A developer is planning a 97-bed assisted living facility, seen...

A developer is planning a 97-bed assisted living facility, seen in a rendering, at the former Bull Run Farm in St. James. Credit: Smithtown Planning Department

A Fort Salonga developer is proposing a 97-bed assisted living facility at the former Bull Run Farm in St. James, but neighbors say it would be a mistake to build over a vestige of the town’s agricultural heritage.

The facility, to be called Whisper Mills, would offer 24-hour supervision, meal service and scheduled activities for residents, according to an application filed with the Smithtown Planning Department. The 9-acre parcel sits across the street from former defense contractor Gyrodyne, where more extensive development is already contemplated. It abuts single-family homes to the north, west and east, and railroad tracks to the south, with more than 20 properties within 200 feet.

Members of the Elderkin family, which farmed the land for much of the 20th century, own two of the site’s three parcels. When the Elderkins stopped farming was unclear.

But some neighbors recall sledding on the farm’s hills as children or shopping at the farm stand run by family matriarch Janet Elderkin, a prominent St. James teacher who helped preserve the hamlet railroad station. A webpage for the St. James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, an area civic group, juxtaposes a photograph of a hulking concrete building with one of grazing horses, offering a stark choice: “Another assisted living facility or a peaceful farm?”

Mills Pond Group, headed by Frank Amicizia, proposed a two-story, 69,614-square-foot building, keeping roughly half the site’s land in its present state but demolishing some structures already there. Because the site is in a residential district, Mills Pond needs a special exception from the Smithtown Town Board to allow for its assisted living use. At least two of the roughly half-dozen assisted living facilities already in town were also built under special exception, town planner Peter Hans said.

The application could go before the town board as early as April 4, Hans said. Mills Pond Group has scheduled a public discussion of its plans Thursday at the firehouse on North Country Road.

Amicizia and Robert Elderkin, whose grandparents were Bull Run’s original owners and who lives there now, did not respond to requests for comment.

In 2020, New York’s State Historic Preservation Office determined it was eligible for listing on state and national registers of historic places. But in 2022, the project architect submitted evidence showing the original farm had been significantly modified over the years, and a historical consultant hired by the Elderkins argued the farm had been “tiny and insignificant.” The state office reversed its decision last year.

In a 2021 letter included in a Smithtown planning document, Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, a local civic group, identified Bull Run as one of a number of sites in the town that should be considered for possible preservation and recommended analysis of “potential adverse impacts” of its development, including changes to water quality, demand for services and neighborhood character.

David Kelemen, an engineer who moved nearby in 2018 and opposes the proposal, said he and his wife chose their house partly because they could see “nice, open space” and grazing horses. Now, he said, “there are a lot of changes coming.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story misattributed the 2021 letter to Smithtown planners.

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