Community members against the zone change request of developers for the former Island Hills Golf Course held a car parade on Tuesday, April 20 that began in Sayville with a procession to Islip Town Hall.
With over 100 protestors, the group made its voice known to the town council that was holding an executive session that evening.
Due to the pandemic, town board meetings have been held virtually, but one of the group’s complaints is that there is no public commentary section and that their resistance to Rechler’s development plans, reportedly a sprawling apartment complex of over 1,300, has not been heard by the town.
“We have been trying to get people on Facebook to get involved and go to town meetings, even though we can’t even publicly comment. But basically, get people to understand the scope of the project. Maybe one or two out of five people know the scope,” said Brian Link. “Once they’re told what’s going on, they’re very shocked.”
Striking in the protest was the number of children and young people in attendance, who protested with signs alongside parents or grandparents.
John Tafe, an extraordinary 18-year-old who has been a vocal leader of opposition towards Rechler, said, “The car parade was an idea I came up with in September; we wanted a COVID-safe way to let our views be known to the town board. This also gave the local neighborhood an idea of added traffic.”
Tafe said on Facebook there were a 100 interested people for the event, the most of any event in their Stop Island Hills group.
Living close to the proposed site, Tafe received notice of the plan in the mail and was alarmed at the accelerated development.
“I was just so fearful that someone could come in and do whatever they want. We looked into a golf course, not a four-story apartment complex. I was immediately upset and the more I looked into it, the more I was concerned. Between the environmental impact, the traffic impact, the sewage issues—it would be such a drain on Sayville. It’s zoned for AAA housing, which isn’t a drain on Sayville. We’re fighting it. They would get their own zoning district and have no constraints.”
Asked about the assumption that the additional apartments would be of benefit to younger people looking to rent only, Tafe said, “While it may be true that apartments are needed in our area, it’s needed near transportation because people want them to be transit-oriented. The Island Hills development is still over a mile away from the Sayville train station. There are a lot of places, abandoned places on Sunrise Highway, that would be better sites. These are also unaffordable. One bedroom is over $2,500, plus the fees—garbage, amenities. We heard from someone in Amityville [another Rechler location] spending over $5,000.”
“I think it’s important for them to understand that when there’s something in the community, you have a voice and you can speak to your representatives and you’ll have a voice,” added Christina Robertson, who brought her 3 and 5-year-olds.
“I don’t like the idea. We usually go for walks around there. I just want my grandparents to be happy,” said Emily, 10, granddaughter of 39-year Sayville resident Glenn James.
“I actually live right next to Island Hills... I love that it’s a small town, pretty quiet; it feels special to me [because] it’s always been in my life... if it’s all apartment buildings, there’ll be a ton of noise,” said Riley Barry, 9, who, when initially hearing of the purchase of Island Hills, went to his piggy bank wanting to buy the property.
Carla Simpson, who will be running against Islip Town councilwoman Trish Bergin, who has been criticized for her involvement in real estate development, was in attendance with her daughter.
“I was proud today to join my fellow community members in standing up against overdevelopment and for protecting our neighborhoods,” she said. “I am fully opposed to the proposed rezoning of parcels in Sayville and East Islip [Island Hills and Greenview], rezonings that aim to lay the foundation for monstrous developments built by politically connected developers. For far too long, politicians like Trish Bergin and others have rubberstamped the wish lists of developers while ignoring outcry from communities, all while their campaigns are bankrolled by the same developers... Making government work for you means showing up when the community needs to fight. Today I showed up, tomorrow I’ll show up, and always.”
“The application is still in the SEQRA process, and at yesterday’s Town Board meeting, the Town Board did deem the draft environmental impact statement submitted by the applicant, incomplete,” said spokesperson, Town of Islip.