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Multiple offers in: Public presentation regarding sale of school properties scheduled for early fall


by Joanne Kountourakis and Chrissy Ruggeri | Tue, Aug 1 2023
Dickinson Avenue Elementary School, one of three properties up for sale or lease within the NENUFSD community. A public presentation disclosing info on viable offers on the properties is scheduled for early fall, according to school officials.

Dickinson Avenue Elementary School, one of three properties up for sale or lease within the NENUFSD community. A public presentation disclosing info on viable offers on the properties is scheduled for early fall, according to school officials.

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The decision to take a less public approach to the handling of three properties up for sale/lease in the Northport/East Northport Union Free School District (NENUFSD) has delayed the opportunity for community input, with an initial presentation to residents scheduled for early fall, Superintendent of Schools Robert Banzer told the Journal in a meeting last week.

Bellerose Avenue Elementary School, Dickinson Avenue Elementary School (both in East Northport), and the William J. Brosnan building (on Laurel Avenue in Northport Village), were officially listed for sale/lease by Newmark Realty earlier this year. In their meeting with the Journal, Superintendent Banzer and Board of Education President Larry Licopoli confirmed that multiple offers have been received for each property.

The upcoming presentation will include a reveal of the “categories” of interest for each listing and will be the first time the public hears any specifics about the lease or sale of the three available properties. The public meeting will take place in the fall, Banzer and Licipoli said, to ensure the greatest turnout of community members returning home and to school after a busy summer season.

There will also be an opportunity for the public to provide feedback to the board, Banzer said, though an exact date of when that will happen was not yet available. The important thing for now, he stated, is making sure the public is informed about the types of offers on the table, while not harming the bargaining power of the district.

In a February 2023 article on the Newmark website announcing its partnership with the NENUFSD, Scott Berfas, a senior managing director who, along with Daniel Oliver and Jordan Oliver, are exclusively representing the district on the sales of the properties, said Newmark was expecting “robust interest” from developers for the sites. The listings encompass 233,380 square feet of existing educational buildings, totaling 42.6 acres, and “present a redevelopment opportunity for various sectors, including senior housing, assisted living, single-family homes and mixed-use assets,” the article reads. Newmark explained to the Journal in February that there is no asking price on the buildings; Newmark has been soliciting bids for evaluation and presenting all offers to the district, reps said.

“We are looking to create the highest and best use of these properties to benefit the district and the surrounding communities,” Berfas said in the article, adding that the group would “work with community input to ensure that a wide variety of uses are considered.”

A February statement made by Banzer and Licipoli shared that sentiment: “The board will deliberate in public to determine what is in the best interest of both the district and our residents, including which and how many of the properties should ultimately be leased or put to a voter referendum for sale.”

A pivot in strategy, however, was first indicated during a July 14 board of education meeting, and in a recap sent to the Northport-East Northport community by Superintendent Banzer. “...On the advice of both legal counsel and our real estate agent, we are not able to share all offers publicly prior to entering into contract as this could jeopardize those offers and weaken our negotiating power with the separate potential purchasers,” Banzer wrote in the recap. The school board has been reviewing all offers in executive session “with a focus on those offers which are most financially beneficial as well as which would best suit our community,” he added.

Details on the offers being pushed forward by the board and its advisors will be shared at the presentation in the fall. “We want to get as specific as possible, without giving it all away,” Banzer told the Journal. “We have an asset and there’s a benefit to selling that asset, but there’s also some considerations you have to think about when you do that, which is why the voter referendum is so important.” The sale of any district property is ultimately subject to voter approval via a referendum, at which the community can approve or deny the sale.

Community input will be welcomed some time after the presentation, during a Q&A period. The board will then take the public’s feedback and decide on what, if any, offers will be accepted.

Licopoli described the community meeting as a sort of “pre-referendum” and “temperature taking” that will help board members navigate next steps. “Doing the temperature taking is really critically important and from there, from that feedback, we can get a good sense of what people are leaning toward. And at the same time, fulfill the need to get the most cost benefit for the school system, including every taxpayer,” Licopoli told the Journal.

After hearing from the public, an action to move forward with any and all contracts must be made via a public vote by the board of education; from there, the developer, business or agency will be responsible for presenting plans to the community, with specific details, before a final decision is made by district residents via the voter referendum. Should the school district decide to lease one or all of the properties, a public referendum would not be necessary.

The district’s tentative plan is to hold a referendum by the end of the current calendar year (2023), but there is a lot to get through before then, Banzer said, including appraisals for each building, contract negotiations and attorney reviews. While the deadline to submit offers has passed, Banzer said that should something come up that wasn’t previously presented, the board could ask Newmark to entertain it.

A public vote deciding the fate of one, two or all three properties would happen on the same day, though how each property will be presented hasn’t been determined yet, Banzer said. Voters may be asked to decide on multiple offers with one vote, or the properties could be listed as separate propositions in the referendum, with the option to vote “Yes” or “No” on each property offer.

If the buildings are sold for an intended use different from how the properties are currently zoned (Dickinson is zoned R-5 Residence District; Bellerose R-40 Residence District; and Brosnan Residence-D), the Town of Huntington (TOH) would have to approve the project, which would happen after the public referendum. In that case, the developer or agency would be responsible for presenting its plan to the TOH; any change to zoning would require town board approval.

School properties are not subject to local zoning laws while they are in school use and under school district ownership. If the district decides to lease property to uses deemed similar, such as day care centers or another type of school, the use would be allowed as forms of education; if the district leases to a non-education user, or sells the land, the plans are fully subject to local zoning, confirmed officials with the Town of Huntington Planning Department.

An article in the Winter 2023 Our Schools newsletter stated that while possible, it is highly unlikely the buildings will be repurposed in their current condition as school buildings. “More likely, the properties would be rezoned in the event of a sale,” the newsletter read. Zone changes are common during the sale of a school property; in the mid-1980s, the board of education sold Larkfield Elementary School to a developer for the construction of what is now Atria East Northport, a senior living and memory care facility on Cheshire Place. The original application approved by the TOH required a zone change from single family residential (R-7) to residential retirement multi-family housing.

Both Banzer and Licopoli acknowledged that certain types of development could increase enrollment and said that, in addition to considering the cost benefit and community impact of a sale, the potential impact on enrollment is being discussed. The district plans to update their enrollment and demographic study to address this potential impact, Banzer said.

The weight of the decision and its impact on both residents with school-aged children and without, has been lightened by the fact that the public will get the last word on any suggested sale, said the superintendent.

“Our community is more than just the people who have children in our school system. The brunt of our tax base does not have children in our schools, and we have a contract with the entire taxpayer base in Northport-East Northport,” Licopoli added. “At the end of the day, the public totally decides.”

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