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Saturday, 12/02/2023 6:21:37 PM

Saturday, December 02, 2023 6:21:37 PM

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Fight over Flowerfield Fairgrounds in St. James continues as DEC makes pitch to acquire acreage (10/29/23)

The legal fight over a St. James property known as Flowerfield Fairgrounds is continuing, but records show the state has expressed interest in acquiring an untouched 43-acre portion of the 63 acres for conservation instead of development.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation pitched the proposal in a June letter to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim, who replied later that month that the town"has no objection to the state’s proposal."

The DEC confirmed in a statement to Newsday that the agency "has been involved in preliminary discussions with stakeholders regarding the property’s future conservation."

In March 2022, Smithtown's Planning Board gave landowner Gyrodyne LLC, a defense contractor, the go-ahead to subdivide the 63 acres into eight lots for future uses like medical offices, an assisted living and a hotel. The company previously sold off about a dozen acres that now is a catering hall known as Flowerfield Celebration.

In April 2022, Head of the Harbor village and area residents sued the town and Gyrodyne to try to annul the planning board's decision and require more of an environmental review. The project opponents said they want to find a way to protect the undeveloped 43 acres from future building.

The lawsuit, pending in State Supreme Court in Suffolk County, alleges the town’s subdivision approval was “an abuse of discretion" and "violated lawful procedure."

On Oct. 11, attorney Chris Murray, who represents the plaintiffs, filed a letter with the court about the DEC's interest in the property.

The next day, Joseph Clasen, an attorney for Gyrodyne, responded with a court filing that said the company wasn't aware of the DEC's interest, nor had it started any discussions with the agency.

Clasen also asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit and accused the plaintiffs of trying to stall the case.

Another attorney for Gyrodyne later declined Newsday's request for comment.

In the early 1900s, Long Island horticultural businessman John Lewis Childs owned the property and grew flowers and plants there. The parcel also was home to the former Long Island Rail Road Flowerfield station, which opened in 1910 before train service ended there in 1959.

Gyrodyne acquired the property in 1951, Newsday previously reported. The company built helicopters from 1961 until 1975 on the property, which primarily is zoned for light industry.

Today, part of the property houses 51 tenants and has 131,244 rentable square feet suitable for office, engineering, manufacturing and warehouse use, according to Gyrodyne's website.

Proponents of preserving the property say they're encouraged by DEC's interest in the property.

John Halsey, president of Peconic Land Trust, said the environmental advocacy group "will work with the owners and public partners including the NYS DEC and Suffolk County in any way we can to bring its protection to fruition.”

Head of the Harbor village trustee Judy Ogden, a spokeswoman for Saint James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition — which is spearheading the lawsuit — said the town's lack of objection to the DEC's potential land acquisition "is really important."

Both Murray, the plaintiffs' attorney, and coalition member Joe Bolhoffer, an attorney who chairs Head of the Harbor's zoning board, saidin interviews the DEC's acquisition of the 43 acres would resolve the plaintiffs' legal demands.

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