By Hank Russell
As a last-minute guest, Huntington Town Supervisor Ed Smyth came to the LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) meeting at the Candlelight Diner in Commack on January 26 to share what has been happening in the town since coming to LIMBA last June. Among the four topics he wanted to discuss were “parks, beaches, roads and garbage.”
On the issue of parks, Smyth mentioned the rebuilding of Al Walker Park in Huntington Station and a $1.5 million installation of a new playground at Heckscher Park, located across the street from Town Hall. “That was long overdue,” he said, adding that announcements of a new playground are “not particularly exciting. [The upgrades] were ignored because it doesn’t garner much attention when you replace a slide with another slide.”
He also spoke about the 63 miles of beaches that the town maintains. “We take very good care of it,” Smyth said. He added that they are maintaining the water quality through the sugar kelp program, which helps remove nitrogen that causes algae blooms in the water.
“Most importantly, when it comes to keeping waterways clean, it usually happens upland,” Smyth said.
Stormwater runoff is also critical, he said, especially when the runoff goes into the town’s waterways. He credited the town’s highway supervisor, Andre Sorrentino, with keeping the catch basins clean and making sure the sumps aren’t backed up.
“We have something that hasn’t been cleaned in decades,” Smyth said. “Over the course of time, the leaves become layered … and it almost creates a swimming pool liner effect where the sumps sometimes don’t drain for days or weeks. One of the things Andre has been doing for us on a regular basis is going into these sumps, scooping [the leaves] out and making [the sumps] function. It’s not complicated work, but it’s work that has to get done.”
The next topic Smyth addressed was the issue of garbage and where it goes after it gets picked up from the curb. Once the garbage is collected, he said, it goes to the Covanta plant in East Northport, where it is burned and converted into energy, while the ash is placed under a magnet, which looks for pieces of metal in the ash. Once the metal is found, it is recycled. Each year, 9,000 tons of metal found in ash are recycled, Smyth said.
He also mentioned the Brookhaven landfill, which is slated to close in the next year or two, according to Smyth. “On Long Island, there has to be an alternative way to manage this ash,” he said.
Smyth suggested that New York take California’s lead and use the ash as building material for industrial projects. However, the state DEC is being “the biggest roadblock” to making this happen. “They won’t allow it,” he said. “I think it’s because these people like to go to these conventions about the environment and flex their muscles and say, ‘I’m stricter than you.’”
Smyth then pivoted to the topic of sewers. While the treatment plants in the sewer system are very important, what is more important, he said, is the network of sewers under the ground. He noted that most of the pipes are 100 years old or older and fit into pipes of varying sizes, which he says needs to be fixed. “It’s not very efficient.”
In addition to these other topics, Smyth addressed the need for more housing and improving downtowns. He discussed the developments regarding the Melville project, which he said is “progressing forward slightly.” The project would entail making a walkable downtown in the area at Maxess and Baylis Roads, one block east of Broadhollow Road (Route 110), with the intersection of the two streets as “the epicenter,” he said. This includes a 30-foot-wide sidewalk.
Commercial units and storefronts on the first floor would run on the north side of the intersection, according to Smyth. The next three floors would be residential units.
During last year’s election, neither the Democrat or Republican town candidates wanted to address the issue. “[The project] was not complete and it would have turned into a political football,” Smyth said. “A lot of people want to see it move forward in a well-thought-out way and not a politically thought-out way.”
Lastly, Smyth spoke about addressing the housing need in the town. Smyth said he is looking at taking down empty Class B and C commercial buildings along the Route 110 corridor, rezoning as a mixed-use overlay district, and constructing residential units in their place. He said the reason for the Class B and C vacancies is that those tenants moved into higher-quality Class A buildings; in order to save money, they rented out less square footage than they did in their previous location.
“My nightmare scenario is vacant office buildings because they’re a magnet for trouble,” Smyth said.
When asked if the commercial buildings will be converted to residential units, Smyth said that it isn’t doable. “Residential buildings need air flow and they need windows,” he said. “You can’t just break up cubicles and make them into apartments; it just doesn’t work. … I spoke to a lot of architects and engineers and they told me that, in every circumstance, it’s better to take down the building and start over. It’s easier, faster and cheaper.”
Someone asked Smyth about allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in homes. He said there was a proposal to allow ADUs in attics, basements and garages and “that did not go over well.” He noted that the town does allow owners of single-family homes to build ADUs on their properties, but it must be attached to the home.
Depending on the household income, homeowners can qualify for construction grants from the state’s Plus One ADU program, which allows homeowners to construct the apartment from within the home. Homeowners must also submit an application to the town Building Department.
“What I’ve been told is, if you build apartment buildings, you’ll be lucky to get your first tenant in two to three years,” Smyth said. “With the [ADUs], you can get them in a matter of a few weeks.”
Building an ADU within the house will attract more renters, Smyth said, and do away with the “upstairs-downstairs culture” with basement apartments. “Don’t put [your tenants] in the basement, put them in the house,” he said. “If you want neighbors, put them in the house.”