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Smithtown town board seeks ‘sole power’ over appointing attorneys, experts

Property owners are seeking to build four homes

Property owners are seeking to build four homes on a 3.2-acre Landing Avenue site in Smithtown. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger

The Smithtown Town Board may take away the planning board’s authority to appoint its own legal counsel and other expert advisers.

The town board is scheduled to consider a bill Tuesday that would grant it “sole power and authority” over those positions — a move that planning board member Conrad A. Chayes Sr. said would break with decades of tradition of board independence.

Chayes said the measure was driven by Councilman Tom McCarthy, the planning liaison, and would lead to overdevelopment and commercialization in the town.

“Should the McCarthy-led effort to hobble Smithtown’s planning board succeed, all of Smithtown’s residents would suffer,” Chayes said. He added that planning board attorney Paul Sabatino was “the best municipal attorney I have worked with in my over 45 years of government service.”

McCarthy and Town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim said Monday that Chayes’ assertions were false. In fact, they said, the bill was pushed by Wehrheim and Town Attorney Matt Jakubowski, and was spurred by budget and management concerns.

Wehrheim said he was concerned that the planning board was involved in lawsuits with several applicants.

Wehrheim’s spokeswoman, Nicole Garguilo, added in an email: “The Planning Board will absolutely remain independent as this has no bearing on the way the board votes.” The town board already has oversight of the zoning board of appeals counsel.

Sabatino’s role in the legal and administrative wrangling over a proposed subdivision near the Smithtown Landing golf course called Foxwood Estates sparked the town board proposal, Chayes said.

Chayes opposes the plans, which he called “poorly thought out,” and said he and Sabatino worked together earlier this year to draft a resolution quashing the application. Chayes also said Sabatino was “instrumental” in the successful defense against a lawsuit the developer filed over the town’s handling of the application.

The planning board is scheduled to vote on Foxwood Wednesday night.

Chayes, who backed former Supervisor Patrick Vecchio in last year’s Republican primary, was removed from his leadership position by the town board this year. His five-year term expires in December, and he does not expect to be reappointed, he said Monday.

Sabatino, who was appointed in 2017, said that “when they want something done the right way, municipalities want me. If they want something by fiat, as opposed to rational, reasoned process, then I’m not the guy to go to.”

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