Smithtown planners aim to complete draft recommendations to update the town's master plan by January -- needed before a series of public hearings begin next year.
The town's master plan, which includes eight volumes that analyze population, transportation, economic and natural resources, was last adopted in 1957, officials have said.
David Flynn, assistant town planning director, said about 31/2 percent of town land is vacant -- a figure that is probably closer to 7 to 8 percent given the expansion potential at existing sites.
"The amount of vacant land may make people question, 'What do you need to plan for? The town is mostly developed,' " Flynn said last month at a Kings Park Civic Association meeting. "I would suggest it's sort of like saying, 'Once you get to be 18, you're grown.' You don't stop planning just because you're grown."
Downtowns in Smithtown and Kings Park will be analyzed for new development as part of $300,000 in planning services from the Regional Plan Association. The services were offered in March by the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency.
Flynn said the vacancy rate in both downtown business districts is high, but numbers were not immediately available Monday. He cited the closure of Kings Park Psychiatric Center -- which had about 3,000 employees in the early 1990s, he said -- as a contributing factor. "Those employees did a lot of buying of gas and lunch and dry cleaning and all that sort of stuff in the business district," he said.
Other factors contributing to the vacancy rate include: lack of parking, walkability, distinctive character and building conditions, Flynn said, adding that the town shouldn't wait for sewers to revitalize the downtowns.
Sean Lehmann, Kings Park Civic Association president, said he told regional planning officials that the Kings Park downtown has potential.
"I have a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old. My dream of having . . . a better downtown for them while they're in high school is probably gone," he said. "But I want you to look at this downtown and create this plan as if you lived here."