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Smithtown board OKs assisted living variances

Bill Kearney, who lives next door to the

Bill Kearney, who lives next door to the proposed site of the Whisper Landing assisted-living facility in Smithtown, says it is not an appropriate location. (Dec. 12, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Smithtown's zoning board has unanimously approved three variance requests for the developer of the proposed Whisper Landing Assisted Living project, clearing the last major hurdle to the 136-bed facility.

St. Johnland Development Group LLC will be able to increase the facility's height from 21/2 stories to three, build structures less than 10 feet from a steep slope and alter environmentally sensitive land. The variances were approved 5-0.

The project, to be located at Route 25A and River Heights Drive, also includes a sewage treatment system.

Last week's decision followed the town board's conditional granting of a special exception in December -- also necessary for the project to move forward -- that hinged on variance approvals by the zoning board.

The developers can move on to the site-plan process required before building begins, said town assistant planner David Flynn.

But Richard I. Scheyer, attorney for St. Johnland, took issue with some of the five lengthy conditions that the zoning board imposed with the granting of the variances, calling them "unreasonable and onerous and not necessarily within the purview of the zoning board of appeals."

Scheyer said a condition that limited signs to 12 square feet was "way too small. . . . People driving down the road aren't going to be able to see it."

He added that other conditions such as retaining trees, drainage and parking spaces "would be too expensive and too impractical. We're supposed to put a 99,000-square-foot building in without clearing any trees?"

Scheyer said his clients will probably continue with pending litigation against the zoning board unless the site-plan review board amends some of the conditions. "They were conditions designed to stop moving the project forward," he said.

Paul E. Hennings, attorney for the zoning board, disputed Scheyer's contention.

The board "is not in the business of approving a project and then killing it with conditions," Hennings said. "Those two are just completely contradictory positions, so to think that's the case, that's just wrong."

At a September 2012 meeting, residents complained about some aspects of the project, such as the building's height, its proximity to nearby homes and potential stench from the sewage plant.

At Tuesday's meeting, zoning board chairwoman Adrienne Giannadeo noted that because the building would be set back 100 feet, it won't be that noticeable from the street.

"The building itself is very wide and deep, but has a residential character," she said.

Board member Anthony Tanzi Jr. said many of the neighbors' concerns have since been mitigated by a redesign, which reduced the building height from 49 feet to roughly 30 feet, and moved the building about 10 feet away from Lower Road residences near the property.

"I think that probably the most important thing is that they specifically worked to make this thing fit in," Tanzi said. "That shows the way things should happen in Smithtown."

But Bill Kearney, whose home is next door to the property on Route 25A, said his quiet enjoyment would be ruined with the proposed sewage-treatment facility next to the backyard where he barbecues.

"I'm not going to live next to a sewage treatment plant. That wasn't in my plan," said Kearney, who is considering a lawsuit against one or both boards. "They just gave these guys whatever they wanted. . . . That's a shame."

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