Smithtown Town officials blame two key issues for the problems in attracting new businesses to fill vacancies in downtown areas and shopping centers: a lack of sewers and high rents.
Patch has been highlighting various vacant and blighted properties becoming eyesores in communities across the Town of Smithtown in Commack, Hauppauge, Kings Park and Smithtown through our Empty series. We've asked our readers what businesses they would like to see here, and more importantly, asking why these buildings are still empty.
"Development in Suffolk County is at a standstill because there is no sewage system," Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said. "Downtown Smithtown or downtown anywhere is not going to expand without a sewage system."
Vecchio said the lack of sewers in Smithtown, and the North Shore of Long Island, is the major hurdle in attracting businesses to fill vacancies on Main Street and other shopping centers. The Village of Patchogue, Sayville Main Street, and other south shore communities who have experienced growth in recent years have a sewage system, he said.
The supervisor said he's heard from countless business owners who hoped to expand existing businesses or renovate, only to be restricted by Suffolk County health codes.
The owners of the . on Smithtown's Main Street have tried in the past to renovate, both for offices and possible eateries, Vecchio said, but lack the sewage capacity to do so. Vecchio said the owner of Smithtown Performing Arts Center would also like to add a bar and snack area for his patrons, but can't until sewage systems are improved.
Frank DeRubeis, Smithtown's planning director, estimated that half the business applications they have to turn down at Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals is due to the fact there's no way the business can meet health department requirements.
"It's the reason we've been pushing sewers for the last three years and engineering for downtown Smithtown," DeRubeis said.
Vecchio and other town officials are pinning their hopes for the future on a plan being developed with Legis. John Kennedy, R-Nesconset, which involves seeking federal aid to a build sewage system for the Town of Smithtown that connects to the Kings Park Sewage Plant. But doing so would raise a number of other questions, the supervisor said, as the Kings Park plant is near capacity.
"Is the county willing to create a sewage district? Who is going to pay for the sewage treatment plant?," Vecchio asked.
One area where the town and Suffolk County officials have been successful in working together is the Hauppauge Industrial Park, where the town providing land necessary to increase the park's sewage capacity from 250 million gallons to more than 1 million.
Compounding the issue of the lack of sewers, town planning officials say, are the high rents incoming businesses face when trying to find a storefront to rent in Smithtown.
"[Landlords] are content to charge the highest rate per square foot of space for their buildings. They don't lower the rates to make it any easier for businesses," Vecchio said.
The Town of Smithtown purchased the former golf shop on Smithtown Main Street from New York State in recent years in effort to rent the space to new and developing businesses. Under state law, the town was forced to do a survey of rental space in the area and price it competitively. It forced the property's rental price to $22 a square foot.
DeRubeis said the town is taking efforts to try to make building codes easier on new businesses through its new Master Plan, which is in the final stages. The new Master plan will introduce the concept of overlay zoning districts, specific areas where Town officials can introduce specific zoning rules based on their unique characteristics.
The concept of overlay zoning will be aimed at easing height restrictions in Hauppauge Industrial Park, downtown areas of St. James, Kings Park and Smithtown to ease parking requirements where municipal parking exists and more.