The 'Levyland' project in Yaphank is in dispute
The ambitious but controversial project that critics label "Levyland" is about to be put between a budget rock and an environmental hard place.
Two things could threaten the fate of County Executive Steve Levy's plan to plop 1,300 units of mainly affordable housing and an instant downtown in rural Yaphank: pending legislative overhaul of his $2.7-billion budget, or more intense scrutiny from a new Brookhaven Town 90-day study to protect the Carmans River watershed.
"When you talk about the project," quipped Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor), a member of the legislators' budget working committee, last week, "It should be in the past tense."
Levy, however, said predictions of his project's demise are overblown. He called it "very much needed and very much alive," adding it would provide the region with "housing our children can afford."
Meanwhile, the newly-formed town watershed committee begins meeting this week and some involved see little support for a hotel, arena, restaurants and offices - at the project's north end - a few hundred yards from the Carmans River.
"Levytown has been on life support from the get-go," said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society who helped forge the deal to do the study. "There's not a snowball's chance in hell the northern piece . . . will ever be developed."
At the southern end of the 255-acre proposal, Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) wants to auction off 95 acres - slated by Levy as a solar power industrial park - and junk the rest of the project to plug holes in Levy's spending plan. "I'm ready to do whatever is necessary," said Kennedy. "The house is on fire and we need to raise some revenue."
The tack to scotch Levy's entire plan came after the county's Council on Environmental Quality last week tabled Kennedy's auction proposal.
The council, which is doing a $450,000 review of Levy's plan, said the auction would be an illegal segmentation of that plan under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. It could go ahead, the council said, only if Kennedy's resolution also pulled the plug on the rest of Levy's plan. Kennedy says he'll oblige.
But Christopher Kent, Levy's chief deputy, said short-circuiting an already half-finished environmental study would be a waste of taxpayer money and poor planning. "We'll get the best result by studying all the impacts that might produced," said Kent. "Any effort to derail the study would be a bad decision."
Levy says his project will withstand any scrutiny and lashed out at Amper for being selective in his concerns. "The construction Mr. Amper is objecting to is a stone's throw from a landfill, a fireworks factory, dozens of office buildings and a mega power plant - a plant Mr. Amper was conspicuously silent about," said Levy, referring to the Caithness power plant.
His 2011 budget already assumes $12 million in revenue from the upfront sale of the southern parcel to developer Beechwood Organization - set to go ahead once the study is done and legislators OK the deal.
Kennedy says the price on the tract - already zoned industrial - is far too low. "Twelve million for 95 acres comes to $126,000 per acre, which everyone agrees is below market value with a promise we'll have a Taj Mahal in the future," he said.
Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) acknowledged the auction has been discussed in closed-door legislative budget talks, though he said he has concerns about raising Levy's revenue estimates without an appraisal. Cooper said the auction is appealing since - unlike Levy's plan - it has few foes and could be achieved in 2011.
Yet even Amper, no Levy fan, agrees both town and county reviews should be completed before any action is taken. "Rather than develop first and have another Forge [River] on our hands," he said, referring to the polluted Mastic waterway, "we should figure out how much development is permissible first and then decide where it should go."