Two development projects planned for Middle Country Road in Middle Island spurred several hundred people to show up in and around Brookhaven Town Hall on Tuesday, as town officials were set to hear public comments on both proposals.

On the side against the projects were — for the most part — environmentalists concerned with the health of the Carmans River, whose headwaters are in Middle Island. The activists staged a rally outside Town Hall in Farmingville hours before Tuesday night’s Town Board meeting.

On the other side were scores of Middle Island residents — most excited over a massive commercial complex dubbed Artist Lake Plaza — hoping to bring jobs, housing and more shopping to the area, while transforming what’s widely considered to be blighted parcels there.

The hearings, which centered on zoning issues, brought each of the projects a step closer toward potential approvals.

Nearly 250 area residents, mostly from Birchwood at Spring Lakes condominiums, helped pack Town Hall in support of the big plans for the former Kmart property — a site on the town’s much publicized “Blight to Light” initiative. The overgrown property and shuttered big box store at its center has been an eyesore in the community for years.

Roslyn Muraskin, president of Birchwood at Spring Lake Civic, a huge condo complex about a mile west of the Kmart land, said her group wants Artist Lake Plaza plans to move forward at the property.

“We have seen the plans, we like what we see, and we are here to tell you please support this project,” Ms. Muraskin told the board. “We all need it.”

Landscape designs called rain gardens, as well as roofs and walls made of living plants, are featured prominently in Garden City developer and property owner Wilbur Breslin’s plans.

Carrie O’Farrell, a consultant for the developer, told the board the mixed-use project would include two large anchor retail stores, seven smaller buildings fronting Route 25 for restaurant and retail space, a promenade along Artist Lake and a nearly 25-acre recreational area to include two ball fields.

Ms. O’Farrell said the Longwood community would receive economic benefits from the development, such as $1.5 million in total annual tax revenue, with $1 million of that going to the Longwood School District. The project would also create about 280 temporary construction jobs and nearly 440 full-time permanent jobs once the site is operational, she said.

Regina Riel, a Middle Island resident who lives on East Bartlett Road — a street that suffered flooding so severe this spring that she was forced to use a portable toilet for two months — said she hopes the board takes into consideration her neighborhood’s struggle with floodwaters.

“If the change of zone occurs, then we are doomed,” she said, expressing concerns over stormwater runoff flowing from the property once it’s built up. “I find it hard to believe another shopping center is the answer.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert said the project would be built with the environment in mind by using energy-efficient designs and porous, landscaped parking areas.

The other Middle Island proposal is the nearly 40-acre mixed-use Sandy Hills project, which would feature 134 housing units slated for construction by developer Frank Weber.

The Pine Barrens Society nonprofit group has sued the town over approvals related to the Sandy Hills proposal, contributing to a delay in the project plans. The suit claims, among other things, that the land is too environmentally sensitive for the project, and that the complex contradicts smart growth principles and the hamlet study conducted for the Middle Country Road corridor.

Just as with the Kmart proposal, Pine Barrens Society head Dick Amper has asked the Town Board to issue an 18-month moratorium on Sandy Hills because both, he says, are located within the Carmans River watershed.

David Sloan, Mr. Weber’s attorney, said the delays have brought his client “to his knees” and that any more would surely ruin him.

“His boat has been repossessed and his house is in foreclosure,” Mr. Sloan said. “The plan that is proposed is in compliance with the Middle Country Road land-use plan.”

Ms. Kepert said the next step for Sandy Hills will take place Friday morning when a judge will decide if the plan is allowed to move forward for site plan approval; that’s one of the last governmental steps before shovels can hit the ground.

As for the Artist Lake Plaza plans, the Town Board is expected to vote on a change of zoning in October, after typical environmental impact study procedures. The project cannot move forward as planned without a zoning change at the parcel.


Originally published: August 17, 2010 10:24 PM

Environmentalists, civic leaders and Brookhaven officials sparred last night over a developer’s pitch to rebuild the shuttered Middle Island  Kmart, one of the largest blighted sites in Suffolk  County, as a pedestrian shopping village.

The developer, Breslin Realty of  Garden City, and town officials touted the project as a chance to bring more than 400 jobs and $9 million in sales tax revenue to a site that is now a blighted big-box store. Breslin’s project, Artist’s Lake Plaza, would include two large stores, seven retail shops and 25 acres of athletic fields.

Several environmentalists, including Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper, said the project is dangerously close to the Carmans River and its headwaters.

Other residents were divided by the project. Some, including Tom Talbot of  Middle Island, said the Route 25 Kmart building is an eyesore that needs to come down.

“Just look at what’s there now,” Talbot said, adding that comparing Kmart to the Breslin plan is like weighing “something awful versus something excellent.”

MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, disagreed. She said the Breslin project is too large.

“You cannot preserve at the same time as you destroy,” she said. “Redevelop with equal intensity, not more.”

The project must go before Suffolk  County Planning Commission for review before it comes back to the  Brookhaven Town Board for a final vote.

The development needs several town approvals before Breslin can break ground. Supervisor Mark Lesko said he believes the town board will have enough votes on the seven-member board to pass the project when it is time for a vote.

Lesko called the Kmart site “one of the signature blighted properties in Brookhaven if not all of Long Island.” He disputed Amper’s claim that the Breslin project would be within the Carmans River watershed and called the development “environmentally very friendly” and “a jewel for the community.”

Amper said the town needs a comprehensive plan for the preservation of the Carmans River, a 10-mile waterway that stretches from Middle Island to  Shirley.

“You plan first and develop later,” said Amper, who called the project “a mega-development in the headwaters of the Carmans River.”

Dana Hepler, a planner for the developer, said the shopping village would front on Artist Lake in Middle Island. The project would be pedestrian-oriented and provide a downtown area for Middle Island, he said.

“This will be a destination,” he said.