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Smithtown proposes limit to storage facilities

Smithtown wants storage warehouses to be located in

Smithtown wants storage warehouses to be located in industrial areas. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Proposed Smithtown legislation that would confine mini warehouses to industrial districts and amend a rarely enforced height restriction for those buildings will likely be up for a council vote in March, a town spokeswoman said. 

Town Planner Peter Hans at a Feb. 4 Town Hall public hearing described the bill as a maneuver to keep storage facilities out of downtowns, where planners would rather see retail or office space. But some residents said they worried it would contribute to overdevelopment and allow for construction of hulking facilities near neighborhoods. 

“Are we to be the repository for all of Long Island?” asked Robert Johnson, who said town officials, eager for more business development overall, had allowed a building spree in recent years. 

Zoning rules now permit the compartmentalized storage facilities in central business districts as well as industrial districts and limit their height to 24 feet or two stories, though in practice many are built higher because developers typically ask for and receive zoning variances that allow them to build to the maximum allowed height of the district in which the warehouse is located. The bill would codify that height allowance. 

Maximum height is 35 feet in most industrial districts and 40 feet in the heavy industry district. It is 50 feet in most of the Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge, though other requirements could make it difficult to build to the maximum allowable height. 

Hans, in an interview, said there had been no uptick in commercial building applications in recent years, though planners have had “numerous” discussions with developers interested in building warehouses in town. “It seems to be a hot use all of a sudden,” he said.

Jon Dario, chairman of an industry group, the New York Self Storage Association, said in a statement that the proposed legislation would hurt residents and small business owners who want storage facilities to be near their businesses and other services they regularly use, such as pharmacies and dry cleaners.

"We encourage the Town Board to consider more creative win-win solutions," such as incentives to build mixed-use storage facilities that share space with other businesses, he wrote.

Smithtown has about eight mini warehouses, with one application pending for a facility near Route 25 and Seagram Road. That application is for a 24-foot building, and the developer has not asked for a height variance. Planners have spoken with a developer about a possible facility elsewhere on Route 25, he said, but declined to give the location, citing a department policy to only discuss formal applications. 

The proposed changes come as elected officials and consultants are well into a rewrite of town code and the master plan intended to guide development for decades to come. 

A local civic association, We Are Nesconset, has in the past called for a moratorium on commercial variances and zoning changes until that plan is finished, but town council members have shown little enthusiasm for that idea. The plan is expected to be completed next year. 

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