The Suffolk County Landbank has scrapped plans to sell two tax-delinquent Kings Park brownfield properties and will order an environmental study before seeking new development proposals.
The June 27 move came after Mike Rosato, a prospective developer for one of the properties, the 25-acre Steck-Philbin landfill, told Landbank officials that workers building a nearby soccer facility had accidentally uncovered 40,000 cubic yards of debris on the Steck-Philbin property. Rosato said the debris was likely so extensive that to properly cap and close it, he and his partners would also need to use the other property, the adjacent 5-acre Izzo site, for drainage.
The properties carry combined tax liens of more than $4 million. They sit off Old Northport Road in a once-isolated area mined for sand, then used for landfill and industry. Those activities — sometimes conducted in violation of Smithtown town code — have caused friction between operators, town officials and nearby residents.
Rosato is a Newsday employee. He and a partner, Toby Carlson, owner of the Kings Park recycling company Powercrush, described the Landbank decision as a setback. “I’m disappointed that it’s going to get kicked down the road,” Carlson said, adding that the environmental study could have been ordered years ago. Rosato took a harder line: “If members of the Landbank believed in their organization’s stated goals, the Steck-Philbin landfill would be well on its way to being capped and closed today,” he wrote in an email.
The partners said they envision recreation or renewable energy uses for the property, and that they agreed to avoid some uses like asphalt production that neighbors might find objectionable. The county legislature approved transfer of ownership to them last year under a deal that was contingent on entry into the New York State brownfield cleanup program and called for the partners to pay the county $500,000 over 20 years plus cleanup costs, but Landbank officials didn’t execute a sales contract.
Dorian Dale, the director of sustainability and chief recovery officer for the county, said that the deal had languished after opposition from then-Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and local civic leaders. The landfill "should not be sold absent a commitment to develop the property acceptable to the Town," Vecchio wrote in a July 2017 letter to County Executive Steve Bellone. Dale said he felt similarly after joining the Landbank last year, recognizing the "weakness" of a contract that didn't stipulate an end use. “My skepticism is raised when I see someone putting together a private equity deal committed to putting millions of dollars with no specified use at the end of that process,” he said.
Smithtown Supervisor Edward Wehrheim told Bellone in a May letter that transfer of ownership should be contingent on county approval of a use for the property following the environmental study and development of a closure plan.
Leg. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) called the Steck-Philbin deal one of “the most controversial” in the history of the Landbank, a nonprofit founded by county officials in 2013 to facilitate community revitalization and cleanup of brownfield sites. The Landbank has generated $5.6 million in back tax payments. Cilmi praised the Landbank's work in general but said “I have a sense that the county purposefully dragged its feet in consummating the deal,” he said.
Leg. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) made a similar assertion in a Landbank meeting last week, saying the contract had sat on County Executive Steve Bellone's desk "for a year."
Jason Elan, a Bellone spokesman, called those assertions "baseless and devoid of reality," and said the county had worked for months to resolve town concerns over the property.
The decision by Landbank officials will also cancel a bid by Kings Park businessman Michael Cox to build storage units on the Izzo property. Staff had recommended his $1.3 million cash offer over Rosato and Carlson’s $500,000 offer. Cox did not respond to a request for comment.