Peconic Land Trust Explores St. James Gyrodyne Property Preservation

Peconic Land Trust could use a combination of private and public money, including funds from a $4.2 billion bond measure before New York state voters this month, to buy and preserve part of the 75-acre Gyrodyne site in St. James, the group. President said in an interview.

“We want to keep what’s open available as open space for the community,” Trust chairman John Halsey said, citing a “unique opportunity” to create a continuous green belt from Stony Brook University to Stony Harbor. Brook, where Avalon Park and Preserve holds 216 acres of land.

Earlier this year, Peconic Land Trust assessed the site and participated in meetings about possible preservation with state and local officials, Halsey said.

Gyrodyne, a former defense contractor, is seeking approval for the Smithtown subdivision and said in paperwork that he plans to sell individual lots for uses such as an assisted living facility and doctors’ offices, but is seeking also buyers for most of the site.

Preservation advocates have said in interviews they hope a cooling real estate market could make the company receptive to a deal. The company is also facing a lawsuit from neighbors over the development and pressure from an activist shareholder on its board governance.

The whole site of Gyrodyne would not be preserved; some land has already been sold for a food hall, and some has been developed for light industry with tenants including Stony Brook University.

The Trust would seek what Halsey called ‘private sources of capital’ to donate or lend money for the purchase of around 40 to around 48 acres of undeveloped land on the North Country Road site near the border between Smithtown and Brookhaven.

Halsey declined to comment on the appraisal of the property, which he said was completed in early fall, and would not approach Gyrodyne until he secured financing.

Meeting attendees included Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, state environmental officials, Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Joseph Bollhofer, a St. James attorney and a member of St. James-Head of the Harbor Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, attendees said.

In an August filing with the Security and Exchange Commission, the company said it expects to get final approval for the subdivision by the end of 2022 or early 2023. The 2022 Annual Report of Gyrodyne, filed with the SEC in March, estimated his net realizable value at $42.5 million, a figure that included properties in Smithtown and Westchester but did not break out their estimated values.

Gyrodyne executives and an attorney representing the company did not respond to requests for comment.

In one possible scenario, he said, New York State would repay the Trust using a $650 million portion of Bond Act funds dedicated to buying and conserving open space and agricultural land for conservation and recreation. Suffolk County could also contribute money, Halsey said.

The governor’s office, in consultation with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, would monitor the disbursement of bond funds, Englebright said.

A DEC spokeswoman said in an email that the agency “supports a conservation outcome for the property and has been involved in preliminary discussions” about “potential opportunities for future use of the property.” Representatives for Bellona and Governor Kathy Hochul did not respond to requests for comment.

Bollhofer, whose group in April filed a lawsuit against Smithtown and Gyrodyne claiming the environmental review of the subdivision was flawed, said in an interview last week that “I’m as positive as ever” about the chances of preservation.

Englebright said “investors will value certainty over uncertainty…It’s a classic example of the kind of investment that could and should be made with Bond Act funds, if voters approve of it.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, also applauded the possibility of preservation. The Gyrodyne site includes one of the last large undeveloped spaces in Smithtown, she said. There and in the rest of Suffolk, she said: “Windrows of 100, 200, 300 acres – they don’t exist anymore. We preserve what is left, otherwise it will be lost to development forever.

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