Construction of a $59 million housing and retail project at the former United Artists movie theater in Coram could begin as early as next year, officials said at a news conference on the theater's weedy parking lot Tuesday.
"This is a massive statement" and a "major step forward" for Coram and the Town of Brookhaven, Supervisor Mark Lesko said. That sentiment was echoed by officials who predicted the apartments would rent quickly, and a civic leader who said she "cannot wait until the wrecking ball goes into" the ramshackle, graffiti-covered theater at Route 112 and Middle Country Road.
Officials said the project would eliminate a blight that has attracted vandals, arsonists and homeless squatters since 2004, when the theater closed. It would provide 160 apartments with rents starting about $1,173, almost 50,000 square feet of retail and alleviate congestion with a new connector between Middle Country Road and Route 112.
Erma Beck, president of the Coram Civic Association, said some residents might be opposed to the traffic that new residents and businesses would bring, but she expected most people would support the project. "I can't go to the supermarket without someone stopping me and saying, 'When are they doing something with that UA property?' "
The project is one of the first to be included in Brookhaven's Blight to Light program, a Lesko initiative that identifies dilapidated properties and encourages redevelopment with reduced fees and accelerated approvals.
The project is expected to receive a special permit from the planning board for change of use, expedited review and a 75 percent reduction in town application and permit fees.
The project is subject to planning board and environmental review. Public input will be invited at a number of informal gatherings, starting with the Coram Civic Association's meeting Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the old Coram firehouse.
Sewage treatment will be through the plant at the nearby Bretton Woods development.
Marianne Garvin, president of the Centereach firm, said the proposal was challenging because the site has little of the road exposure most retailers demand, and it includes protected wetlands.
She expects the development to be a destination, with a connector road that's also a "Main Street."