(WEST ISLIP, N.Y.) — On a foggy mid-October evening, residents, community members, and school district officials drifted into the gymnasium of Beach Street Middle School. Mask-wearing attendees — no more than 50 at a time due to the state-imposed, coronavirus-related restrictions — quietly milled about as they gathered information from signs emblazoned with the phrase “Stay in West Islip.”
The forum was an information session about a proposed senior housing development at the site of the Masera School, which has been vacant since 2019. The property, located at 650 Udall Rd., opened in 1955 as Paumanok Elementary but closed as a public school in 1992. It was rented by Eastern Suffolk BOCES from 2000-2019.
Now, the West Islip School District, the owner of the property, has accepted a contract from Terwilliger & Bartone Properties LLC to buy the property and turn it into townhouses and apartments for people aged 55 and older.
But not all residents are convinced that senior housing is the best use of that property.
“I don’t think people are opposed to something going in there,” said Shawn Gallagher, a West Islip resident who attended the Masera School and now lives across from the property. “But I think they’re just opposed to starting to build that many units in a space like that.”
The proposed development includes 126 units on an 11-acre site, according to the school district’s website. Of those units, 26 will be townhomes, 66 will be one-bedroom apartments, and 34 will be two-bedroom apartments. Other amenities would include an on-site community clubhouse, garden area, pool, and dog run.
“West Islip is starved for a product like this,” said Anthony Bartone, Managing Partner of Terwilliger & Bartone Properties.
Currently, West Islip is one of the only hamlets in the Town of Islip without a designated senior housing complex.
According to Census Reporter, West Islip had a population of 27,149 as of 2018. When broken down by age, the 60-and-over demographic makes up approximately 22 percent of that population. The proposed senior housing development would allow those seniors to downsize from their current homes but stay in West Islip, which would stabilize the population, according to the school district, while allowing new community members to move in.
Antonio Marro, 68, a West Islip resident since 1987, is hoping to do just that as he considers downsizing. Like many seniors, he’s looking to continue his life in West Islip, but with less property to manage and, in turn, fewer responsibilities, like mowing the lawn.
“Hopefully I can get something in there,” said Marro.
But opposition remains, especially when it comes to traffic and concerns over the loss of the fields on the property.
“Where I stand, and I think where a lot of people stand is just the sheer number of units that they’re proposing … I think that anything of that size is certainly going to increase traffic on a not-so-great road to begin with as far as traffic goes,” Gallagher said.
Currently, the proposal includes a single entrance and exit, located on already congested Udall Rd., which also houses the entrances to the Sunrise Highway service road, a major highway connecting the south shore towns of Long Island. At the October forum, many residents were overheard voicing their concerns over the potential increase in traffic.
“If that type of development is built there, there’s gonna be a lot more people cutting down those side streets,” Gallagher said.
“It makes no difference to me who moves there and what age they are. It’s just a lot of people that are gonna be through that neighborhood.”
Bartone said he understands these concerns, but hopes residents won’t “penalize” the project because of “the existing condition of Udall Road.”
Others opposed to the project are less concerned about what’s going up than what’s going away — namely the recreational fields located on the property.
To appease these residents, the would-be developer has agreed to make a $1 million donation at closing. According to West Islip Board of Education President Steve Gellar, this money would be used to build a new field between the Kirdahy building — another former elementary school that is now a private K-8 academy — and Bayview Elementary school.
The proposed site of the new field is more than two miles south of the Masera building, however, and residents who live in these two locales go to different elementary and middle schools within the district.
“Yes, they are gonna build a soccer field. But they’re gonna build a soccer field on the complete other side of town,” Gallagher said.
“To me it’s just disappointing.”
Gallagher also cautioned that if this particular sale passes, more might be in the pipeline.
“This is a much bigger issue than just West Islip and just this Masera school. This is something that people are just seeing all over the place,” Gallagher said.
According to a map powered by nextLI, a forum for Long Islanders powered by Newsday, there are more than 145 proposed housing complexes stretching from Garden City in Nassau County to Baiting Hollow in Suffolk County. More than 50 of those are 55+ developments similar to the one proposed in West Islip.
A list of some of these planned developments was brought to residents’ attention through a Facebook group, where lawn signs reading “No Overdevelopment, No Masera Sale” are available for purchase. These signs have sprung up around town, most notably in the residential area near the property.
“This will happen again and it will set a precedent for any other piece of land to be sold off and have the same thing happen to it,” Gallagher said.
Concerns aside, people do want something done, according to Gallagher, who hopes the property will instead turn into something “that’s going to benefit kids and the community and help to make West Islip thrive.”
The vote will take place on Jan. 19 and because this is a Special District Vote, only those who have voted in an annual or special district vote within the last four years are eligible. All others can register to vote at the Office of the District Clerk, located at 100 Sherman Ave. between the hours of 8am and 4pm on days when school is in session.
Jan. 14 is the deadline for residents to register.
According to Gellar, the Board of Education does not currently have a backup plan if the proposed sale were to be rejected by the community.
“Really the plan is to start over at that point, if that happens,” he said.