School district, community wary of being ‘misinformed’ over planned North Bellport warehouse
The North Bellport community has opposed a proposed warehouse initiated by Ares Management Corp, a major international real estate corporation.
The developer has approached the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency (IDA) with a request for a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) arrangement.
However, the IDA delayed a motion on the PILOT proposal last month, citing concerns that the developer had provided misleading information to the community. Initially, the developer said during a Brookhaven Town Planning Board meeting in July that the warehouse would generate property taxes rather than needing the requested tax break.
The planning board approved Ares’ proposal to construct a warehouse, at the southeast corner of Station Road and the Long Island Rail Road in Yaphank, despite nearby North Bellport residents being concerned of the impact the development would have on their neighborhoods — and that these tax breaks have historically taken crucial property tax revenue away from their school district. The full town board did not need to weigh in on the proposal.
IDA attorney Annette Eaderesto told the board on Oct. 23 that she is worried the local civic groups and the school district were deceived.
“The public was misinformed, on a major issue,” Eaderesto said.
“Right, so we have to have another public meeting?” asked Mitch Pally, the CEO of the Long Island Builders Institute and a member of the IDA.
“Well, it’s really not in the purview of the planning board,” Eaderesto said.
“That’s correct,” Pally answered.
“But they brought it up at the selling point of why they should approve that,” Eaderesto said.
Some Long Island teachers, school district officials and state lawmakers are taking a stand against IDA school tax exemptions.
In Riverhead, its Board of Education wants the Riverhead IDA to be dissolved for “defunding their school district.” There are concerns over the impact of IDA’s tax exemptions on the school district, with legislators considering bills to address these issues regarding revenue loss.
A bill in New York is also looking to ban IDAs from granting exemptions on school property taxes. New York schools lose more than any other state to corporate tax breaks — at least $1.8 billion in 2021, according to an analysis by the watchdog group Good Jobs First.
In Brookhaven, the South Country Central School District recently made over $2 million significant budget cuts.
“Will the BOE speak out against this exemption application to support fully funding for our children’s education?” Kerim Odekon, the parent of two children, wrote to the South Country Central School District on Oct. 24.
Odekon blames the school district’s poor performance, in part, on a lack of funding due to corporate tax breaks. According to the data shared on Oct. 26, 2022 by the district, one-in-10 Black and Hispanic students passed the New York state math assessment for grades 3-8, compared to 37% of white students.
Nearly 23% of Black students and 18% of Hispanic students passed the English Language Arts exam, compared to 39% of their white peers. In Suffolk County, the average pass rate on state assessments for students enrolled in schools is 40%.
The Board of Education blames low participation in the state exams, especially due to the large number of parents opting their children out of state exams post-pandemic. In 2021, more third graders (77%) took the math test compared to eighth graders (23%).
“The South Country [Board of Education] has a golden opportunity,” he said, “to convey its opposition to the IDA application extension for unnecessary property tax exemptions which defund our school district.”
School Superintendent Antonio Santana said in a statement that he acknowledges the proposed warehouse distribution building within the district’s boundaries. The school district is asking the IDA to reconsider the potential financial impact on the school district and its stakeholders.
“If any benefit to the district, its students or taxpayers may be achieved through this project, the district requested the IDA’s assistance in obtaining such benefit,” Santana said.
The district is also concerned with the environmental impact of the project, requesting information regarding omissions, traffic and other potential adverse effects.
Another proposal by Ares for a property, located nearby at the Northeast corner of Sunrise Highway and Station Road, would include three buildings totaling 523,100-square-feet. Public comments, which were submitted before a Oct. 11 deadline, are supposed to be incorporated into the applicant's draft environmental impact statement that is required by state law for most new development. As of Nov. 6, no draft has been submitted to the town. While no tenants are lined up yet, eventually the logistics center is expected to support daily truck traffic.
Odekon is a member of the Brookhaven Landfill Action and Remediation Group, which has called on the school district to address similar concerns about the impact of emissions on students attending Frank P. Long Intermediate School. The facility is saddled in between industrial properties, including the Brookhaven Landfill, which has been cited for several air and water emissions in recent years.
Several lawsuits seek to close the Yaphank-based landfill and relocate the school — the latest from the mother of a teenager who died from cancer last year after alleged exposure to toxic emissions. The school district does not comment on pending litigation.
Jonathan Isser, vice president at Ares Management Corp, told the IDA that they did not want to suggest that they would withdraw their application. He emphasized that they rely on tax breaks to make the project possible.
“The commentary that I heard at the meeting today was that because of something we said about our taxes at our planning board public hearing, that the PILOT we had applied for as part of our IDA application is in question,” Isser said. “That was not our intention at all for what we testified to at our hearing.”
In response, Pally said the problem is that is not what the community heard.
“It gives the impression that you were paying full taxes because that’s what somebody said at the hearing, but in reality, you’re not because you applied for a PILOT if we grant the PILOT,” Pally said. “That’s the problem.”
The IDA will make a decision regarding the extension of the developer’s application at its upcoming board meeting scheduled for Nov. 15.
This story was updated to clarify that there are two warehouse projects proposed by Ares Management Corp in different stages of the approval process in the Town of Brookhaven; both are located near North Bellport.