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Developer pulls out of deal on Smithtown school district building

Smithtown schools' administrative offices in Smithtown, Nov. 1,

Smithtown schools' administrative offices in Smithtown, Nov. 1, 2016. Credit: Ed Betz

A developer who planned to build apartments on the site of the Smithtown Central School District’s New York Avenue administrative offices has pulled out of the deal.

Southern Land Co. of Nashville, Tennessee, sent a contract termination letter to the school district Friday, Anthony Guardino, an attorney who had been representing the developer, wrote in an email Sunday night. Guardino, a Hauppauge land-use attorney with the firm Farrell Fritz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A representative of the district confirmed Sunday night that SLC pulled out of the deal.

Smithtown Deputy Supervisor Tom McCarthy said in a phone interview Sunday night that “I look forward to, along with the supervisor, reaching out to the school district to come up with a mutually beneficial solution for all parties that will include protecting the surrounding residents.”

The Nashville firm’s withdrawal is a setback for district officials, who had worked for close to a year to put together a $14.8 million deal that they said would have unloaded an aging building the district, whose enrollment is dropping, no longer needs.

But some neighbors had bitterly opposed plans to build as many as 252 apartments on the 13-acre site, which fronts on Smithtown’s downtown but is also next to a quiet neighborhood of one-family homes. The specter of an on-site sewage treatment plant added to their dismay.

“They certainly had heard of us enough, and met a lot of resistance,” said Jennifer Saul, whose family lives near the school property. “Probably another company is going to step into its place. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

She and other neighbors had organized in recent months, circulating fliers that called the firm’s plans “completely out of character for our residential Smithtown community.” A meeting at one New York Avenue home last month attracted dozens of neighbors who left with pre-drafted letters of protest to town and district officials.

An online petition against the plan had drawn more than 700 supporters by late last week, and neighbors had begun voicing their opposition at town and school board meetings.

“We were not foreseeing the potential that in three or four years we could look out in the yard and see three- or four-story-tall apartment buildings,” said Saul, a nurse practitioner. “If we wanted that, frankly, we’d have moved to Queens.”

Saul and others favor single-family homes on the site, or renovation of the offices for use as a new Town Hall, consolidating town offices now scattered in several locations.

A statement from Superintendent James Grossane in December described the sale as fiscally prudent, given unused capacity in other district buildings.

“The Board of Education is often times tasked with making difficult decisions,” he wrote. “However, the Board must always act in the best interest of the entire community they were elected to serve.”

Southern would have needed a zoning change from the town board to allow for multifamily development of the scale it wanted on the site.

Town Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, in a letter last month to two residents who oppose apartments there, wrote that the board would only approve a zoning change if council members believe it is “in the best interest of the public.”

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