What is Gyrodyne?
Now a real estate company with three sites in New York and one in Florida, the company once made helicopters and drones for military use and had more than 700 employees worldwide. Its prize holding is Flowerfields, a 75-acre site at Route 25A and Mills Pond Road, once home to a large flower nursery and later to Gyrodyne manufacturing. The parcel is mostly in the Smithtown hamlet of St. James, with a small piece in Brookhaven Town. Smithtown officials have said it is one of the biggest largely unbuilt parcels in western Suffolk County. The site was even bigger before 2005, when the state took 245.5 acres for a Stony Brook University research and development park. In 2012, after a string of court defeats, state officials agreed to pay $167.5 million for that land, on top of an initial $26.3 million payment.
What does the company want to do?
In 2017, Gyrodyne chief executive Gary Fitlin said the company would sell its assets and unwind operations. The company submitted to Smithtown officials a subdivision application for uses such as a hotel, assisted living and medical offices. In a 2019 SEC filing, Gyrodyne revealed plans to sell about nine acres of the land to a company connected with Benchmark Senior Living, a developer and operator of assisted living whose holdings include Whisper Wood in Smithtown. The land could also be attractive to Stony Brook University, which rents space at the site proposed for redevelopment. Smithtown environmental officials are reviewing the company's application.
Who wants development, and why?
Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim generally favors commercial development, which he says broadens the tax base and shields residents from property tax increases. Development along the lines Gyrodyne envisions could generate millions of dollars in taxes each year for local schools, the St. James Fire District and the town itself. Town officials also hope they can hook up the St. James business district to a proposed Gyrodyne sewage treatment plant, a move that would greatly increase the value of properties that now depend on individual septic systems. Some civic and business leaders are solidly in that camp.
Who opposes development, and why?
Judging by turnout at public meetings over the past several years, most of the opposition appears to come from Brookhaven Town, where residents say they would bear costs, such as increased traffic on Stony Brook Road with none of the tax benefits. Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine has angrily criticized an approval process he says fails to take into account his constituents’ needs, though county and state representatives have also made proposals to slow or alter the course of development. Officials of nearby Head of the Harbor have been milder in their criticisms, but have also expressed worry. Development opponents have also warned about ecological dangers of agricultural or manufacturing chemicals that may have been used at the Gyrodyne site in the past, and of the impacts the proposed sewage treatment plant could have on Stony Brook Harbor.