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West Islip residents vote down plans for senior living complex at closed school site

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Residents of West Islip weren’t a fan of Terwilliger & Bartone Properties‘ plans of converting the abandoned Emil D. Masera Elementary School property into a 55-and-older community.

That was apparent on Tuesday when the West Islip School District held a day-long special referendum to vote on the project that would turn the property into 100 rental townhomes and 26 condominium townhomes for seniors.

Exactly 77 percent of the ballots voted to put the kibosh on the plans. The final tally was 2667 against the proposal and 796 for it.

Following the decision, the district released the following statement:

“While disappointed with the results of the vote, the West Islip School District thanks the community for their participation in the special referendum. The Board of Education will be convening in the future to discuss its next steps for what to do with the Masera school property. Additional information with be shared with the community as it becomes available.”

In the proposed sale, the Farmingdale-based developer teamed with Kelly Development would have paid the district $8.5 million for the site at 650 Udall Road and would have donated an additional $1 million to replace and improve the district’s fields.

The $8.5 million would have been retained in a reserve for tax reduction to offset the tax levy.

The Masera school, opened as the Paumanok Elementary School in 1955, was closed for several years in the 1990s until Eastern Suffolk BOCES entered back-to-back 10-year leases for the property.

It has been vacated since 2019, and the Board of Education decided senior housing was the optimal choice given the school’s age and condition and would provide the best financial outcome for district residents, according to a district press release.

The school district reached an agreement with the developers on Sept. 10.

Residents whose homes neighbor the property were staunch opponents to the new complex. There were 18 lawn signs planted from Sunrise Highway North Service Road, just south of the school, to Madison Ave., two blocks north, on Udall Road in West Islip urging residents to vote “no” to the sale.

One of those neighbors, Sy Lichtenstein, said he felt the influx of new residencies would lead to unwanted additional traffic on the two-lane Udall Road. “This is too busy a road to have this kind of project,” Lichtenstein, 69, of West Islip, said. “This is too big a project.”

Anthony Bartone, managing partner at Terwilliger & Bartone Properties and native Long Islander, expected this opposition from the community.

“Regardless of what community we develop in, we hear concerns about traffic,” said Bartone, 47, of Farmingdale. “That’s the biggest thing, and we understand that cause we live on Long Island, so we certainly get it.” 

Bartone said he attempted to assuage these concerns during three open houses the developer arranged to host a dialogue with community members. He argued that residents of the complex — with various routines — would not flood Udall Road simultaneously, the way school buses and cars pour in and out of a school lot at predictable times.

The $45 million project would have contained “everything you’d expect in a luxury community,” Bartone said, including a clubhouse, a pool, a pond and a fitness center.

Lichtenstein also opposed the project because he believes the rental complex will bring down property values in the residential area.

Paul Balodis, Lichtenstein’s neighbor, added they believe renters may not be as concerned about property upkeep as homeowners in the community.

“If you rent you don’t care,” said Balodis, 52. “If they said they were gonna build 20 houses, I don’t think they’d get a single ‘no’ vote.”

Among those who favored the proposal was John Kesler, who arrived at the high school to cast his vote before voting began at 7 a.m.

“It’s not doing anything right now, so let’s get some money generated,” said 59-year-old Kesler. “And if we can get housing for the seniors that sounds good to me.”

The developers said they will be evaluating their options over the next coming days and weeks.

“Terwilliger & Bartone and Kelly Development want to thank all of the residents who voted today and by absentee ballot on this important issue in the West Islip Community,” reads a statement from the developers’ team. “While the outcome was not what we desired or hoped for, we feel that our proposal was, and still is, the best for the old Masera School site.”

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