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Opposition emerges to proposed apartments in industrial park

James Bouklas, president of the We Are Smithtown

James Bouklas, president of the We Are Smithtown civic group on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Members of a Smithtown civic group said a proposal by town officials to allow apartments in the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge would bring congestion and increase demands on public services like fire, police and schools. 

The proposal is of a “size and density unseen in 50 years in Smithtown, and they’re doing it in the middle of a pandemic where people are focused on keeping their families safe,” said James Bouklas, president of We Are Smithtown. 

Town officials have not made any specific development proposals, but in March posted on the municipal website a bill to rezone parts of the 1,650-acre Innovation Park to allow for buildings combining apartments, retail and other uses. The bill would allow developers to build as many as 1,000 apartments, Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said.

In an interview earlier this month, Wehrheim said he anticipated apartments from studios to two-bedrooms, but could not predict prices.

Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, a Northport-based downtown planning group, said rezoning offered the potential for units significantly cheaper than elsewhere in Hauppauge, where he said a 1,000-square foot, one-bedroom typically rents for $2,000.

“If you did 500-square-foot micro-units, get that price point down to $1,100 or $1,200, you’re looking at significant affordability,” he said.

Thirteen parcels of seven acres or more would be eligible for development, with existing buildings demolished or retrofitted. Eligible lots front Motor Parkway and portions of Old Willets Path, Adams Avenue, Moreland Road and Marcus Boulevard, areas away from the residential neighborhoods to the north of the park. 

Officials earlier this month postponed a public hearing on the bill along with other town hearings until later in the year when residents can attend public meetings. No date has been set. 

The town bill followed a 2019 Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency study that called for development of housing, amenities and work spaces at the park, which is now dominated by warehouse, storage and distribution buildings, but employs 55,000 and generates $19 million in yearly property taxes for the town, even more for the 3,900-student Hauppauge school district. That development would provide much-needed rental housing for younger Long Islanders and would help the region attract new tenants from key industries, planners said. 

From 1990 to 2016, Long Island lost nearly a quarter of its population aged 25 to 34, driven away in part by the region’s median home price of $500,000, nearly twice what it is nationwide. Smithtown's median home price is $520,200, and apartments are in short supply: Just 11% of the town's housing stock is multifamily housing, compared with 16% in Suffolk County overall, and many existing apartments are attached to houses and too dispersed to build the kind of community planners envisioned.

Bouklas and others, though, said they worried town officials were chasing tax revenue at the expense of quality of life for the town’s current residents. Some members of his group have asked for a pause on development until the town completes its master plan. Applications are underway for a 180-unit condominium application in Nesconset, the Watermill hotel on Route 347 and subdivision of the Gyrodyne property in St. James, though any construction is likely months away.

Francis Sosire, a retired teacher who lives in Hauppauge, said he favored creation of housing that Long Island’s young people could afford but feared the needs of apartment dwellers would overwhelm local schools and fire departments while changing the nature of the park. “This was supposed to be an industrial park that creates jobs,” he said.

Nicole Garguilo, a town spokeswoman, said added tax revenue would more than offset any added demand for local services and that area traffic would not change noticeably except on weekends, when most park businesses are closed. 

About 90% of the town’s commercial development in the last two years is redevelopment of existing structures, not new building, she said. “People wanted to see roads paved, parks renewed, better services. You have to have a healthy commercial tax base.”

Larry Levy, executive dean of suburban studies at Hofstra University, said the region’s affordable housing shortage was so dire that "as long as reasonable demands for affordability, accessibility and appropriateness are met, the powers that be ought to approve this.”

Uses of lots at Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge

  • warehouse and storage: 314
  • transportation: 29
  • industrial: 26
  • commercial services: 9
  • vacant: 60

Source: Hauppauge Industrial Park Regional Competitiveness and Growth Strategies report, 2019

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