West Islip School District hosted the first of three public forums for the Masera school property sale Oct. 7 at Beach Street Middle School.
Contracting firm Terwilliger & Bartone Properties LLC, which is looking to purchase the property district with community approval, organized an “open house-style” meeting where six stations were set up throughout the gymnasium last Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Stations included civic engineering and traffic, economic benefits, company information, community outreach, and architecture and design. Residents were encouraged to stop at each zone, ask questions, and speak with company consultants.
On Sept. 10, the West Islip Board of Education approved a roughly $9.5 million sale agreement with the company for the 11-acre parcel located on the west side of Udall Road. The company is looking to construct a senior housing community on the parcel with 26 for-sale townhomes and 100 rental units. Registered voters will cast their ballots on the proposal January 2021.
Terwilliger & Bartone Properties managing partner Anthony Bartone said the purpose of the forum was to provide the public with the facts.
“Our goal is to be a good neighbor,” Bartone said. “This is their community and we want to do all the right things, so we’re listening and we’ll do everything we can.”
School board president Steve Gellar said many community members have expressed concern with traffic. He said a senior living community would create far less traffic than a school.
“When that school building was operating, there were 170 employees entering and exiting at the same time each day,” Gellar said. The school board pursued residential housing, he said, because it would provide the best financial outcome for district residents.
Mark, who lives near West Islip Public Library and preferred not to provide his last name, said he’s concerned about rental properties bringing in nonpermanent residents. He would prefer single-family houses.
“You want to rent it, and all of a sudden my daughter comes in, then there’s double the amount of people living in one unit,” he said. “Instead of having two cars, there’s four cars.”
But Bartone said the school board entertained that when they met with five developers last fall, they determined the rental units in a 55-and-older demographic would not burden the student population.
Gellar said he heard that concern, too, and countered: “These are luxury apartments. I think the price of these units bring the incentive for residents to maintain their property.”
Bartone said a traffic study will be conducted if the property sale is approved by the community. Even if that’s the case, he said, there’s still “years before there’s a shovel in the ground.” The property will also need to obtain a permit from Islip Town prior to construction.
Under mandatory New York State guidelines, only 50 guests were allowed in the gymnasium at one time, and residents were encouraged to contact the district to reserve a space at the forum.
While information about the sale was allegedly distributed to locals by mail, some residents claim they were never notified that they had to register in advance, and had to wait to enter until some residents exited the event.
“It’s almost like they’re trying to slide it under the rug,” West Islip resident Donna DeMarzo said. “This is our block.”
Lorraine Facciponti, of Dunwoodie Avenue in West Islip, said not receiving mail-outs has been an ongoing problem in the district. Roughly a year ago, she said, the issue was brought to board members who said they would fix the problem.
“Last year when they were having these meetings [about the property sale], we never got any notification, because apparently the only people that did were people that had kids in the school, and it was being sent home with the [high school kids.]” Facciponti said.
Ann Marie Safaty, also of Dunwoodie Avenue, said her parents built her house that’s parallel to the property in 1957. She expressed concern about privacy of the new property.
“Back then, the school was there, but they purposely built it because they didn’t have neighbors behind. And that’s how we grew up,” Safaty said. “If they just put houses there, that’d be fine – but they’re putting in two stories, and I feel like everyone’s going to be peering inside.”
At the meeting, Bartone indicated that a six-foot fence and shrubbery would surround the property to protect the privacy of residents.
Terwilliger & Bartone Properties LLC also filmed a video at the event which outlines the project. It should be made available through the district in the near future.
The property originally opened in 1955 as Paumanok Elementary School. It was previously occupied by Eastern Suffolk BOCES, but has remained closed in recent years.
Two additional public forums will be held at the middle school Tuesday Oct. 13 and Thursday, Oct. 22. Additional forums are expected to be added in weeks ahead, district officials said.