SAYVILLE—When people talk about Sayville, they usually cite the town’s idyllic walkable Main Street, lined with specialty shops and eateries. The quaint bayside hamlet is widely known for a multitude of fairs and street festivals, such as the popular and hugely attended Sayville Summerfest. It is also the host of the Town of Islip’s annual Earth Day festivities and other events. But residents there are worried — and rightly so — about the possible changes coming and what it will mean for the future of their town. A fundraiser was held last Friday night to address these concerns.
Rechler Equity, the builders of Greybarn, a multi-family rental development of 500 units on a 20-acre site in Amityville, purchased the site of the former home of Island Hills Golf Course. The parcel, nestled in among private one- and two-story homes, is zoned as residential, and allows for single-family homes to be built on 40,000-square-foot (0.9-acre) lots. This equates to 84 single-family homes. In March 2017, Rechler filed an application with the Town of Islip to change the site’s zoning from the residential, AAA to a PDD, planned development district. The company intends to build 1,365 rental apartments in 27 buildings, most at a height of three to four stories, allowing only 1.75 parking spaces per apartment. The project planned for Sayville is nearly three times the size as the one in Amityville.
A wide array of concerns stem from the town’s ability to meet the needs of such a large development, from an influx of new students in the Connetquot School District, to the addition of thousands more cars on the already busy roads that feed into the town, from the added strain on emergency first responders, to the extra impact on the delicate aquifers of the area’s underground water, to light pollution, as well as the visual impact of a development this size. While the Greybarn complex may be appropriate for Amityville, residents say a massive city-like development with 65-foot-tall buildings has no place in Sayville’s quiet, established neighborhood. Many question how a zoning regulation can be so drastically changed to accommodate the request of a major developer who, residents believe, doesn’t appear to have the community’s best interest at heart.
It is for all of these reasons that the group, Stop Island Hills, was formed. The group has been growing in numbers and is tireless in their effort to bring awareness to the situation. They have fought the proposed zoning change with protest rallies, boots on the ground, social media, and attending town meetings. Despite their best efforts, the group feels many residents in the area don’t understand the magnitude of the threat at hand, and there are some who aren’t even aware of it. They want all South Shore residents to understand the negative impact this development will have on the town and its neighboring communities of Bayport, Oakdale, Bohemia and perhaps even communities farther west and east, who might feel the effects of the extra traffic it would generate. As one resident put it, “This is happening in our backyard, and people need to know.”
With the need to legitimize, take donations, and prepare for legal representation, the Greater Islip Association was formed. Headed by president Milynn Augulis, the 501(c) 4 social welfare organization is devoted to preserving the community’s traditions, architecture and appearance by representing it before the local legislature and administrative agencies. Residents are preparing to defend their town, but Augulis said, “It is disheartening that the community has to raise monies for independent studies and legal representation to protect the best interest of those that live and raise their families in Sayville and neighboring areas.”
The kick-start fundraiser was held at the VFW Hall on Lakeland Avenue, just down the block from the site in question. The house was filled to capacity, and donation-wise, the night was a huge success. Community spirit came from residents and in support from local businesses that donated hot foods as well as gift certificates and baskets for raffles. The hall rental was donated as well. Local residents generously gave their time and energy, providing the music and sound production, advertisements, canvassing the neighborhoods to inform others, and more. GIA was encouraged by the turnout.
Talking to attendees, the sense of pride in the town’s history was abundantly clear, but so was the general consensus of fear for Sayville’s future — a fear of how such a large development could overwhelm their hometown.
When asked why they loved Sayville, one resident responded, “I know everyone.” Sayville resident Monique Dussault said, “I’m a half a mile from everything. It’s the reason my family has been here for 150 years.” She added that Rechler should “build what they bought,” in reference to the property’s current zoning.
There seemed to also be a growing frustration with Islip Town. Many residents that night said they have written emails and letters to the town with no response. Invitations to tour the area and speak to residents from the Bohemia Civic Association that were extended to the supervisor and the entire town board did not get a response.
Glenn Rothburd, a resident and business owner of SPMG, a strategy and research group in Sayville, organized an Island Hills Survey of nearly 2,000 Town of Islip residents: 92 percent from Sayville, West Sayville, Oakdale, Bohemia, Ronkonkoma and Bayport. Of those polled, an astounding 97 percent said they are opposed to Rechler’s current plan. When asked if they believed the Town of Islip has appropriately responded to residents’ concerns on this subject, 71 percent responded no. Ninety-nine percent of the respondents are registered voters, and 84 percent of them said they would never or likely never vote for Islip Town officials who support or approve of Rechler’s plan.
When asked what residents could do to help, GIA board member Kathleen Cutrone said, “Know what is going on. Get involved and be informed. This is your community. Knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips. We don’t have to accept plans from developers with deep pockets. Find out where campaign funds are coming from.” Cutrone urges her neighbors to join their local civic group. She said the local chambers of commerce are a good way to stay informed and you don’t have to be a business owner to be a member.
“We know something is going to be built [on the Island Hills site], but we need to come to the table armed and able to refute the builder’s impact study,” remarked Sayville resident Linda Hunt.
Another resident added, “People don’t worry about an issue until it inconveniences them. By then, it will be too late.”