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New life for old Central Islip psychiatric center

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter spoke to Newsday Tuesday

Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter spoke to Newsday Tuesday on the site of the former Central Islip Psychiatric Center about the plans that have been approved to reuse the existing buildings to build more than 350 new apartments. Credit: Barry Sloan

Some of the last vestiges of the shuttered state Central Islip Psychiatric Center — including more than a dozen damaged and vacant buildings that once housed thousands of patients — are set to become the centerpiece of a new apartment complex that officials say will continue efforts to revitalize the hamlet.

A consortium of Farmingdale and Bethpage builders is in the last stages of receiving Islip Town approvals for The Belmont at Eastview, a 354-unit complex that would include a community center, basketball and tennis courts, dog parks, playgrounds, picnic areas and a swimming pool on an 87-acre tract a fastball’s throw from the Long Island Ducks’ Fairfield Properties Ballpark on Courthouse Drive.

"They’re maintaining the campus look and the open space, which was important to the community," said Debbie Cavanagh, president of the Central Islip Coalition of Good Neighbors, a civic group.

The developers, who propose spending more than $100 million on the project, say they plan to apply for tax breaks from the Islip Industrial Development Agency but have not yet done so.

The Belmont at Eastview — its name is a nod to Eastview Drive, which runs through the property, and Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon — is the latest effort stretching over the past three decades to revitalize Central Islip, a community of about 34,450 that has lagged economically behind most of Long Island.

Median household income in Central Islip from 2015 to 2019 was $74,458, compared with $98,387 overall in Islip Town and $101,031 in Suffolk County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Belmont backers say the apartments will provide critically needed housing, including homes for young residents and retirees seeking to downsize. About 10% of the units will be priced as affordable housing, and 20% will be set aside for residents age 55 and older, officials said. Supporters say the project also will help preserve remnants of the hospital, which had provided thousands of jobs and given the hamlet much of its identity before it closed in 1996.

‘A primer in how to do a development’

Revitalization efforts in Central Islip began even before the hospital closed, with construction in the early 1990s of the John P. Cohalan Court Complex on Carleton Aveue and the nearby Ducks ballpark. Recent years have seen development of shopping centers, hotels and youth baseball and soccer fields, and the town is building its new animal shelter on the west side of Carleton Avenue.

Two years ago, state officials awarded $9.7 million for a variety of Central Islip projects, including sewers, street upgrades, housing and retail development, hiking and biking trails and a fund to attract new businesses.

The Belmont is being developed by the Farmingdale-based The Marcus Organization, which has built projects such as the headquarters of Leviton Manufacturing Co. in Melville and the Bank of the Hamptons office building in Bohemia, and Bethpage-based Steel Equities, which built Stony Brook Medicine’s Advanced Specialty Care facility in Commack.

The development will occupy part of what once was the sprawling hospital campus, much of which has been redeveloped for housing, shopping centers and other uses.

In contrast to many large development proposals, which often founder on the shoals of Long Islanders’ legendary opposition to new construction, the Belmont plan sailed through the Islip Town approval process, receiving OKs for zoning changes and site plans with little public attention or opposition, and securing widespread support from town officials and Central Islip civic groups.

Supporters say the developers worked with community leaders and town officials to build support for the project, after ditching initial plans for industrial and commercial uses that many residents opposed.

"From Day One, this has been a primer in how to do a development," said Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter. "They were smart to come in and meet [with residents] before you go running off, as people often do … only to find out this is something people don’t really want. … It’s smart to test the waters before you spend a lot of money."

The future Belmont site is owned by New York Institute of Technology, which had operated a campus there until 2005. Sloane Marcus, director of operations for The Marcus Organization, said the developers are in contract to buy the property and hope to complete the purchase in early spring. She declined to reveal the purchase price.

Construction is expected to start this spring and will take about 18 months, officials said. Marcus said construction is expected to cost "in excess of $100 million," largely due to the cost of rehabilitating and converting 14 buildings to apartments.

Preserving the former hospital buildings was a key consideration for community groups, who opposed the developers’ initial proposals for a mixed-use complex that included commercial and industrial structures.

Besides reclaiming the old hospital property, the project is notable for the builders’ efforts to overcome the kind of community opposition that typically blocks similar large projects.

Nudged by Islip Town officials, Marcus Organization and Steel Equities officials and their Uniondale attorneys, Jeffrey Forchelli and Brian Kennedy, about four years ago approached community groups such as the Coalition of Good Neighbors and the Central Islip Civic Council with the mixed-use proposal. They were turned down.

The developers completely revamped their plan and submitted a new proposal calling for apartments. This time, many residents embraced the project.

"Originally, they wanted to do all industrial with 18-wheeler trucks, and I said no, none of that," Cavanagh said. "When they proposed keeping the buildings and maintaining the character of the community, how could you not support that?"

Marcus said her company and Steel Equities agreed early in the process to cooperate with community leaders rather than fight them. She said the companies set up a website that outlined the proposal and included a section where residents could submit questions. Company officials answered queries ranging from trees and traffic to the development’s target audience, she said.

Referring to Central Islip residents, Marcus said, "They asked a lot of questions and we try to listen to what they have to say."

A traffic circle under consideration

Rich Murdocco, who publishes The Foggiest Idea, a blog on real estate issues, said four years is relatively fast for a major Long Island development to get approved. He credited the Belmont developers for accepting input from community leaders.

But more significant, he said, was Central Islip’s crying need for economic development and the developers’ proposal to reuse existing buildings rather than construct new ones.

"The structures are there already," Murdocco said. "There’s not 200 acres of pristine woods that are going to be developed. ... In this case, because the structures are there and they‘re just kind of enhancing them, there’s less chance of community pushback."

But the proposal did not receive universal acclaim. At public hearings last September and November, a few speakers voiced a preference for commercial or retail development. Some residents raised concerns about traffic and the development’s potential impact on local schools.

The developers have estimated the apartments would include about 20 to 30 children. Few families are expected to have school-age children because of the relatively small size of the apartments, which are expected to range from 600 square feet to 1,200 square feet.

Apartments will be a mix of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units, with monthly rents ranging from about $1,500 to $3,500, officials said. Those classified as "affordable" under state guidelines will be about $1,000 for studios and less than $2,000 for a three-bedroom unit, they said.

Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said in an email that Islip "is hiring a consultant to look at traffic safety measures." Developers said a traffic circle is under consideration.

The buildings slated for reconstruction as part of the Belmont project seriously have deteriorated since NYIT left, officials and developers said. On a recent day, pigeons and squirrels could be seen going in and out of broken windows, and the project’s developers have said vandals and vagrants have broken into the buildings, stealing copper and causing other damage despite frequent police patrols.

But the Gothic structures — many nearly a century old — hold enormous potential, developers said. They refer to one edifice as "the Harry Potter building" because of its resemblance to the fictional Hogwarts school in the popular wizarding novels.

"When you look at these, these are beautiful brick buildings with slate roofs, and we’re just so excited to bring this property, to bring it back to the beautiful place that it once was," Steel Equities co-owner Glenn Lostritto said at a Sept. 9 Islip Town Planning Board meeting. "We really think it’s going to be one-of-a-kind in Islip."

By the numbers

Details of The Belmont at Eastview apartment development

87 acres

14 rehabilitated former hospital buildings

354 units

38 studio apartments

180 1-bedroom units

128 2-bedroom units

8 3-bedroom units

1 new community center, including a swimming pool and tennis and basketball courts

4 dog parks

11 picnic areas

5 playgrounds

3 miles of walking paths

Sources: Islip Town, The Marcus Organization, Steel Equities

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