Our Case For the St. Johnland Swap
Letters to the Editor
Letter To Town Board CCRC Concerns
Our Case for the St. Johnland Swap
Kings Park Neighbors' Association
What is the St. Johnland Swap?
It is a solution to two problems facing Kings Park in the future. The swap involves the construction of a "Continuing Care Retirement Community" (CCRC) on the former state hospital property instead of on 50 acres of adjacent woods. The St. Johnland nursing home is petitioning the Smithtown Town Board to amend the zoning laws to allow a CCRC on St. Johnland’s wooded property between Old Dock Road and Sunken Meadow Road. The swap would involve some a trade of land between St. Johnland and the State.
Why would allowing a CCRC on St. Johnland's property be bad for the community?
Many reasons. Primarily, it would mean result in an unnecessary impact on our ecology that would affect future generations. The wooded land is ecologically significant. It is one of the last remaining natural open spaces in our community. We have lost over 90% of our natural environment, and this parcel is about 10% of what is left.
The parcel has a pond and diverse successional and climax vegetation, making it more important for wildlife habitat than most properties its size. It is strategically located from an ecological standpoint. It is between two other natural open spaces: Sunken Meadow State Park and Nissequogue River State Park. Wildlife biologists have found that linking open spaces is critical in supporting populations of wildlife. It is also near the junction of the Nissequogue River, Sunken Meadow Creek, and Long Island Sound. Ecotones, places where different habitats come together, are also important ecologically. Moreover, the 50 acres is largely untouched in recent times.
It is their property, why can't they build on it?
They can build on it, but nothing nearly as intense as the CCRC they propose. It is zoned for 1-acre residence. The CCRC is over 6 times denser than permitted.
What are they allowed to build on the property?
Full compliance with the town code would probably result in about 35 houses. This apparently low number is because of three reasons. First, the pond, wetlands, high groundwater, and steep slopes cannot be included in the required lot areas and cannot be disturbed. Second, the streets, a sump, and about .7 acres of required parkland are not included in the minimum lot areas. Third, 1 acre is the minimum requirement; some lots will end up being oversized.
In fact, one chapter of the town code requires the development to be clustered. Clustering is where the town takes the permitted density on a parcel, and requires it to be concentrated on part of the property in order to leave the rest of the property as open space.
The amount of open space to be preserved is up to the town planning board. The town code has vague guidelines on how much space the planning board should require. It is possible, but probably not desirable to cluster so much as to save 90% of the land. This would concentrate 35 dwellings onto less than 5 acres. It is probably realistic to expect the lots to be a minimum of one-third acre. This would preserve about 30 to 35 acres of open space.
What is a CCRC?
A CCRC is a hybrid kind of development. It is about 95% regular residences for senior citizens, and about 5%assisted living units. It is a special kind of development because it is like an insurance product, too. People who buy one of the units must be guaranteed an assisted living unit if they become frail enough to need it. The homebuyer must also be guaranteed a space in a nursing home if they need that.
CCRCs are heavily regulated by New York State to protect purchasers from fraud and the financial failure of the development.
CCRCs are designed to be attractive as possible for potential purchasers affluent enough to afford the homes. They may include detached homes, multi-story buildings, and typical 1 and 2 story multi-family buildings, depending on market studies. They are normally gated for security and prestige. They usually have amenities, and programs run by the site manager.
Is a CCRC good for the town?
Most people seem to think so. Studies show that overwhelmingly most people want to age in their own homes as part of their regular community. However, a significant number prefer to move to some kind of retirement development. This project would allow those local residents to do so without moving away. Of course, the majority of purchasers will not likely be Kings Park residents. They will probably from western Long Island.
Why would St. Johnland want to swap land?
They would if that is what it takes to build a CCRC. They are not allowed to build one now.
Why don't they want to swap property?
They have not said why. If they can get the town board to amend the zoning ordinance to permit a CCRC on their site, why bother trading land? It seems that they may be afraid of increased costs by using the state hospital property. Also, they have invested a fair amount of money and time in "soft' costs (legal, design, etc) on the speculation that they would eventually get approval to build a CCRC on their acreage.
Isn't increased cost a fair objection?
Absolutely. However, there are ways to make it cost roughly the same. The cost of renovation is about the same per square foot as building new. Therefore, the only potential extra cost would be the land. St. Johnland could pay for the land by selling its property to the State, and the money it gets to pay for land at the state hospital. There needs to be appraisals and public scrutiny to make sure that everything is legal and fair. The state is not allowed to pay more for property than what it is worth on the open market. And the state is not allowed to pay less, unless the owner voluntarily agrees.
Are there building or places on the former state hospital that are suitable for a CCRC?
Yes, at least 3 existing buildings are suitable for conversion. And if the buildings are not desired, their sites are well suited.
From St. Johnland's perspective are there any other negatives to using the state hospital?
There seem to be two. They would have to start the design over, but the buildings are similar in size to the main one they propose. Presumably, they have not advanced the design very far since the zoning does not permit what the want to do. Second, the CCRC would be further from their existing nursing home. This should not be significant in that their current proposal is separated from the nursing home by a public street. All parts of the hospital are less than a mile away. One part is as close as the 50 acres.
Are there any other benefits to the swap?
There are many. Being located closer to the center of town, there would be less traffic, less energy consumption, and less air pollution. It would reduce waste by reusing existing infrastructure. It would help reuse part of the hospital in a way that is beneficial to the community. There are always pressures to use it ways not beneficial to us. It would help preserve historic and attractive buildings. It would create a presence on the grounds, and deter any improper activities. It would set a good example, on any re-use that might occur.
What can people do to make this happen?
CLICK HERE to sign KPNA's St. Johnland petition, write or e-mail Senator Flanagan and the Town Board asking for their help in making this a reality. Together we can make this a reality.
CLICK HERE to read news article.
The Times of Smithtown
Neighbors petition to force swap
KP residents to town: deny St. Johnland's zone change
By Joe Darrow
A neighborhood civic group has petitioned the Town Board to deny a Kings Park nursing home the zone change necessary for its expansion.
The group seeks to enlist the town's aid in promoting a land swap. Town Council members, however, are reluctant to jump on board, pointing out that they have no jurisdiction over the public half of the bargain.
St. Johnland Nursing Home has applied to the Smithtown Town Council to rezone its undeveloped 50-acre parcel on the south side of Sunken Meadow Road to accommodate a continuing care retirement community. However, community leaders and state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport) have instead been promoting "the St. Johnland swap," where instead of expanding onto the untouched woodland next to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center (KPPC), this land would instead become parkland and St. Johnland would build on nearby already-developed KPPC land, which houses dilapidated and asbestos-and-lead contaminated hospital buildings.
However, St. Johnland's attorney, former county executive John Klein, has called the swap "an absolute impossibility." He said an expansion onto an adjacent lot is necessary for logistical and economic reasons, and reusing the KPPC land would require St. Johnland, a nonprofit corporation, to pay for expensive demolition and remediation it cannot afford.
Yet, some residents have not given up hope of preserving this land.
"We request that the Town Board deny St. Johnland's change of zoning request and work towards having St. Johnland's continuing care retirement community project built on the already developed areas of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center property," the Kings Park Neighbors' Association petition states. The group's president, Linda Henninger, said the petition was posted online Sunday night and had already garnered 75 signatures by the same time Monday. She added that KPNA members have gathered about 250 more signatures in person while canvassing the community.
"I have not met one person, not one, who disagreed . . . who said, 'I won't sign that, I don't think that's a good idea,'" Henninger said.
Smithtown Town Council members have not responded with equal enthusiasm.
"It's not that I am in total opposition to that plan," town Councilman Ed Wehrheim said. He said the Town Council had been examining the idea of a swap before the Pataki administration transferred the KPPC to the state Office of Parks in late 2006. Prior to the transfer, the town still anticipated receiving about 92 acres of the land to develop. But, now that the state Office of Parks has jurisdiction over the whole parcel, he said, "I don't know how you would fit a private entity into a state park."
Wehrheim said the state has not yet indicated to Smithtown its plans for remediating and reusing the land, and reportedly is still studying its options for the parcel. "To me, it's just too premature to discuss any type of land swap because we don't know what the state intends to do," Wehrheim said.
Councilwoman Joanne Gray said, "I don't know what the petition is supposed to mean to the Town Board because we don't have any control over the property. You can't bargain with what you don't have."
Gray further cautioned against pigeonholing St. Johnland by denying its zoning request while having no equitable option to offer. "By rejecting the zone change application, what are we going to trigger?" she said. "If there are so many obstacles in their way, they may just through up their hands and say, 'The heck with this, we're going to sell it.'" And a residential development with about 50 houses would not only destroy the flora the Neighbors Association seeks to preserve, she said, but the additional school-age children would also drain school district resources whereas a retirement community would not, Gray said.
Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio called talk of the swap "absolutely premature." Now that the KPPC is under state jurisdiction, any land transfer "would have to be engineered by" Smithtown's state representatives, Senator John Flanagan and Assemblyman Mike Fitzpatrick, Vecchio said.
When asked about the possibility of the town, despite its lack of jurisdiction, advocating the land swap to the governor or Parks officials, Vecchio said, "I've been asking for property on the hospital grounds for the last 25 years - and I've only met with deafening silence."
Henninger said the Council members are missing the petition's aim, to add their support to advocate a change necessary at the state level. "To say that they can't do anything because they don't own the property is just disingenuous," Henninger said. State representatives and members of the Kings Park community have already invested a lot of effort into advocating the swap, she said. "The people working really hard on it. Guess what? They don't own the property either."
Further, she discounted the likelihood that town resistance would drive St. Johnland to abandon its plan to expand facilities in favor of selling to developers. "St. Johnland doesn't want to do that. They're in the business of senior housing," Henninger said.
"We need our politicians to stand up in unity and say, 'This is what's good for the community,'" Henninger said. Otherwise, she added, Kings Park's elected representatives should "resign today, because you're not doing the people's work."
Parks Commissioner Carol Ash, who has meet with civic leaders over the past few months, was reported by them to have expressed interest in the idea of the swap. However, her office had not returned a call for comment as of press time.
May 10th, 2007 . . . KPNA outlines the potential adverse impacts that a Continuing Care retirement Community (CCRC) may have on our community, requests that the Town undertake the Environmental Impact Study on this issue, not St. Johnland, and seeks a super majority on any Town Board vote with respect to St. Johnland's sought after zone change.
Town of Smithtown
99 West Main Street
Smithtown, NY 11787
To: The Honorable Patrick Vecchio, Supervisor
And Members of the Town Board
May 10, 2007
Re: Proposed Amendment to Chapter 322 and
Zone Change Petition # 2003-04
Society of St. Johnland
Dear Supervisor Vecchio and Town Council Members,
It is our belief that the proposed amendment to Chapter 322 (Zoning Ordinance) of the Town Code, as well as St. Johnland's Zone Change Petition # 2003-04, will have a substantial adverse impact on the community. The potential impact includes, but are not limited to, changes in the community character, including bulk and mass of buildings, widening, curbing and grading of Sunken Meadow Road and Old Dock Road; town services such as our volunteer fire and ems departments; hospital services; traffic, especially in and around the KP Schools, particularly RJO and the Middle School; wear and tear on our roads, especially Old Dock Road; ecology, such as loss of habitat for birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, etc.; additional ground water pollution from fertilizers, pesticides, deicing salts, motor vehicle oil, brake fluids, coolants, etc.; and solid waste, we can anticipate, tons per day.
The amendment to Chapter 322 has the potential for great impact on our community. As Mr. DeRubies stated in a letter to this Board, dated October 21, 2005, a CCRC generates more parking, traffic, wastewater, solid waste, etc than an ALF. It is noted that a CCRC usually has hundreds of dwellings and the ultimate number of CCRC's could be as high as 3 in our area.
Sewage is a very significant problem regarding this proposed amendment. There is no potential for any new users with regard to the county's plant in Kings Park until such time as the plant is upgraded, since it was ordered that no new nitrogen be released into the Long Island Sound. This can be verified by contacting the SCDPW. Adding more sewage to the KP Plant is significant in that it may worsen pollution in the Sound, if upgraded, more growth related impacts may be fostered and/or St. Johnland will have to use an on site plant. This would have further consequences, such as tightly condensed units or cutting down the number of units. As is known, sewage plants take up considerable area, and a 200 foot buffer has been required by the town in the past.
It seems clear that the Town believes that an EIS is required for this ordinance text amendment, as well the map amendment and the special exception. Of paramount importance with respect to the EIS is that the potential impacts be identified, and alternatives considered. These alternatives include, but are not limited to, "do nothing", a scaled down version of the project and alternative locations. The applicant, St, Johnland in this instance, may feel that an alternative location is not applicable because they do not own alternative locations, it must, however, be kept in mind that amendments of the zoning map and text are NOT applications for permits. They are changes in the LAW and choosing proper locations for land uses for the benefit of the town, not the applicant, is critical.
The proposed amendment will have a substantial impact on the community and any EIS done regarding the proposed amendment must be done by the town and all of the potential consequences must be considered, many of which are listed above.
Finally, attached, please find, pursuant to Article 16, § 265 of the Town Law of the State of New York, a petition by property owners who protest the zone change petition of St. Johnland (#2007-04) which seeks a change of zone from R-43 (single family residential) to RC (Retirement Community).
Kings Park Neighbors' Association, President
CC: Smithtown Planning Department
Department of Environment and Waterways
SIte design CAWD
img src="http://www.kpna.org/new/brownstrip.jpg" width="900" height="30">