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Sewers, High Rents Keep Vacancies Empty in Smithtown

Smithtown Town officials said bringing new businesses to downtown areas, shopping centers hinge on these two issues.

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.

+irish+ January 31, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Sewers raise your taxes and create other problems; just look at the Southwest Sewer district fiasco!
Jonathan Vecchi January 31, 2012 at 02:01 AM
This is a very enlightening article. Would love to hear more information about sewer developments, costs, location, etc. as information becomes available.
Christopher D'Antonio January 31, 2012 at 06:17 AM
Sewerage is only one very important piece of the development puzzle. Foremost, the political will to embrace slightly higher densities in commercial areas like downtown Smithtown, Kings Park, St. James, and Hauppauge's hamlet center needs to exist first. Then a series of policies are required from that point moving forward: regulations allowing for taller building heights and higher FAR, addressing parking and circulation issues through structured parking, managed parking, increased public transit, or augmented facilities for walking and cycling, and providing for dynamic and interesting public spaces to compensate for the increased density. The "high rents" argument is simply acknowledging a market signal that denser development is warranted and would be utilized if provided.
tom mooney January 31, 2012 at 12:53 PM
It appears that our elected officials both at county and town level have been asleep at the wheel on this basic governmental responsibility, basically tp provide for growth and necessary infrastructure upgrades, and have again brought us to a critical point which should have been avoided......"planning" department??????
Kathie January 31, 2012 at 02:02 PM
I grew up in Hicksville. Some 30 years ago they decided that everyone had to hook up to sewers. They put the pipes in the street and homeowners and businesses had a certain amount of time to pay the cost to hook up from their house/business to the street. Yes it cost money and raised taxes slightly, but it was the best money my family ever spent. Now living in Commack, we pay hundreds of dollars every 2 years to have our cesspool pumped. That's after the $2000 it cost to put in a new cesspool shortly after we moved here. I would loved to have paid that for a sewer hook up instead. The cost of the pumping would be like the tax increase but I wouldn't have to deal with the backup problems, especially when we have a party.
Agioatern Baveraneous January 31, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Is it fair to assume that a basic renovation would not be restricted by Suffolk County health codes? I don’t see the need for expansion when most of the buildings on Main Street are vacated. If you’re a small business looking to open in Smithtown you have your pick of the litter. The issue is - Why would any business want to? People don’t want to drive on Main Street because you’ll sit in traffic and parking is a pain in the neck. People don’t want to walk on Main Street because it’s dangerous and mostly empty (besides the restaurants which are good). On top of all that, most of the buildings are old, run-down and are in need of repair.
Sara January 31, 2012 at 07:36 PM
You said it Agioatern!
Christopher D'Antonio January 31, 2012 at 09:50 PM
I think it's a question of marginal values. As of right now, given the amount of development, the health of the economy, and the residential population density within a feasible distance of Main Street in Smithtown, all of the retail space desired for consumption is being consumed. Save in the case of future restaurant uses which may be very dependent on the capacity sewers will lend them to process the waste of their customers, employees and cooking. To bring sewers to Main Street would enable denser development, allowing offices and apartments to be built above storefronts, enlivening downtown and likely filling many of the empty storefronts. This same phenomenon is occurring at my old University campus in Newark, DE where an explosion of apartments over stores in the downtown has been accompanied by businesses moving into previously vacant spaces. I do wholeheartedly agree with you that a comprehensive means of facing the problems of circulation both vehicular and pedestrian need to be resolved in order for a walkable downtown to thrive.
Christopher D'Antonio January 31, 2012 at 09:52 PM
"... will lend them to process the waste of their customers, employees, and cooking, many businesses do not require a significant use of waste disposal capacity."
Greg Martinez January 31, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Agioatern has summarized the issue perfectly. It is not expansion that we need, but an economic environment that allows for small and middle sized businesses to start and thrive in existing facilities. As for government at all levels, they should get out of the way. Government needs to regulate less and tax less.
Merrick7 January 31, 2012 at 11:36 PM
I would think this could be an issue to bring up to the regional economic development council by the town board. When Hempstead Village brought it up for their revitalization project, they received 5 million dollars in state funds for sewage infrastructure improvements. Perhaps if the town board presented a list of downtown businesses looking to expand but hampered by the sewage problem the council and state would disburse funds in their direction.
Christopher D'Antonio February 01, 2012 at 01:12 AM
As pertains to small and medium sized businesses along Main Street in Smithtown, what regulations should be relaxed at the local, state, and federal levels, and what taxes should be decreased at the local, state, and federal levels? Also, how can we explain the continued existence of businesses along Main Street, or the introduction of relatively new businesses, such as Uncle Giuseppe's and American Roadside, given the "inhospitable" regulatory and tax climate?
Greg Martinez February 01, 2012 at 05:40 AM
"what regulations should be relaxed at the local, state, and federal levels, and what taxes should be decreased at the local, state, and federal levels? " Excellent question. How about we repeal pretty much all changes in health, safety, and environmental laws and regulations at ALL levels of government etc., enacted over say the past 10 years, that make it harder to start and maintain a business. I've been around awhile, and do not recall any major plagues prevented or any health benefits from such laws and amendments over the past 10 years. As for taxes? How about we start with a 20% cut in every dang tax out there. When government departments and their clients start screaming, tell them the party is over.
Christopher D'Antonio February 01, 2012 at 08:12 AM
Greg, could we explore specific issues? I know that there are specific regulations and taxes out there that are onerous and worthy of reform or removal, however the wholesale elimination of taxes or regulations in such a broad swath could do more harm than good. All quick changes ever do is emphasize our lack of understanding of a subject and generate needless resentment in others. Are there permit fees in Smithtown that are particularly burdensome to people starting out? Is there an aspect of the New York State environmental review requirements that are oppressive to some property owners? If the federal income tax, social security and medicare taxes are lowered, how do we account for their impact on the well-being of the elderly and the disabled, as well as the potential degradation of our roads, sewers, and other infrastructure funded through our nation's general fund. I've often contemplated starting my own business, and in the pro forma, while permit fees and taxes figure in, the ultimate arbiter is the profitability of the business, and the size of market I expect to serve. I want to understand your perspective, but I cannot do so based on a discussion of generalities.
Bern February 01, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I have often thought of opening my own business as well. Of all the retail space that I have looked at in KP and Smithtown over the past 6 months, there is no place that I would I would like to rent EXCEPT the space next to CVS (7,500 sq. ft. too big for me) The reason for this- PARKING. Stop being bullied into irrational distractions like sewers.
Greg Martinez February 01, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Getting bogged down in minutia and being concerned about the "well being" of individuals is how the political elites maintain their positions and control the voters. In several years I will be eligible to begin collecting Social Security. I would be more-than-willing to take a lump some of what I contributed to SS over the decades with some interest and sign-away any other SS money so I can take care of myself. Hah. That will never happen because our wonderful and caring political elites are so caring about my well-being they want to forego all the savings from not paying me for decades to come and forbid such an opt-out. So to all you young folks who are paying all those taxes, thank you, you will be paying me with your tax dollars for a long long time.

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