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Town may buy sewer rights to help expand downtown

Smithtown has come up with an unusual strategy to deal with its difficulties in developing its downtowns: buying existing sewer capacity rights from a local nonprofit.

Because of limited sewer capacity, the town's three downtown areas have had trouble expanding or adding "wet" businesses, such as restaurants, that require sewers. However, the county allows transfers of unused sewer capacity of undeveloped properties, said town planner Frank DeRubeis, as long as the seller "sterilizes" the property so it cannot be developed later.

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Smithtown Historical Society trustee Anthony Tanzi recently came up with the idea of the town buying the sewer credits for 5.6 acres of land the society owns behind its buildings on Middle Country Road, just east of Route 111. Vecchio said the purchase in the end would not cost the taxpayers and would loosen up some sewer capacity.

"The town would buy the credits, hold them, and when an entity such as a developer wishes to expand, they can purchase the credit from the town," Vecchio said.

If approved by the town board, Smithtown would sell the credits at cost to a developer for workplace housing and revitalization of the town's three downtown areas - Smithtown, Kings Park and St. James, said Vecchio. The cost would be about $75,000 to $80,000 for each of the property's 11 credits, but the land would need to be appraised for an exact price. Vecchio said the town would most likely make payments to the organization over three years.

The sale of the credit rights would bring extra money to the coffers of the historical society, and keep the pristine land from ever being developed. "If the deal goes through, the town ultimately has a say on how to remediate the main streets," said town historian Brad Harris. "It's a win-win for the public and the taxpayers, and for merchants on Main Street."

Suffolk Legis. Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) has proposed expanding the existing law allowing transfers only for workforce housing to include projects that would "foster smart growth in downtown areas."

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