Brookhaven Town Board approves Sandy Hills project

From The North Shore Sun By Jennifer Gustavson | July 20, 2011

The Brookhaven Town Board approved the Sandy Hills project Tuesday, a mixed-use plan for Middle Island that had been criticized by environmentalists and subject to a lawsuit since 2009.

Developer Frank Weber was granted a change of zone to build housing and commercial retail on the 39-acre wooded lot on the east side of Rocky Point Road, just north of Middle Country Road. The project includes over 100 units of both two-and-three-bedroom condos, townhouses, and workforce housing units above commercial buildings.

The plan has been the subject of controversy since the Town Board first voted on the change of zone application nearly two years ago.

In 2009, the Suffolk County planning commission rejected the project, which resulted in the Town Board needing a supermajority vote to approve the change of zone. But the Town Board approved it anyway with only a 4-3 vote. Supervisor Mark Lesko and council members Connie Kepert, Tim Mazzei and Kathy Walsh voted in favor of the plan.

In April, a state judge overturned the Town Board’s decision to grant Mr. Weber his requested change of zone and said the application process needed to be redone.

After Mr. Weber agreed to build 27 units of workforce housing and to purchase three Pine Barrens credits at $70,000 each to mitigate the project’s increased density, the Suffolk County Planning Commission unanimously approved the plan earlier this month.

As a result of county approval, the Town Board was able to approved the plan Tuesday night by a 4-3 vote, with Councilwoman Jane Bonner and Councilmen Dan Panico and Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld opposing.

Ms. Kepert, who represents the Middle Island area, said after the public hearing that she’s pleased the change of zone was approved.

“I’ll be more happy when I see a shovel in the ground,” she said, adding that the Town Board’s approval takes a “giant step” to turn the community’s vision for a pedestrian-oriented development “into a reality.”

While Mr. Weber’s project is more dense than what the previous zoning of 34-single family homes allowed, Ms. Kepert believes the plan is more beneficial to the environment because it includes a sewage treatment system.

But representatives from the Long Island Pine Barrens Society described the plan as “flawed” and said it “exhibits poor planning principles.”

Richard Murdocco, who addressed the Town Board on behalf of Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper, said the land should be preserved since it is located in the compatible growth area of the Pine Barrens and has been recommended for open space acquisition by the town’s Carmans River Study Group.

“This proposed intensification of land use in a sensitive and threatened watershed is an action that is in direct contrast with the town’s recent preservation efforts,” Mr. Murdocco said, referring to the town’s Carmans River Watershed Protection & Management Plan. That report is in the process of being finalized.

Ms. Kepert said while the land is located within the surface water contributing area of the Carmans River watershed, it is outside of the 100-year groundwater contributing area and the project includes a plan to deal with stormwater runoff.

Gail Lynch-Bailey, president of the Longwood Alliance, said she’s “very excited” the Town Board approved the change of zone and described the process as a “very long and winding road.”

“This is the heart of our hamlet,” Ms. Lynch-Bailey said during the public hearing. “For nearly a decade, Middle Island’s heart has been dying a slow death…By approving the change of zone for Sandy Hills, you are performing a life saving operation on Middle Island’s heart.”

Mr. Weber, who declined to comment following the public hearing, is now expected to seek site plan approval from the town’s Planning Department.