The future of the Four Corners will determine Patchogue’s future. It is important for residents to fully understand where we came from and where we are now with this complex situation. I hope the reader will permit me the time necessary to lay out these facts below.
After doing so, I will present Residents First’s plan for the Four Corners.
The Four Corners: Historical Background Summary
Swezey’s department store was the anchor of the Four Corners for decades. That store moved to the current Briarcliff location in 1999, but the company eventually went out of business in 2003, due to a changing economy, demographics, and retail landscape. That left a tremendous opportunity on the Four Corners.
Mr. Pontieri was elected Village Trustee in 2001, and then elected Mayor in 2004.
In 2007, three years into his first term as Mayor, Mr. Pontieri began the threat of eminent domain proceedings to take the Swezey’s property away from its owner in order to transfer the property to Tritec.
In 2008, Mr. Pontieri and Tritec proudly announced their plan for the Four Corners at the Patchogue Theater. Approximately four hundred residents attended and were pleased to learn that Tritec promised a mixed-use plan that incorporated:
- A 100 room hotel with a pedestrian promenade and community room
- 32,000 square feet of retail space
- Owner-occupied residential units
- Five level tiered parking garage with 626 parking spaces
- Preservation and incorporation of the .
Before the plan was brought to a vote, it was amended several times. From the public’s perspective, some of the best aspects from the plan were removed at the request of the developer. In return, the developer promised to keep the hotel component of the plan in place to provide an anchor for the Four Corners and bring much needed foot traffic to our downtown. The desire for a hotel was never disputed.
In 2008, the Village Board approved Tritec’s first plan, giving the developer a significant variance that allowed them to build a plan that included a hotel. That approval and drastic zone change allowances were conditioned on the developer building the plan as it was approved. Those drastic zone change allowances were not provided to the developer to build a 291 unit apartment complex.
Since that date, the plan quietly morphed into a 291 unit apartment complex.
What we were promised: A 100 room hotel, owner-occupied units, tiered parking, a visitor’s promenade and community room
What we got: 291 rental apartments
The Mayor’s push to pass Tritec’s amended plan
Changes to the Tritec’s first plan
Paul Pontieri quietly announced changes to the Tritec’s first plan in December 2010 (Editor's Note: The change was at a panel in September 2010.) Board members, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and residents were scrambling to get information about the amended plan at the eleventh hour. Troubled by this, I and several other Community volunteers scheduled a to make sure all residents could be informed about the amended plan and actively participate in the discussion process. We later learned that we were too late and Tritec and the Mayor had no intention of further amending their plan.
The Community Forum
Mr. Pontieri repeatedly attempted to put the project to a vote before the Community Forum date that I co-hosted at the Elks Club in January, 2011. At one point, he threatened to skip the forum altogether, relenting only when realizing we were going forward without him.
We reminded the Mayor that he promised to fight against high density rental housing during his election campaigns with us. We told him we already have more rentals than any community in Suffolk County, and we urged him to work for a more diversified plan. He ignored our pleas and resisted our efforts to educate residents about the project’s drastic metamorphosis.
Mayor Pontieri promised to fight high density housing when he ran for Mayor. He has become its biggest proponent.
Many Village and community leaders also pleaded with Mayor Pontieri to stand up to the developer and to fight for a compromise on behalf of Village residents. They sought a compromise that would reduce the density and create a true mixed-use plan. Mayor Pontieri failed to negotiate or obtain a single change in the developer’s amended plan. It was an all or nothing, take it or leave it proposal.
“YES” vote – a rubber stamp
Instead of fighting for Village residents, the Mayor stood with developers when we needed him most. He pushed the plan to a vote last winter, and made the tie-breaking vote for high density, non-owner occupied rental units. His majority included board members (Krieger, Devlin, Keyes) who have never voted against any proposal, plan, resolution, or position taken or advanced by the Mayor.
On March 10, 2011, the Village Board voted in favor of the amended Tritec plan (4-3: In favor: Pontieri, Krieger, Devlin, Keyes; Opposed: McGiff, Crean, Hilton).
The approval of the Tritec’s amended plan is illegal and can be either set aside by a Court Order or by Village Board resolution
The Village Board’s approval of Tritec’s amended plan is illegal and can be reversed in one of two ways:
First, it can be set aside by a Court of competent jurisdiction.
Second, the Village Board can rescind the “amended plan” on several legal grounds. Those grounds include the following:
1. Improper SEQRA legal notice was provided about the attempt to change the plan (the State Environmental Quality Review Act require 30 day notice).
2. The Village improperly failed to require an environmental impact statement (EIS) in connection with the developer’s 2010 application.
3. The traffic analysis was flawed and failed to consider the most dangerous intersection (Havens, West Main, and Railroad Avenue).
4. The “Amended Plan” wasn’t referred to the Architectural Review Board or the Historic Preservation Board as mandated by law, rendering it fatally defective.
5. The Plan is “Spot Zoning” and therefore illegal (it benefits a single property owner instead of the Village at large).
6. The Plan has allowed the developer to reduce its parking requirements dramatically and illegally to the detriment of the surrounding businesses.
7. The DRD (District for Downtown Redevelopment) does not provide for an “amended plan,” and the “amended plan” constituted a new plan because it removed the hotel, therefore necessitating the commencement of a new application, subject to the legal scrutiny of the initial plan.
Accordingly, the “amended plan’s” approval is legally deficient, and therefore invalid. Consequently, the only legal approval that Tritec has in place is to build the original plan – the one with the hotel, reduced number of residential units, and additional parking.
Standing up to the Mayor and Tritec
For these reasons, I and other Village residents and small business owners commenced legal proceedings to stop Tritec’s amended plan for the Four Corners. We are spending our own money and time to fight the amended development. We do so not only for our own interests and property values, but for the benefit of the whole community.
I am proud that I am part of a group of other community minded residents and business owners who are standing up for what is right.
The Mayor’s new plan for the Four Corners is bad for Patchogue – Patchogue has enough low income, high density rental housing
Low income, high density housing
Tritec claims it will rent “market rate” units from $1,200.00 to $2,700.00[i] to middle class working families. We know that this plan is impractical and will fail because the suggested rental prices are much higher than comparable listings in our area. In addition, putting 291 rental units on the market in a community already saturated with rental housing will depress rental rates even further.
One example which illustrates that Tritec’s rental rate projections are unrealistic is the community. Artspace, with only 45 rental units, is renting its apartments at rates ranging from $817.00 to $1575.00. In order to fill its vacancies, Artspace had relaxed its artist requirement and also accepted Section 8 tenants. (Editor's Note: Artspace has a preference for artist residents with a screening process, not a requirement. .)
Section 8 is a federally subsidized housing assistance program to over 2 million low-income people nationwide each year.
Coincidentally, Tritec’s CEO, James Coughlan, is the Chairman of the Board for the Community Development Company of Long Island, an organization that manages over 3500 housing vouchers for Section 8. [ii]
Considering this information, and the fact that Tritec’s amended plan consists of over six times the amount of units as Artspace, there is little doubt that the proposed development will attract a significant amount of Section 8 tenants. In fact, neither Tritec nor the Mayor has ever denied that Tritec will place Section 8 tenants in the 291 unit rental complex.
Low income, high density housing is a bad idea for the Four Corners. Patchogue already has more than its fair share of high density and low income Section 8 housing throughout the Village.
Section 8 Housing
The concept that working families will flock to live on the Four Corners, and live side by side with Section 8 tenants in this massive apartment complex is preposterous. As Section 8 tenants move in, private pay tenants are likely to move out, and the complex will become predominantly low income, Section 8 occupied.
Studies conducted by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) show that Section 8 housing recipients cluster together, creating crime and other severe social issues. An Atlantic Magazine article describes how Section 8 housing clusters ruin communities. The story cites a Brookings Institute list of the 15 cities where the number of high-poverty neighborhoods has also shown up as among the most violent in the U.S., according to FBI data. [iii]
According to the National Housing Institute, Section 8 housing is broken. In its report, the institute reports that Section 8 is a catalyst in neighborhood deterioration and that its unintended consequences include neglected properties, persistent crime and a continual influx of families who have never lived outside of public housing. Section 8 is supposed to de-concentrate poverty, but according to the article, it actually re-concentrates it, driving out middle-class residents, and turning the entire area into a slum. Once a neighborhood has some problems, the article reports, “Section 8 accelerates those problems.”[iv]
If you want to see a local example of what the Tritec Plan will look like after the shine of the new construction wears off, take a look at the Maple Avenue Apartments (a five story apartment complex), the Tiffany Apartments, or the Terry Street Apartments. These were all touted in their day as being “Smart Growth,” and “luxury apartments” that promised “feet on the street.”
Then dramatically multiply the scale of those projects, envision a project significantly larger than all 3 of those projects combined, and picture it smack in the middle of Main Street. That’s the Tritec plan. If constructed, it will turn Patchogue into Hempstead.
Newsday recently reported complaints that the 337 unit Hempstead Manor apartment complex was an "absolute disgrace," with “gangs in the hallways, poor security…heat problems, bedbugs and other insects and ceilings falling down and facilities in disrepair."
This type of apartment complex on the Four Corners is a bad fit for our community, doesn’t maximize the potential of our Village, will fail to draw visitors to our town, and will result in the long term demise of our community.
The Mayor and his team will counterattack the above by again calling me an alarmist or an elitist, or by quoting general Long Island housing statistics published by housing associations that support high density "Smart Growth" rental housing. So be it. I will not stop speaking the truth about this bad project, and if elected Mayor, I will never roll the dice with Patchogue’s future on a project with such terrible odds for our community.
Traffic flow problems and a parking nightmare
The developer claims 1.5 parking spaces per 291 apartments is enough.[v] If you consider that most families require at least two cars, the development should have at least 600 spaces for the apartments alone. The original plan called for a five tier parking garage with 626 parking spaces. The amended Tritec plan provides a major deficiency of parking spaces! (Think about it: if their new claims are correct and the development project didn’t require a lot more parking spaces, why did the initial plan include tiered parking in the first place?)
Tritec and the Mayor wants residents to look at the plan on the Tritec website at:
Residents should look at the architect’s renderings.
The plan presented by Tritec online offers an overhead view of the project, along with a “Fly’s eye” view of the plan.
The architect’s renderings provide side views of the property showing pretty pictures of brand new buildings with luxury stores and luxury cars. It is the overhead view that shows what a monstrosity this project is and clearly illustrates the problems with the design. They include the following:
- The “Village Green” is so small as to be an insult to use the name “green.”
- A visitor looking for parking enters blind, as they cannot see if any spaces are available inside.
- The intersection is undesirable and poorly designed as one has to bend around to move through it.
- The court yard is all parking and looks like an apartment complex in the Bronx. A tenant living in an apartment will look out the window and see someone else’s apartment, in addition to viewing black-top and parked cars.
- Sound will echo loudly -- particularly at night.
- Note also that the building grade is “wooden frame, stick-built,” the cheapest kind of construction allowed by law. This type of building creates noisy apartments and hallways, and is a virtual tinderbox compared to other construction grades.
Our plan for the Four Corners
First, stop the Mayor’s bad Plan
Obviously, the first plan of action is to stop the Mayor’s bad plan.
The approval of the Tritec’s amended plan was legally flawed. These legal deficiencies provide the Village Board grounds to rescind the Board’s prior approval of the 291 unit apartment complex.
If elected Mayor, I will work with fellow Village Board members to rescind the approval of the amended Tritec plan. Once Village Board approval is rescinded, Tritec is free to develop its initial plan for the Four Corners – the one with the hotel and additional parking, [vi] or work with us to come up with a better plan.
Work with the Developer to restore the initial plan, or towards a new mixed-use plan that will benefit Village residents and downtown small business owners.
I will utilize all legal and diplomatic means to work with Tritec’s representatives to effectuate the initial plan. If Tritec will not or cannot build the original plan, we will work to facilitate a plan acceptable to the developer, so long as it provides our Village with a true mixed use plan -- one that incorporates ideas which will benefit residents and our downtown small business owners.
Our team has already had preliminary conversations with potential investors for the Four Corners. Those investors include a hotel developer that has indicated its willingness to privately fund and construct a hotel. That hotel would be a quality project that can incorporate a restaurant on the top floor that will have panoramic views of the Great South Bay. If elected, I will work to see this hotel become a reality and introduce other prospective anchor businesses to the Tritec representatives. Potential investors in the Carnegie Library have also told us that they would revisit their proposals to the Village if the hotel plan is resurrected.
Our team is also exploring another creative concept that we feel should be considered for this property as an alternative to such a large percentage of rental units. “Industry clusters” are business and information technology incubators that are in growing demand. These true mixed-use projects combine commercial office space with amenities that attract young and talented entrepreneurs. Such a true mixed-use concept would not only draw young business talent to the area, but would also be less taxing on our parking and infrastructure and bring many jobs to our community.
If Tritec is unwilling to construct the initial approved plan, or is not willing to develop a better, more creative plan that is in the best interest of the Patchogue community, it can feel free to sell its properties, or develop them individually, subject to the law and Village Board approval. There is no legal requirement or practical reason why Tritec has to develop all of the property it chose to acquire as one major development.
There is also no legal reason why Tritec could not begin demolition of the unsafe and unsightly Swezey building immediately, regardless of the , and if the Mayor is concerned about the safety of that building that has been standing vacant his entire term, he should demand that they take immediate action to demolish it.
Mayor Pontieri has had 10 years (2 as Trustee, 8 as Mayor) to effectuate positive change on the Four Corners.
Mr. Pontieri has failed to deliver the plan he originally promised, and he has badly mishandled the amended one. He’s been the Mayor for eight years and the Four Corners is still undeveloped. It begs the question: Isn’t 8 years enough?
Rest assured when I become your Mayor, I will use my business experience to deliver a solution for the Four Corners that will incorporate the concerns of Village residents and small business owners, and one that will put Residents First.
The bottom line is that if I am elected Mayor, 291 apartment units will never be constructed on the Four Corners. Instead, I will fight for and attain a better, mixed-use plan that benefits the residents and surrounding small businesses and has their support.
[i] Think about it. What working family will pay $2,700.00 for a 3 bedroom apartment when they can rent a 5 bedroom house with a driveway and a private lawn for less in Patchogue Village?
[ii]See Tritec website, Mayor Pontieri’s recent defending Tritec
[iii] See Atlantic Magazine, August, 2008
[iv] See Governing Magazine
[v] The parking spaces the developer is currently claiming to “create” includes existing parking spots on Main Street that are currently available and which are already being used – that is one of the grounds of the lawsuit to stop the plan.
[vi] Tritec claims that there is not any hotel financing available at this time. They claim that it can only find financing for an apartment complex. This flies in the face of the fact that numerous hotels are being approved and constructed throughout Long Island and our discussions with a developer willing to privately finance a hotel on the Four Corners.