Opponents of a proposal to subdivide Gyrodyne’s 75-acre St. James property for development are calling for a high-ranking county planning official to resign or step aside.
The official, Suffolk County Planning Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Casey, said at a May 5 commission meeting on the application that commissioners would not consider public comment, only a report by county planning staffers and other material they had submitted. Opponents of the former defense contractor’s subdivision application — the majority of speakers during public comments at the meeting — said their views needed to be considered.
Commissioners ultimately failed to pass a resolution, returning the matter without comment to the Town of Smithtown, where the Planning Board could rule this month on a proposal that could open the way for a hotel, assisted living and offices at the North Country Road site.
"[Casey] cannot serve as chairwoman of the commission if this is her belief about the value of public comment," said George Hoffman, a Brookhaven resident and president of the Three Village Civic Association.
Hoffman and James Bouklas, president of the civic group We Are Smithtown, held a Thursday morning news conference outside the Gyrodyne site to call for reforms to commission procedures. Allies Cindy Smith, founder of United Communities Against Gyrodyne Development, Judy Ogden, of the Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Coalition, and Suffolk County Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), attended, though Hahn said she did not agree with calls for Casey's resignation.
Casey, a lawyer in private practice who, like all planning commissioners, serves as a volunteer, said in an email that she had followed commission rules.
"While the Commission reviewed and considered a subdivision application for the Gyrodyne property, the Commission abided by legal guidance not to consider any statements provided during the public portion as it is outside the regulatory guidance," Casey said. "The Commission made its determination based upon the guidelines set forth by State law despite a concerted effort to lobby members of the Commission prior to the meeting in an effort to render a different outcome."
Hahn said she would push for a review of planning commission rules to maximize input from community members and municipalities.
In an email, Timothy Shea Jr., a lawyer representing Gyrodyne, said: "We cannot allow the value of people who volunteer service of the greatest magnitude to be reduced to a litmus test of agreeing with the political winds of the moment. Ms. Casey and all other Board members should be commended for their service, even those who voted against the Gyrodyne project."