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Smithtown official warns of impacts of Watermill hotel plan

The owner of the Watermill, seen on May

The owner of the Watermill, seen on May 17, is seeking approvals from Smithtown to build a hotel near the catering hall.  Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Smithtown will require an environmental study for a hotel proposed next to a catering facility after an environmental official warned of “overintensification” of development at the site.    

The 5-0 council vote Tuesday could add time and expense to restaurateur Anthony Scotto’s plan for a 130-room hotel at the Watermill, near the intersection of Route 347 and Terry Road, though a lawyer for Scotto, Donald King, said that under the administration of town Supervisor Edward Wehrheim, "it’s going to move along and be completed very quickly.”

Wehrheim has said he wants to broaden the town’s commercial tax base, but in an interview Tuesday he said his administration was sensitive to the concerns of neighbors at public hearings earlier this year who said the project was too big and out of character for the area.

“Some of those concerns may be warranted and some not,” he said. Tuesday’s council vote will ensure “everything is looked at so we can come to a conclusion.”

Howard Barton III, the town’s assistant environmental protection director, wrote in an Oct. 31 memo to the council that Scotto’s proposal could have “significant impacts” on groundwater and traffic, subjecting neighbors to "noise, visual and fugitive light impacts." It could also set an “undesirable precedent” for future applications in the area, he wrote.

The memo recommended a formal environmental impact statement under the State Environmental Quality Review Act  or SEQRA. The final statement will include social and economic considerations and comments from stakeholders including neighbors. It will also identify alternatives to Scotto's proposal, along with measures to mitigate possible adverse impacts. Developers pay for impact statements; some recent statements for some other projects have taken months to complete. 

Representatives for Scotto’s SSRC Realty company this year laid out plans for a 45-foot-tall building on a 7.16-acre parcel of land zoned for wholesale industry and neighborhood business. Zoning restricts building height to 35 feet and the number of rooms to 100. They have also asked for variances to zoning standards for lot area, parking, buffers, environmentally sensitive lands, gross floor area, landscaping and parking setback. 

SEQRA requires town review for a range of land use and regulatory actions, but relatively few cases are deemed potentially significant enough to trigger a town order for an environmental impact statement. The Department of Environment and Waterways memos recommending those statements typically outline the most dire potential impacts of a project, but those concerns can be tested and the impacts mitigated during the application process.   

King dismissed Barton as an “unnecessary obstructionist” with a “history of overreaching” and said he and other representatives hired by Scotto had already addressed the concerns Barton raised in the memo. King referenced plans to hook up to a nearby sewage treatment plant and a traffic study commissioned by the developer that he said proved the hotel would have minimal effect on road congestion. 

“If you own a piece of industrial property along the Route 347 corridor, you have an absolute right to develop it,” King said.

Barton did not respond to a request for comment. “I don’t believe Howard’s an obstructionist,” Wehrheim said. “He pays detailed attention to environmental issues.”

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