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Smithtown rethinks changing planning board

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio during a town board

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio during a town board meeting on Feb. 7, 2012. Credit: Ed Betz

Town leaders are reconsidering a proposal to strip the Smithtown planning board of some review powers.

The town board last week scrapped a planned public hearing on the proposal, which would have taken away the planning board's role in reviewing site plans for large commercial centers such as shopping malls.

Backers of the original proposal said their intent was to streamline the town's reviews of commercial development, but they are open to examining other ways to accomplish their objective.

Councilman Thomas McCarthy's proposal would have given the town board, which serves as the board of site plan review, sole authority to review projects at malls comprising 100,000 square feet or more; the planning board no longer would review such projects before referring them to the town board. Planning board members are appointed by the town board.

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and town planning director Frank DeRubeis opposed the proposal. In a Dec. 5 memo to town board members, DeRubeis offered alternatives for changing the town's review process. Under his plan, the planning board would retain its role in reviewing large commercial buildings, while the town board would examine small business proposals such as convenience stores.

"What he said made a lot of sense," McCarthy said, adding it no longer made sense to have a hearing given DeRubeis' proposal. In an interview last week, DeRubeis said his memo outlined different review procedures based on the size of commercial projects. Large projects require a "higher level of review" because shopping malls have myriad details -- from bathrooms to bus stops -- that must be evaluated, and the planning board has the time and training to conduct such reviews, he said.

DeRubeis said he would need a month to draft a formal proposal for the town board, a time frame Councilman Edward Wehrheim said the board could accept. "There's no rush, in my opinion, to do this," he said.

DeRubeis recommended posting site plan applications on the town's website, which McCarthy said he supports because developers often are not required to notify neighboring property owners of pending applications.

"It seems like he's trying to make the process more transparent so people can see the whole thing," McCarthy said. "At least that way people will know what's going on."

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