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Union pushes for Smithtown assisted living facility

The Smithtown Town Board hears a plea from

The Smithtown Town Board hears a plea from Plumbers Local 200 business agent Mario Mattera to approve plans for Whisper Landing Assisted Living to be built near the St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. Videojournalist: Lauren R. Harrison (Nov. 21, 2013)

More than 90 local union members attended a Smithtown board meeting last week, encouraging officials to expedite an application to build an assisted living facility that would create jobs, but has drawn controversy.

"We're building these assisted livings in different towns. Our families need it in our town," said Mario Mattera, business agent of Plumbers Local Union No. 200, who ran unsuccessfully this year for the Suffolk County Legislature. "We need to vote on this project today."

Smithtown-based St. Johnland Development Group wants to build Whisper Landing Assisted Living on a 12.39-acre site at Route 25A and River Heights Drive, in Smithtown.

The Board of Zoning Appeals is reviewing an application for variances on the project, and the town's Department of Environment and Waterways must complete an environmental review before the town board can vote on the special exception, said Councilman Thomas McCarthy.

In a 3-2 vote, Smithtown councilmen Edward Wehrheim, Robert Creighton and Kevin Malloy turned down a resolution to have a second hearing on the application.

McCarthy and Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio, who voted for a second hearing, said at a work session hours earlier that the town should hold another because the project had changed since the original public hearing in September 2012.

"The application has changed dramatically and to the better," Vecchio said in an interview. "It's my opinion, in the interest of transparency and open government, those people who are affected ought to know what those changes are."

McCarthy called for an informational hearing, rather than a public hearing, which would supply residents with information about the changes and would not have to be part of public record.

But Deputy Town Attorney Matthew Jakubowski, in a memo, advised the board that "the applicant would not be obligated to participate or comply" with such a hearing.

Town planning director Frank DeRubeis said site plan changes included lowering the building height to 33 feet from 52 feet with a cupola, moving the site about 20 feet from residents and a new architectural design.

In an interview, Wehrheim said he voted against the additional hearing because it was "a waste of time" and had been "legally vetted."

"It's nothing more than stalling another two months -- perfectly unnecessary," he said, adding that the current board should complete the process instead of waiting for Legis. Lynne C. Nowick (R-St. James) to replace Malloy in January. "She's heard none of this. She has not been part of these public hearings."

Paul Leo, a member of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, which represents 2,500 carpenters on Long Island, said the construction workers also could not wait.

"The longer it takes, the less chance anybody has of making their mortgage payments, paying for their medication, having their car payments," he told the board. "We believe this job is a great job."

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