the plan. Goykin, whose group is sometimes critical of commercial development in the hamlet, said a four-story building at the Watermill location would be “an abomination.”

Twenty-one residents spoke against the proposal. Some said that a hotel would add water to an area that is already so-flood prone residents run sump pumps in their basements. Nearby Rhoda Avenue would be turned into a cut-through, endangering children playing on the streets, opponents said. And the hotel would undermine home values, they said, rebutting a real estate expert who said there would be no devaluation. One woman warned of “lewd acts, nakedness” at the hotel and potentially visible from her backyard.

Two St. James residents said they supported the hotel proposal, at least in some version.

“If this was done right, it could be a benefit,” said William Capurso. “Mr. Scotto is investing in our township. That’s a good thing.”

“How about we put it in your backyard,” an audience member sarcastically asked Capurso.

After two hours, Donald King, a Kings Park lawyer for Scotto, had what was unlikely to be the final word on the matter.

 “[Scotto's] not buying any houses," King said. "It’s 18 feet down to groundwater, the sewage is going off-site, the building is not on environmentally sensitive land and Mr. Scotto has an absolute right to develop something here.”

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