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Frank DeRubeis, Smithtown planning director, retires after nearly 30 years

Smithtown Town Planning Director Frank DeRubeis at his

Smithtown Town Planning Director Frank DeRubeis at his office in Smithtown on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Frank DeRubeis, the respected and influential Smithtown planning chief with a reputation for being a thorn in the side of developers, has retired after nearly 30 years in that role.

DeRubeis, 68, left his office for the last time Friday, after overseeing projects such as commercial centers and housing developments that changed the landscape of the mostly residential town.

Assistant town planning director David Flynn, 58, is expected to succeed DeRubeis.

DeRubeis, who joined the town as a planner in 1973 and became planning director 12 years later, has been credited with supporting affordable housing projects and restricting big box stores to designated areas away from residential neighborhoods. Supporters said he blocked overdevelopment by strictly enforcing the town zoning code.

"We got the reputation of the 'Land of No,' which was not true," DeRubeis of Blue Point said in an interview this week. "We were the land where we had high standards."

Vincent Trimarco, a Smithtown attorney who has represented developers, said he and DeRubeis frequently clashed over zoning issues. But he said DeRubeis often helped developers obtain zoning changes to spur economic revitalization.

"I can never say that he had some other motive other than his true belief that either this was bad or this was good for the town," Trimarco said. "I'm going to miss some of the fights that we had -- not all of them. He beat me up a couple of times."

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said DeRubeis encouraged developers to build subsidized housing for low-income seniors. Vecchio called DeRubeis "a thorough professional [who] will be sorely missed."

To some critics, DeRubeis' policies stymied growth. Vision Long Island, a smart-growth advocacy group, gave Smithtown a "dumb growth" award in 2006.

Eric Alexander, the group's executive director, said DeRubeis was "open to new ideas," but reluctant to approve large-scale redevelopment and infrastructure improvements.

"Smithtown is not that aggressive," Alexander said.

Supporters said DeRubeis helped transform the town. Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce president Mark Mancini said DeRubeis persuaded businesses on Smithtown's Main Street to move parking lots behind stores.

"It was a big undertaking just to get that done," Mancini said. "All those restaurants you see on the north side have benefited from that."

DeRubeis, a photography buff who collects antique cameras, said he plans to take classes at Stony Brook University and travel with his wife, Michele. He said he was most proud of his role in creating a park in downtown Smithtown honoring the town's 54 victims of the 9/11 terror attacks. The park, which includes a waterfall and relics from the World Trade Center, was supported by local residents and businesses.

"It was really like the community came together on that particular project," he said. "I'll take that one to the grave. It was really that nice.

Man with a plan

Highlights of Frank DeRubeis' tenure as Smithtown planning director:

-- Redevelopment of former Commack Arena site.

-- Senior housing developments, such as Siena Village on Bishops Road.

-- Smithtown 9/11 Park.

-- The Galleria, a mix of apartments, single-family homes, retail and offices at former sand mine on Terry Road and Route 347 in Smithtown hamlet.

-- "Box stores" steered to designated area on Crooked Hill Road near the Long Island Expressway in Commack.

-- Parking on Main Street in Smithtown relocated behind stores.


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