FOR 21 MONTHS the big tract among the pine barrens at Exit 68 of the
Long Island Expressway in Yaphank has been bulldozed flat, awaiting its
future as Long Island's next and possibly last big shopping center.
After 10 years of planning and haggling, construction is expected to
start later this year on Brookhaven Town Center, a
1.6-million-square-foot mall second in size only to Roosevelt Field, and
expected to draw Long Islanders for 20 miles around.
But the prospects have become much dimmer for the dream held by
developer Wilbur Breslin for a quarter-century: to surround the
mega-mall with a "mini-city" of close to 2,000 acres, 5,000 homes and 7
million square feet of offices and industry.
Tougher laws governing the pine barrens woodlands, relentless
opposition to his big plans from environmental and civic groups, and
financial squeezes of his own have hemmed in the 72-year-old Breslin's
master-builder ambitions. More than a quarter of the land - now slated
to hold two-fifths of the homes - may be bought off by the state
Department of Environmental Conservation and a nonprofit land trust
approached by Suffolk County. If the price is right, they would keep the
land pristine rather than allow it to become part of the North Shore
Properties complex disparaged by critics as "Willy World."
And in his most recent setback, Breslin lost title to the easternmost
492 acres, once slotted for housing and industrial development. Losing
that and the other parcels in question would leave him with only the
mall parcel and two adjacent pieces clustered around the LIE to build
"I predict the remainder of Willy World will become part of the
nature preserve," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long
Island Pine Barrens Society. "The days of massive development like that
have given way to the public's commitment to preservation."
Mitch Pally, a vice president of the Long Island Association, the
region's largest business group, said, "It will never be what was
But even as government ponders the purchases, Breslin remains
defiant about his dream - and unready to abandon it entirely.
"My vision for North Shore Properties is just as intense as it was
originally, and it's realistic," Breslin said in a recent interview.
"Most of it will come to fruition. It will not be just a place to shop
but a total community with all the embellishments people want -
housing to attract the elderly and the young, jobs, recreation, open
"This is a plan for 40 to 50 years from now," he said. "I see this
as comparable to Alexander Stewart's vision of Garden City back in
About the public purchases, Breslin's attorney, Herbert Balin, said,
"It's one thing to appraise, but they'd have to pay us its full value,
and they may not want to do that." He estimated the value of 400 acres
under state appraisal at "$50 million to $75 million," and a 206-acre
parcel in Yaphank the county is interested in preserving at $15 million.
Together, those parcels had been slated for 2,100 units of housing.
The project, if fully built, would offer thousands of jobs and
bring thousands of new residents and visitors to eastern Brookhaven. But
the grand scale of Breslin's plan has been shrinking for some time.
Opponents of the overall project argue that it cannot be justified
in light of Long Island's slowed population growth, the need to protect
woodland and underground drinking water supplies and efforts to stem the
eastward march of sprawling development toward the bucolic East End.
Brookhaven over several years upzoned thousands of acres to require
larger building lots, reducing the potential for the number of homes,
stores and industries that could be built. In 1995, a state law
protecting the pine barrens woods in Brookhaven, Southampton and
Riverhead was enacted. It banned virtually all development in the
50,000-acre preservation core - including some parcels that Breslin
agreed to trade for building rights elsewhere - and limits it in the
"compatible growth" area that surrounds the core, where all of Breslin's
remaining buildable land is located.
The town also issued a "findings statement" in late 1994 aimed at
rigorously controlling the density of any future development of North
Shore Properties. The town's ruling would require Breslin, whenever he
files building plans for the project, to meet tougher standards than the
In addition, the decade-long haggling has involved litigation, some
still pending, aimed at blocking or at least constraining the use of
Breslin's land, by the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and Open Space
Council, an environmental watchdog group.
Vincent Polimeni, a major Long Island developer, said,
"Circumstances have changed a lot since Willy proposed all of this . . .
Some of it will be built, but I just don't see it happening anywhere
near the scale he envisioned. He has missed his Levittown."