On Thursday, Dec. 12, the West Islip Board of Education held their regular bimonthly meeting with a special portion of the evening devoted to the proposed sale of the Emil D. Masera Elementary School. The school, which has been rented by BOCES since 2000, will be vacant as the program moves to a site farther east. Rather than maintaining a vacant building, the school board has proposed a sale of the Masera property and grounds to add money to the town budget and maximize further tax collections in the future.
In the presentation made to the board and to the public, superintendent Bernadette Burns outlined the thought process behind the current sale proposal. Originally, a number of ideas had been considered in the transformation of the Masera school, including a sports complex, medical offices, strip mall, parking lot and mixed-used buildings. The board ultimately decided that the best proposal to maximize the sale price and maintain the residential area and spirit of the community was a 55-and-over residence.
“The school district is the community and the community is the school district,” said board president Steven Gellar.
Jamie Winkler of Winkler Real Estate handled the advertising and negotiations, receiving a total of eight offers from developers, all contingent on the plan to create a 55-plus residence. Five developers met with the board and three are under consideration now for the final proposal, whose sale will be subject to a community vote in May.
Residents who spoke were mostly in favor of the 55-plus residence on the former elementary school site, but almost all speakers expressed fear that while the board’s proposal would be in line with community wishes, that the Town of Islip might change the parameters of the deal and not fulfill the original plan. Board members, particularly trustee AnnMarie LaRosa, were adamant that the board was taking all measures to ensure that the proposed sale would be contingent on the strict guidelines of a 55-plus residence so that if the Town of Islip were to propose changes, such as a zone change for commercial use as one resident inquired about, the sale would not go through. “We want to keep West Islip the bedroom community, the family community that it is,” LaRosa said.
For the proposed zone change included in the board’s deal, the Masera site would be converted to a Residential C zoning, which is specific to a 55-plus residence. The main undecided aspect of the developers is whether this residence would be condominiums or rentals. Under Residential C, acreage determines the number of units developers are able to make, such as 12 units per acre for condominiums or 10 units per acre for rentals.
A handful of community members, all elderly attendees, were adamantly opposed to rentals. Ed Pepe, a leader of a local civic association and 65-year resident of West Islip, said: “Totally against [rentals]. You don’t want rentals. They’re not good people. They don’t put up their Christmas lights.”
Jamie Dorr strongly refuted this claim as she is a renter, mother, and active in the community as a Girl Scout troop leader, addressing Pepe and others of ill-opinions on renters: “My generation was devastated by the crash of 2008. For most of us, home ownership is just not feasible.”
The board stressed that it would be up to the developer to either sell or rent the units and that this was not predicated on affordable housing. The board also made sure to inform the community members that there would likely be a tax abatement in place to the developer, where over 10 years each year would be an incremental 10 percent increase of taxes paid to West Islip.
Some residents questioned whether the board had truly investigated all possibilities including commercial sales, but the board was steadfast in their decision to narrow down potential buyers to 55-plus residence developers as due diligence to the community’s wishes.