Seafield retreats, convent still for sale
BY NICOLE ALLEGREZZA
As of Jan. 31, the contract between the St. Ursula Center convent in Blue Point and the Seafield Center, an inpatient treatment facility, has been terminated after weeks of resident opposition with “Say No to Seafield” signs adorning dozens of neighborhood lawns.
Seafield ultimately pulled the deal, recognizing the opposition and respecting the sisters’ wishes. John Haley, COO of Seafield Center, said the ultimate decision was up to the sisters; if not for them, he said he would still be going forward with sober housing, with the Department of Justice behind him on the basis of discrimination.
“The sisters were hesitant to start out with sober housing,” he said, respecting their choice. “We will find another location, but ultimately the ones being hurt are the sisters and the people of Blue Point, who would disagree.”
Over 1,000 people from within councilman Neil Foley’s district have utilized the Seafield Center’s treatment and the bottom line, he said, is that they will not have local access to treatment, specifically for women.
“It is clear what happened here — discrimination. The community would rather [have] two bars and a liquor store located closer to a school than the treatment center,” he continued. “The people of Blue Point were lied to. They are under the impression we came into their quiet little hamlet in the middle of a residential area, but the truth is, this is the third location in the Town of Brookhaven, of which the first two were in industrial-zoned areas that we were told no to by the town.”
Moving forward, Haley said, he is seeking another location for the inpatient rehab facility, possibly remaining in Brookhaven.
Seafield initially planned to convert the decades-old convent owned by the Ursuline Sisters, located at 186 Middle Road, into an all-women drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility with 76 beds licensed by the State of New York Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services. The Ursuline Sisters signed a contract on Nov. 16 with Seafield.
According to Foley, no applications were officially made, but he received hundreds of complaints from residents and the site, which is zoned A-1 residential, would have required a change of zone, which was not supported by the town board.
“It really just came down to one issue, which was zoning,” Foley explained. “We understand the addiction issue happening in Suffolk County and are wiling to work with Seafield in any location, including my council district, to find a proper location in the future.”
The nuns, according to sister and province leader Joanne Callahan, have owned that property since 1935 and in its heyday operated with about 100 sisters on-site. That number has since dwindled due to their aging population, making costs to maintain the property too high to keep up.
“We were disappointed that Seafield backed out of their contract. We truly believe that Seafield would have been a great neighbor and a much-needed asset and service to Blue Point and the surrounding communities,” she said. “Not only addressing the severe opioid epidemic in our local communities, it would have kept our beautiful building and grounds intact.”
She went on to explain that the sisters were also saddened by some of the anger that has since come from the community and stressed that they do not want to sell, but rather must, to accommodate the remaining 36 province sisters financially with a retirement fund for long-term care.
“We embrace the idea of the library coming to the St. Ursula Center, as our primary ministry has been education,” she continued, while also acknowledging that it is not their only option, as potential buyers continue to look at the site. She could not disclose any potential buyers but did state that the library was their first option.
Meanwhile, the Bayport-Blue Point Library’s proposal to turn the site into a library is still awaiting the completion of a feasibility study. The library has been exploring the St. Ursula Center as an option for the proposed new library site, but is also evaluating their current facility. As of September, the board approved the study but acknowledged the lengthy process. According to library director Michael Firestone, he expects that report to be completed in the spring, which would determine whether that site is a possibility.
“We are doing our due diligence and hope to present some kind of plan to the public in the near future,” he said.
Local resident Jason Borowski, who led the efforts as a spokesperson against the rehab center locating at that site, said the newly formed Blue Point Civic Coalition was happy that Seafield listened to their concerns and acknowledged the zoning issue by pulling out of the deal.
“They realized the zoning for the facility wasn’t right and now the library is on the table, which works within the existing zoning,” he said. “But we are also open to anything that the zoning allows for, such as small private schools, a church or anything down to single-family homes. The library would be a great facility for the community, but certainly not the only option.”
The BPCC, he said, plans to meet monthly as a result of the effort to discuss getting the community back together. “It was such a divisive issue; our hope is to move forward and bring the community back together,” he added.
However, Ed Silsbe, president of the original Blue Point Community Civic Association, said he hopes to see the proper zoning put in place for facilities such as Seafield, rather than tabling the issue altogether.
“We need something on the books to combat this war on opioids. We are picking these people up off the curb and three months later they are back in the same place again. It is a real shame that we don’t have the ability to help them any better than in 1970,” he said. “The accolades given to the town for saving Blue Point are really misguided.”
The BP Community Civic, he said, has been meeting to discuss a zoning similar to Southampton’s zoning implemented in 2001. The code is part of Chapter 330, zoning Article XVII, Special Exception Uses, alcohol or substance rehabilitation centers. The “floating zone” states that a rehab facility can operate anywhere needs/demands are demonstrated, security plan is addressed, description of all activities are provided, a description of needs, statement demonstrating how the intensity and location of the proposed facility will not unreasonably adversely impact the character of the area, the area shall not be less than 15,000 square feet, all buildings shall be set back at least 20 feet, there shall be a minimum one-quarter-mile separation between parcels having individual, separate or similar types of exception uses, similar types of uses that have the same owner may be located on contiguous parcels, it shall not be located within 1,000 feet from any school, playground or park, shall be located within walking distance of a hamlet or mass transit, the owner shall be licensed for the type of use, and prior to approval consideration will be given to all applicable regulations such as the local fire chief.
However, in the Town of Islip there is only one place for these facilities and that is in industrial zoning, while the Town of Brookhaven suggests they locate in NH-H, Health Facility District zoning, which includes nursing homes and hospitals.
“The fundamental problem is that if Brookhaven Town had an ordinance, we wouldn’t have had this community-damaging experience,” he said. “If we had the same code as Southampton, we would have known it wasn’t allowed to go there and there would be no question. Something deserves to be in the code.”
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