Over 50 residents came out in opposition to the Cornerstone application, a proposed 50-unit apartment complex and marina dock along the Patchogue River on Mulford Street in Patchogue Village, in a protest outside of Village Hall earlier this week.
The board of trustees hosted a public hearing via Zoom with only the trustees, mayor and applicant permitted physical entrance. According to mayor Paul Pontieri, due to prior scheduling and advertising, the meeting was required, by law, to be held virtually and could only be changed if it was rescheduled.
“To get us to the next step [it has] to be done in [the] format that we have tonight,” he said ahead of the meeting on Monday, May 24.
Village attorney Brian Egan explained that the applicants, Terwilliger & Bartone, went in front of the board requesting a special permit to allow residential use in the primarily E-Industrial zone. Though the hearing was held, a decision was not expected to be made until after referral and recommendation was conducted by the Suffolk County Planning Commission.
“I admit, it does seem confusing, the extensive hearings this project has had,” he said of the long process spanning over three years, with multiple amendments to the application. “The planning board has done an excellent job on its referral. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their professionalism and work they put into this application.”
Last month, the Patchogue Village Planning Board submitted a letter recommending the conditional approval of the Cornerstone project for a special-use permit for the construction of an apartment complex at the western end of Mulford Street, pending special conditions were met.
According to Egan, to acquire the special permitting, the applicants must meet the following criteria as per village code:
The location does not prevent reasonable use of adjacent properties; does not prevent permitted or legally established use of the district; the health and welfare, comfort and order of the village is not adversely affected; the use is in harmony with and promotes the general purpose of the code; it is in character with the existing property and sustainability of the district; it doesn’t prevent the conservation of property values; it overall reflects an appropriate use of the land; it doesn’t cause traffic congestion on public streets; it has proper removal of sewage and runoff water; doesn’t cause overcrowding of land; the property doesn’t interfere with public parking or recreation facilities; and is not operated unreasonably near to a church or school.
After the meeting, the public hearing was closed and referred to the county for comment. Should the board of trustees approve the special permit after referral by the county, Egan said, the application would then head to the planning board, again, for site review of the fine details of the project. Suffolk County, he added, generally has about 30 to 45 days to make a decision.
Attorney Kathleen Deegan Dickson spoke on behalf of the applicants, explaining the purpose of the public hearing suggesting it was for specifically the special-permit aspect rather than the details of the project.
“[We] made numerous changes to the plan as a result from comments from the public and planning board,” she said, stating those changes included eliminating the need for height variances, setback and parking. “We will be back for site-plan review and depending on the parking on site, we may end up with a variance for parking.”
The use of the property, she said, is the “ultimate up-zoning” from industrial to residential. The property will keep the boat slips and create a public waterfront as well as add sidewalks, she said.
“Under New York State law, special-permitted uses are akin to permitted uses; this is assumed to be permitted unless we can’t prove certain criteria,” she continued.
She went on to discuss the application as “harmonious with the purposes of the village,” and suggested the board take into account what else could go there.
“This board, in May 2008, [deemed] residential use an appropriate use for this site,” she said, referencing a previous special permit granted for a condominium application.
The applicants also retained Frank Piccininni, biologist and environmental attorney, to assist with the design process and help integrate nature. He said he was excited to work on the project to help make it “environmentally and neighborhood friendly.”
Piccininni usually works in opposition to applications with development, but this time, he said he was working with the development team. He said this project is different, being that it is not clearing a forest but repurposing a site with invasives.
He suggested the site could be part of the solution with sustainable practices including permeable land, native plantings and promoting a restored habitat for less runoff by managing stormwater with plants and a retention system as well as natural bioswales. He also suggested that the applicants were committed to not using pesticides and that the project could even help to solve some of the neighborhood’s current flooding issues.
A total of 14 community members spoke in opposition to the project, with no one speaking for it, during the nearly two-hour hearing. An additional about 50 residents gathered outside of Village Hall on Baker Street yielding signs protesting the development.
“Unfortunately, we have to stand outside because you guys won’t listen to us,” resident Anna Yvette said via Zoom while standing outside among the crowd. “How many years do we have to come out? Is this the legacy, Mayor Pontieri, you would like to leave?”
Resident Kaetlyn Jackson also spoke, stating that she has written well over 16 pages and thousands of words to the board of trustees and planning board expressing her concern for the development.
“Despite the effort, thoughtful articulation, concern, they currently still did not address the concerns in their design,” she said, estimating that the project would produce about 100 new residents on about a half-acre of land.
Residents Casey Stewart, Francis Salazar, Steve Masciopinto, Regina Bykov and Tiffany Bowman also spoke, citing concerns for the property values, overflow of the neighboring Oar Restaurant parking, unsightly views from their backyards and overdevelopment, as well as a general concern for the future of the waterfront.
“If I had a dollar for every time I heard this project is a done deal, I would have enough money to purchase the property and put something the community would actually benefit from,” Bowman said, questioning the integrity of the project.
Another nearby resident welcomed the board via Zoom into her home to physically show where the development would impede, visually, in her backyard. She suggested use of the property for condos instead.
Resident, county planning commission member and executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment Adrienne Esposito also spoke, stating that the river is an ecological gem and any added nitrogen and pesticides, no matter how limited, was still an addition.
“It’s putting lipstick on a pig, and it’s important to know the facts and environmental impacts on a larger scale,” she said.