By Danny Schrafel
As the Huntington Town Board gears up to tackle the question next Tuesday of whether to declare the former home of Sun Ming restaurant at 1000 Jericho Turnpike a blight, other eyesores and vacant buildings on the Huntington stretch of the major state road are back in the spotlight.
Some have been vacant for years – Frank’s Nursery near Mercedes-Benz of Huntington at 1081 E. Jericho Turnpike, where what used to be a greenhouse is torn and tattered; the Browsery Antiques at 449 Jericho Turnpike near Dragon Gate Restaurant, shuttered for years and weathered by the elements; and the former Army-Navy Store at 390 Jericho Turnpike, where the former owners were evicted and a menagerie of cats and dogs and exotic birds were discovered inside in hoarding-like conditions. On Sunday, the front exterior wall of that building, which the town has since condemned, was compromised and pushed inward. A pair of houses up the block from The Carousel gentleman’s club is abandoned and for sale – one fenced off, the other tagged with graffiti, both deteriorating.
Blighted properties can be a serious drag on quality of life, Huntington’s Steve Rossetti, who lives up the block from Sun Ming, said. There, the onetime Chinese restaurant has been a target for squatters and thieves, and is infested with large vermin.
“People were trying to strip the main restaurant building of its scrap metal on the roof – you can see the air conditioners have been opened up, they might have stolen the condensers,” he said. “It is a true blight to the neighborhood and a safety issue.”
Town code provides two major tools for dealing with eyesores of this sort. For more severe cases, such as the Sun Ming site, there is the town’s blight law.
Enacted in 2011, blighted properties are those with more than 100 points on a weighted rubric, with violations ranging from 5 to 50 points, depending on the severity. Owners of homes and businesses enrolled on the blight registry are subject to a fee of $2,500 and $5,000, respectively, until the properties are brought back up to code or a restoration agreement is reached with the town.
Once blighted, the town can then set a hearing with an administrative hearing officer to consider demolition of the offending structure in the most severe cases of decay. If the hearing officer finds a tear-down is warranted, the decision goes to the town board for final approval.
The former home of Sitar restaurant at 665 Jericho Turnpike was torn down in late 2013, and the Frank’s Nursery property was added to the town’s blight registry last April.
For issues such as standing water, litter, tall grass and junk cars, the town board can order a cleanup by resolution, which comes monthly. The clean-up costs are then added to the owner’s tax bill.
At 918 East Jericho Turnpike, the former home of D’Angelo’s sausage and peppers stand, the town board voted in December to authorize a cleanup of “pieces of parking lot, used cars, litter and debris” from the site. At the long-vacant Browsery, complaints last June led to the clearing of “exterior violations,” town spokesman A.J. Carter said.
But it’s not all about blight. New development is coming to Jericho Turnpike as well. The former home of the Huntington Townhouse, itself an overgrown, sprawling eyesore before being torn down, is now a Target. The vacant OTP parlor is being pursued by Dairy Queen as the site of a new drive-through, and a former Blockbuster Video store near New York Avenue on Jericho Turnpike is being redeveloped as a Capital One bank and retail space.
Taco Bell is planning on a new store along Jericho Turnpike in East Northport, and at 4049 Jericho Turnpike in East Northport, Westy Storage Systems is set to open a new storage facility this spring. Across from the former Northport Ford, which is being eyed by Quick Chek as a possible site, a new building is being developed, with Burger Fi as an anchor tenant.
One proposal which has stalled so far is to replace the dilapidated former home of Tom Rice Buick, at 305-309 Jericho Turnpike, with a Quick Chek and an L.A. Fitness gym. Neighbors have pushed back, arguing it’s too much development for the site.
In other portions of the stretch, particularly in Huntington Station, Rossetti, a former member of Suffolk County’s Industrial Development Agency, said a lack of sewers is a major hindrance to development.
"You don't have the capability for changing destiny," he said. "That's got to be the front-running problem."