UPDATE 1:30 P.M.: This story has been updated to include comments from Terwilliger & Bartone managing partner Anthony Bartone.
An overwhelming majority of West Islip residents voted to reject the roughly $9.5 million sale of the Masera property from the West Islip School District to Farmingdale-based Terwilliger & Bartone Properties LLC Tuesday evening.
Between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on Jan. 19, voters cast their ballots at the West Islip High School Gymnasium on the proposed sale of the property at 650 Udall Road.
Approximately 2,667 residents rejected the proposition, which also included the developer’s plan to contribute $1 million for the purpose of replacing and/or improving the District’s athletic fields.
A total 796 residents voted ‘yes’ on the proposition – or 23 percent. It’s unclear at this time if absentee ballots are included in the total number of votes, which would impact the percentage.
“While disappointed with the results of the vote, the West Islip School District thanks the community for their participation in the special referendum,” a statement from the district said Tuesday evening.
“The Board of Education will be convening in the future to discuss its next steps regarding the Masera school property. Additional information will be shared with the community as it becomes available,” the district said.
Following the rejection of the sale, construction on the property has been put on hold. If the proposition had been approved, developer Terwilliger & Bartone Properties LLC would have constructed a senior housing community on the 11-acre parcel which would have housed 26 for-sale townhomes and 100 rental units for residents ages 55 and over. The site would also have been home to a clubhouse with on-site staff, a pool, a fitness center, community garden, and more.
Anthony Bartone, managing partner of Terwilliger & Bartone Properties, said that on behalf of the Terwilliger Bartone and Kelly Development teams, they are disappointed with the outcome of the referendum. However, they applaud the school board for its "professional and transparent process they undertook over the past two years leading up to this point."
"Over the past year, our organization embarked on a public campaign specifically designed to counter the misinformation that was being spread on the process and proposal," Bartone said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. The campaign included public open houses, webinars, Zoom meetings, mailers, ads, flyers, a website, video presentations, emails and phone calls.
"We truly believe the proposal we brought forward, which would have provided a housing option that doesn’t exist in West Islip for residents who are over 55 years of age, was the appropriate plan for the former school," he said.
Bartone noted that the school has been closed for two years, costing the taxpayers about $23,000 per year in upkeep. He said that amount "will surely swell as the building falls further into disrepair, while generating zero in tax revenue." He also made reference to the over 100 local construction jobs that would come from the project had it been approved.
"We wish the school board well as they head back to the drawing board," Bartone said.
Community members had to register in advance to attend the vote tally Tuesday night, as the district was limited under Executive Order 2020.45 of New York State law which limits all non-essential gatherings to 50 or fewer individuals.
The district also live streamed the voting results to Youtube, though no volume was connected to the video. By around 9 p.m., roughly 100 people had tuned in to the video posted through a link on the district website.
Last year, the West Islip Board of Education began reviewing options for the future of the property, which had been shuttered for several years. The board “engaged with the community and conducted meetings with prospective buyers,” according to the district website.
After discussion, the board determined that “senior housing was the best use of the property and would provide the best financial outcome for district residents.” In September 2020, the board approved an agreement with Terwilliger & Bartone Properties to sell the property.
Since then, the district has conducted a series of public meetings in an “open house”-style format to discuss the details of the sale. The majority vote was mandatory for sale to be finalized.
Community members last month launched a website to express their opposition to the potential Masera property. The website states, “By voting ‘NO’ ... our purpose is to delay a decision on the sale of the Masera (formerly Paumanok) School property in order to allow West Islip taxpayers to be supplied with the options sought and how the sale will benefit the town over other options.”
The proceeds of the sale of the property would have been retained in a Reserve for Tax Reduction, according to the district. These monies would be appropriated annually, for up to 10 years, to offset the tax levy.
The property, which does not currently generate taxes, would increase taxes $1.2 million per year within 10 years as a result of this project, Bartone said previously. The developers recently launched a website to share additional information about their proposed development project.
According to Terwilliger & Bartone Properties, the site plan displays one main access driveway on the property, with a secondary access provided for emergency vehicles only. The roadway would have been 26 feet-wide, paved with cobblestone curbs.