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Plans for Smithtown assisted living center to move forward as town, developer end dispute

This rending shows the proposed Whisper Landing in

This rending shows the proposed Whisper Landing in Smithtown. Board members voted unanimously, 5-0, to settle zoning conditions with Smithtown-based St. Johnland Development Corp. to allow the assisted living complex at Route 25A and River Heights Drive.

Smithtown officials and a developer plan to settle litigation, allowing for the construction of a $45 million, 103-unit assisted-living development.

Smithtown board members last month voted unanimously, 5-0, to settle zoning conditions with Smithtown-based St. Johnland Development Corp. for Whisper Landing, located at Route 25A and River Heights Drive.

Town officials said last week that the resolution should be signed soon, allowing St. Johnland to withdraw its lawsuits against the town and town zoning board, and file a site plan.

"It worked out for both parties. It's a good project," said town Councilman Edward Wehrheim, adding that it will not create stress on the school district or on traffic.

In 2013, some neighboring residents voiced concerns about the project's impact on quality of life and traffic. In 2014, town officials placed nearly 30 conditions on granting a special exception permit -- required for assisted-living facilities -- and variances, like regulating building materials and tree preservation.

St. Johnland's attorney, Richard I. Scheyer, said the conditions were "unreasonable and onerous" at the time. Scheyer declined to comment through a representative last week on the potential settlement.

Smithtown Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski said the town amended some conditions to permit the project's construction while protecting residents.

Changes included moving the development about 25 feet closer toward Route 25A -- away from neighboring residents -- and maintaining buffers to the rear and along River Heights Drive, said Jakubowski. The town relaxed some conditions on aesthetics and landscaping in front of the building.

The town Board of Zoning Appeals' attorney, Paul Hennings, said the zoning board plans to sign off on the changes.

The agreement helps Benchmark Senior Living -- a Wellesley, Massachusetts-based company that cares for more than 4,000 elderly at 50 assisted-living facilities across New England and Pennsylvania -- press on with its purchase of the property from St. Johnland.

Pending state and county approvals, Smithtown would be the company's first site on Long Island. Benchmark also has a pending rezoning application to build a 67-unit assisted- living facility for a Centerport facility.

Ken Littlefield, Benchmark's director of development, said there was a significant need for assisted living in Smithtown. "The proximity to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and proximity to downtown Smithtown made it an ideal location," he said.

Benchmark received preliminary approval for up to $2.5 million in tax breaks by the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency in February.

Benchmark's attorney, J. Timothy Shea Jr., thanked town officials for the agreement, adding that both sides recognized "the need to protect the natural forested areas on the site, provide architecture that blends within the community and limit any impacts to the neighborhood."


Details on the $45 million, 103-unit assisted living development planned for Smithtown:

* 103 units in a three-story complex

* 90,000 square feet

* On-site sewage treatment

* Mix of studio, 1 and 2 bedrooms, and companion suites that share a kitchenette and common living space

* Expected to open in 2017

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