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Smithtown vote on St. Johnland assisted living project Tuesday

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 Town board members plan to vote at Tuesday's board meeting -- the current board's last one of the year -- on findings from an environmental review of a proposed assisted-living facility that includes a sewage-treatment system.

Smithtown officials said last week they expected to receive the report from the town's department of environment and waterways on Whisper Landing Assisted Living -- a 136-bed facility that Smithtown-based St. Johnland Development Group wants to build.

The facility, which would be on a 12.39-acre site at Route 25A and River Heights Drive in Smithtown, requires a special exception permit.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation's State Quality Review Act (SEQR) compels all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts, along with social and economic factors, during discretionary decision-making.Town attorney John Zollo said, "If the applicant meets all of the general and specific criteria for a special exception, a board must grant the permit."

But Zollo said the permit would be subject to variances pending before the Board of Zoning Appeals, which meets again in January.

St. Johnland requested variances to increase the building height from 21/2 stories -- the highest permitted in the site's half-acre residence zoning category -- to 3 stories; to alter environmentally sensitive land and permit structures within 10 feet of environmentally sensitive land, said town assistant planner David Flynn.

"If the variances are granted, the special exception is deemed approved," Zollo said. "Conversely, if the variances are not granted, then the special permit is deemed denied."

The project elicited complaints from community members at a September 2012 public hearing, at which residents shared concerns over the building's height, proximity to roads and nearby homes, and possible stench from the sewage plant.

St. Johnland altered its plans in January, reducing the building height from 49 feet to roughly 30 feet, and moving the building about 10 feet from Lower Road residences near the property, among other things, Flynn said.

Smithtown resident Diane Carroll said in a June letter to the town board that she and residents of Lower Road met with the developer and its attorneys, and supported the revised plans.

"Our issues pertaining to our quiet enjoyment and habitability of our properties were addressed," said Carroll in the letter, obtained by Newsday.

But Bill Kearney, 58, who would live next door to the property on Route 25A, said he doesn't think the project is appropriate at the proposed location.

"They're putting a sewage-treatment plant right outside my kitchen window, right next to my backyard where I barbecue," he said. "It's going to ruin my whole quality of life."

Glenn Gruder, 53, who lives near the facility and is a zoning attorney, said "It's a bad location for a good project, because it abuts single-family homes' zoning without sufficient buffers, and it's too dense."

Supervisor Patrick Vecchio declined to comment about the project. Councilman Thomas McCarthy said he was reserving judgment until he receives "the final . . . layout draft."

Both Vecchio and McCarthy had advocated for a second public hearing on changes in the plans, but their resolution was turned down in a 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Kevin Malloy, Edward Wehrheim and Creighton dissenting. Councilmen Robert Creighton and Edward Wehrheim said they supported the proposal.

"We do not have enough of those types of facilities in Smithtown," Wehrheim said. "I think it's an excellent location; it's right across the street from St. Catherine's of Sienna Hospital, and . . . it's going to create jobs."

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