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Long IslandTowns

Town board denies zoning for Kings Park senior housing

Uplands at St. Johnland, the 199-unit senior housing project proposed for a wooded area in Kings Park, will not be built after Smithtown Town Board members Tuesday denied a zone change petition needed to build the facility there.

Board members also declined to adopt rules for a new zoning category to cover Uplands and similar projects that contain both assisted and independent living apartments.

The nonprofit Society of St. Johnland, which runs the St. Johnland Nursing Center on Sunken Meadow Road, was the prospective developer for the $104 million project, proposed in 2007 but delayed by environmental studies. The proposed site was at Sunken Meadow Road and Old Dock Road.

“The petition represents a significant and unacceptable increase in the intensity of use of an environmentally sensitive piece of land,” town environmental protection director Russell Barnett told board members in a work session held before Tuesday’s meeting.

In an email, St. Johnland chief executive Mary Jean Weber wrote that “although we are disappointed in the town board’s denial, it is not completely unexpected. We look forward to continuing our work in serving the community and to advancing our mission with cooperation and input from the town and our neighbors.”

With Supervisor Patrick Vecchio absent, the board’s 4-0 vote did, however, offer a lifeline to St. Johnland, as the board resolved to adopt at a later time amended rules for the new zoning category, known as a continuing-care retirement community.

Those changes, which will take about six months to draft, could include easing restrictions on floor area to allow for larger, more economically viable facilities, as well as design and geographic standards intended to minimize the impact of development on neighbors.

Barnett gave an example of how the geographic standards might work in practice: An alternate site for the project, such as the sprawling grounds of the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center in Nissequogue River State Park, would qualify because of its location and distance from other land uses, he said.

That example was not chosen at random. Smithtown officials and civic leaders have spoken for years about a possible land swap in which the nonprofit society would build at the former center, while transferring its 50-acre parcel to the state parks system.

Demolition and cleanup of former psychiatric center buildings would likely have to take place before St. Johnland could build there, and town officials conceded in the work session that a transfer did not appear to be imminent. St. Johnland representatives and parks officials did not respond to a request for comment on the idea.

Speaking at the afternoon town board meeting, Kings Park Civic Association vice president Linda Henninger, an early proponent of the swap, asked the town, the state and St. Johnland to keep working at it.

“It will not only bring much-needed senior housing to the area, jobs and visitors to our downtowns, it will protect 50 acres of beautiful pristine wooded property,” she said.

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