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School district sues Smithtown over industrial park development

The Hauppauge school district sues Smithtown over new

The Hauppauge school district sues Smithtown over new zoning rules at the industrial park.  Credit: James Carbone

Lawyers for the Hauppauge Union Free School District and its board of education president have filed a lawsuit asking a Suffolk County Supreme Court judge to annul Smithtown zoning that for the first time allows developers to build apartments in the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.

The suit alleges that the Smithtown Town Board broke New York State law by adopting the new rules "before conducting any meaningful environmental review." Linda Agnew and Tara McDevitt, lawyers for the district, wrote in a complaint that before rezoning the town did not consider potential impacts related to traffic, wastewater and more children attending Hauppauge schools.

Smithtown lawyers said in a Jan. 6 filing that the district had no standing to sue the town. The lawsuit was filed Dec. 11. Town attorney Matthew Jakubowski declined to comment on pending litigation. "Responsible planning and development calls for the Town of Smithtown to take a hard look at all areas of environmental concern now and on a cumulative basis," not as individual applications for development come in, Agnew said. Judge Denise Molia has the case.

Town officials and park stakeholders call the rezoning key to revitalizing the industrial park, which faces vacancies but remains a regional economic driver, making it easier for companies there to attract workers.

Smithtown’s town board voted Aug. 11 to permit developers to apply for a special exception for mixed-use buildings incorporating ground-floor retail or restaurants with apartments and offices above. Town officials determined the same day that a detailed environmental impact statement wasn't needed because they said rezoning would not have a significant impact on the environment. Officials did complete a less detailed environmental assessment form that addressed issues the district lawyers later raised.

Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said last year the legislation could result in 1,000 apartments; town officials said 1,824 on the assessment form.

Hauppauge BOE president David Barshay told Newsday last year that district officials wanted to study rezoning for the park, which for decades offered light industrial and office buildings but never housing. "Give us time to figure out whether we can even absorb" children who might live in apartments, he said, arguing that too many new students could overwhelm a district that at the time faced a $2 million budget shortfall and spent more than $20,000 annually per student.

James Coughlin, whose Tritec firm last fall proposed a $125 million mixed-use project with 335 apartments for the park, last year shared with Newsday a document projecting 1,000 apartments would bring 90 new students to Hauppauge schools, increasing enrollment by less than 2.7%, based on Real Estate Institute at Stony Brook University work.

Terri Alessi-Miceli, president of HIA-LI, the association that represents businesses in the park, said they pay more than $44 million in property taxes yearly to Hauppauge, allowing it to maintain one of Long Island's lowest residential property tax rates. The roughly 3,200-student district has an $88.9 million tax levy.

"We’ve been a really good neighbor to the district for decades and will remain so," she said.

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