Tri-Hamlet voters yesterday rejected a proposal to construct a new, $38.5 million Mastic-Moriches-Shirley library in a 2,396-1,580 vote.
“It’s an overwhelming rejection of a costly project,” Ray Keenan, president of the Manor Park Civic Association, said this morning. Keenan had been an outspoken critic of the project along with Mastic Park Civic Association president John Sicignano.
In January, Sicignano filed a petition with the NYS Department of Education urging them to postpone the referendum until the library’s annual budget vote in April. Sicignano claimed that absentee ballots were not made available until January 8, disenfranchising area snowbirds from voting.
He also claimed that library director Kerri Rosalia formed a private group to advocate for ‘yes’ votes. The action was ultimately denied.
“The Board of Trustees of the MMS Community Library is gratified that the Commissioner of Education recognized that there was no basis for the adjourning of the February 7 referendum vote,” Rosalia said in an email ahead of the vote. “The Board of Trustees continues to appreciate and respect the deliberative process that has unfolded over the years; such leading to the referendum at which, finally, the community will be in a position to advise the library as to whether it chooses to support the proposed new library developed in collaboration with our residents.”
Planning for a new library began in 2015 with a series of community meetings.
The library board planned to use $5 million in reserves to fund the project, and asked voters to bond $33.5 million. The new library would have been constructed on the shuttered Links golf course, approximately one mile south of the current library facility. Brookhaven Town would have donated the land for the project at no cost to the library.
Rosalia, citing challenges at the current site, said expansion of the existing library would not be possible. Other issues included limited parking–the current facility has 37 spaces, non-ADA compliant restrooms, outdated equipment and limited space for a high volume of traffic, sometimes over 1,000 people daily in a district of over 50,000 residents.
The new, 50,000 square foot facility, would have used efficient energy sources, had more parking spaces, and more dedicated spaces inside for program space and technology. Project design plans also included an outdoor amphitheater with enough seating for 300 people and nature area for children.
If approved, the library would have become the most expensive on Long Island.
Library officials noted that average homeowners would have paid $12 more per month in taxes, or $144 annually for the length of the bond.
Supporters of the project noted that a new library would be an investment in the area’s future. Craig Sarec of Mastic Beach told the Advance last month that he would be voting yes. “My family actively uses the library and see it as a vital asset to our community,” he said. Sarec, along with his wife, Jennifer, positively advocated for the project. “The outcome of the vote absolutely is disappointing,” Sarec said in a message this morning. “But I’m still a definite supporter and will continue to be going forward.”
Library board president James Mazzarella said after the vote that though disappointing, they would continue working with the community for a solution.
It was not immediately clear if the proposal would come up again during the budget vote this spring.
Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico said that voters likely rejected the proposal due to the cost. “I’ve always believed that locating the library on a small portion of the property we acquired from the former LINKS golf course, adjacent to the schools, would be great for the families and children of the community,” he said via email this morning. “I think everyone now awaits the library’s next move. However, the town will now look to move forward beginning the design of the property for the residents, as we have held off throughout their process and pending the outcome of the their referendum.”
Keenan said he hopes the board scraps the idea of moving to the Links site. “We’re hopeful that the board starts to act as a board and represent the people of the community and not just a segment of their users,” he said.
He added that he hopes to see the project scaled back. “We’re not anti-library,” Keenan said. “But they need to come up with something reasonable and put ‘needs’ before ‘wants.’”