Smithtown officials used improperly strict standards to calculate parking and other variance requirements for a proposed 130-room hotel at the Watermill catering facility, representatives for the developer said at a zoning board of appeals hearing Tuesday night.
The seven-acre parcel at Route 347 and Terry Road, owned by hospitality industry executive Anthony Scotto, is composed of portions zoned for wholesale and industry, which permits hotels, and for neighborhood business, which does not. William Lahti, an engineer for Scotto, said town officials had wrongly based their calculations on only the wholesale and industry portion. “If you use the entire site area, these variances are moot,” he said. “You don’t need them.”
Scotto’s application asks for nine variances including to increase the maximum building height for the proposed four-floor hotel from 35 to 45 feet, increase the number of guest rooms from 100 to 130, and decrease required parking from 501 spaces to 337. The $28 million project is only viable with 130 rooms and would not add greatly to traffic in the area because many guests would already be attending functions at the catering hall, Scotto’s representatives said.
Town planner Peter Hans said in an interview Wednesday that the town’s calculations were correct and were based on prior approvals and site plans for the property. “We try to be as consistent as possible with other properties in town as well as prior approvals for the site,” he said. Other split zoned commercial projects, such as a nearby Walgreens, faced similar constraints, he said.
Neighbor Sarah Grimaldi said the development would destroy the suburban idyll that had brought her to Smithtown.
“These are concerns for people who are raising small children and want to live a quiet suburban life,” Grimaldi said. “This project will set a precedent for other businesses that want to come in.”
Historically, most larger buildings in the town have been located at the Kings Park Psychiatric Center and the Hauppauge Industrial Park, they said.
Some questioned whether Scotto’s experts — in addition to Lahti, they included a municipal lawyer, an assessor and a traffic engineer — testified objectively when they said the project and its guests would fit seamlessly into their neighborhood.
Residents also said Scotto has pushed regulatory lines before. Town officials said in 2012 that Scotto’s nearby Insignia steakhouse illegally added dozens of parking spaces. Scotto's attorney Don King said that a contractor added the spaces without Scotto’s knowing, Newsday reported at the time.
Earlier Tuesday, the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce released a letter saying in part that the group “supports the concept of a hotel” it said would bring high-end commerce to the town with minimal negative impact.
King, who is also representing Scotto on the hotel application, did not attempt to win over opponents. "We meet the special exception requirements,” he said. “This isn’t 'Dancing With The Stars,' where applause counts.”
Hans, speaking at the hearing, said the project would need approvals from the zoning board and town council and could be subject to New York State’s environmental review process. That determination could take weeks or months, he said.