Once hailed as the first salvo in the battle against suburban blight in Brookhaven Town, a redevelopment initiative under the new Blight to Light program met with opposition from residents of Port Jefferson Station at Monday’s planning board meeting.
Developer Jim Tsunis has visions of turning the eight-acre property that was home to the Ramp Chevrolet auto dealership until it closed in 2007 into an 85-unit workforce rental complex called Jefferson Meadows, modified from an original plan to build 96 units.
This can only happen if Brookhaven approves a special permit change from commercial to residential usage under its Blight to Light program, the first time the program is being used for this purpose, according to Tsunis and his attorney, J. Timothy Shea of Certilman Balin Adler & Hyman.
“If the application is rejected it (the property) will stay a vacant car dealership,” said Tsunis after Monday’s planning board meeting.
At the meeting, Tsunis and his attorney presented the project to the board for the third time, making requested changes and presenting counterpoints to what they said were complaints by residents as to the design of the complex, a potentially negative impact on Comsewogue school district and scoring of the property under the Blight to Light program.
Tsunis’ team said they expected 17 school-aged children to move into the planned 15 one-bedroom and 70 two-bedroom units. They estimated an annual cost of $195,986 to educate the students and the tax revenue to be $212,650 per year, a net benefit to the school district of $16,664.
Shea also called traffic complaints by residents, “a red herring” at the meeting because with current commercial zoning, traffic would be heavier than if it were to be changed to a residential property.
After the presentation, planning board Chairman Vincent Pascale admonished Shea, saying that what he called complaints by the community, the board viewed as “concerns,” eliciting applause from the audience.
Eighteen speakers from Port Jefferson Station signed up to voice those concerns, questioning the figures regarding the school district and whether the rezoning was a wise idea.
Vincent Amicizia, a Smithtown attorney retained by a group of residents, challenged the self-scoring of the Blight to Light application. A property is scored based on issues such as percentage of vacancy, vandalism, vagrancy, fire hazards and code violations. Amicizia went down the list point-by-point, calling the results of the scoring “subjective.”
Designating the property as workforce housing was also a point of contention for residents.
“What work force he is pertaining to?” asked Lance Brown. “There are many houses for sale. To put a project like this in Port Jefferson Station, I question where that force is coming from.”
Kevin Henry agreed saying that he didn’t think the community needed more housing.
“There are plenty of apartments in the price range of what this man wants to do,” he said. “We talk about keeping the young people here. It’s the jobs that keep the people here not the housing.”
Henry referred to a Hamlet Study conducted by the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association.
“Blight to Light throws out the commercial corridor down Route 112,” he said. “Let’s stick to the master plan.”
Tsunis said that he thinks his development goes along with the original plan saying that, in part, the idea was to minimize strip centers on Route 112.
“Current use of this property would allow for a strip center,” he said. “We concluded that since it’s on Route 112 and with proximity to shopping, it’s an ideal location to put in workforce housing.”
The property is across the street from the .
Jennifer Goodman said that adding the development was akin to a facelift.
“By adding this we put ourselves in the position of making it look pretty just to make it look pretty without concern for the community,” she said.
Shea defended the scoring of the site making the case that conditions found on the property were “indicative of blight.”
“If the owner of the property had taken proper precautions it may not have been blighted in the first place,” countered Pascale.
Property owner Charles Rampone appeared before the board, verifying the code violations the property received because of unsafe conditions and vandalism.
Rampone reported that busses he kept on the property were damaged, homeless people used the property as shelter, he found shotgun shells on the site, illegally dumped construction debris, damage from campfires and once discovered a couple having sex in a car on the property.
“When a property is vacant it becomes the target of unusual activity,” he said.
Tsunis’ attorney said that Rampone didn’t have the resources to secure the property because he was “in financial distress.”
“People entered into the site in trespass,” Shea said. “I don’t believe this is self-created.”
Shea positioned Rampone as a victim. He said the property owner was “swept up in a massive economic downturn” that was a part of a “nationwide epidemic.”
Noah Stiles, a 46-year resident of Port Jefferson Station said he was worried about the cost.
“I’m a very concerned tax payer,” he said. “How much is it going to cost me when the bottom falls out and it’s been falling out all over.”
Lynn Ellen Nielsen, the only resident who supported the development at the meeting, said there was no question in her mind about the project.
“If you’re trying to make a choice between a nice apartment building and a property that has been vandalized to a degree, unless you have companies lining up it’s a no brainer,” she said.
The Planning Board voted 6-0 to close the matter and place it on the decision calendar.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the auto dealership as Ramp Ford. That was incorrect. The dealership was Ramp Chevrolet. Ramp Ford located in Nesconset is still open.