Smithtown officials say they didn’t ask for a $200,000 grant that came their way last month from Suffolk County for downtown revitalization in Kings Park.
Town planning chief David Flynn, who spoke in favor of the resolutions at a December meeting of the county legislature, told the town board at a work session last week that there’d been “very little advance warning they were thinking of doing this.”
“Do you have any idea why the county decided to take $200,000 and give it as a grant to Kings Park?” Councilwoman Lynne Nowick asked him.
“No, I do not,” he answered.
Suffolk County Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), whose district includes the hamlet, says the grant — part of a $7.5 million countywide economic stimulus package proposed by County Executive Steve Bellone and approved by the county legislature — is a waste of money at a time when the county has precious little to spend.
“It’s the equivalent of a guy who’s about to get his house foreclosed on putting a new media room in the basement,” said Trotta, who cast the only votes against two resolutions to fund the projects through a bond issue and said he’d been provided with little information beforehand. “We can’t afford it.”
The December vote on both resolutions was 16 to 1. The grant is intended to fund parking and economic studies for the hamlet, augmenting a plan that Kings Park civic leaders paid for and submitted to the town board last fall.
Town officials have not adopted that plan and say they are waiting for the release of a separate plan, in the works for years, that also covers downtown Smithtown. That plan, awaiting review by the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency, was written by the Manhattan-based Regional Plan Association.
Smithtown officials appeared baffled by their good fortune last week.
“That announcement came out of the blue,” Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said in an interview. “There was no request on our part.”
In an interview, Bellone said the grant was part of a program of investment across the county and came after close engagement with community groups in Kings Park.
“Where you see great community-based planning, which has happened in Kings Park, you want to advance those things as quickly as possible,” he said. “This is the core of the county’s plan to bring young people back to our region and create high-paying jobs.”
Kings Park civic leaders say their downtown, which struggles with a high vacancy rate, needs major changes to attract new residents and businesses. They said that they, at least, were thrilled by news of the grant.
“It shows commitment on the county’s part to move forward with our plans for downtown revitalization,” said Linda Henninger, vice president of the Kings Park Civic Association.