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Improper advertising delays Smithtown hearing on zoning code change

Insufficient advertising has forced a nearly one-month delay in a public hearing on establishing an overlay district in the Smithtown town zoning code that would designate the Hauppauge Industrial Park as one such district.

The public hearing last Thursday to discuss the zoning category was canceled because the town failed to advertise it twice in the local newspaper, as required by town law, officials said. The new hearing date is June 19.

Frank DeRubeis, Smithtown's planning director, said town law requires the hearing notification be posted at the site, mailed to residents living within 200 feet of any property affected by the zone change and be published in two consecutive issues of the town newspaper, The Smithtown News.

The town only published one notification in the local newspaper, so Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski advised the board to cancel the hearing, said Councilman Thomas McCarthy.

"It's too important of a project, bringing in millions of dollars in taxes and jobs, to do it wrong," McCarthy said. "It's a shame you have to wait 30 more days to have a hearing, but if someone brings a lawsuit because the hearing was improperly advertised, you lose and you have to start the process all over again."

Some members of the packed audience booed when the cancellation was announced.

"It's unfortunate it happened and we apologized," Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio told the crowd. "It would be best if it's done correctly and all of the testimony for and against will be heard."

Town Clerk Vincent Puleo said his office is responsible for submitting legal notifications, which has been more difficult because the town board voted earlier this month to transfer Deputy Town Clerk Maureen Sussillo to another department, and Sussillo “does all that work.”

Still, Puleo said that his office e-mailed the first legal notification and made a phone call to extend it for the next week’s paper, but the newspaper “dropped the second advertisement.”

Jennifer Paley Ambro, publisher of The Smithtown News, disputed Puleo’s assertions, saying, “We don’t extend legal notices over the phone. ... Everything has to be made in writing.”

The town's laws are stricter than the state's law on zone change matters, which only requires governing bodies to carry out one of the three notification options, not all of them, said DeRubeis.

The zoning change will allow for increased building height, parking garages and outdoor storage.

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