A century-old equestrian farm in Brentwood is in the running to be replaced by a 240-unit affordable housing development being billed as transit-oriented "smart growth."
The 1891 Knoll Farm has not recovered from the recent recession, and the number of clients who keep horses there has declined from about 50 in healthy years to 30, said Pete Mercier, who has owned the 17-acre boarding and training stable on Suffolk Avenue with his wife, Bonnie, for 11 years.
The Merciers approached the Engel Burman Group a year ago, hoping to sell to the Garden City developer. "It's been an ongoing decision, being forced by economic considerations," Pete Mercier said. "The prospect of developing the farm is, in our viewpoint, ideal for the local community."
Jan Burman, Engel Burman's president, said they have not closed the deal but have submitted a preliminary application for a change of zone to the Town of Islip.
"There's a tremendous need," Burman said. "There's been no new housing stock of this sort built in probably 20 or 30 years. It's going to be a terrific benefit to the downtown, which is within walking distance."
Islip Planning Commissioner Dave Genaway is not sure the proposed zoning for the plan for one- to three-bedroom homes is appropriate.
"While there may be some benefit in diversifying our housing stock in Brentwood, we really have to figure out how many units would really be appropriate for the site," Genaway said, adding that the town has to weigh the benefits of affordable housing with the cost of losing the farm as an icon.
"It's one of the more identifying features in Brentwood, yet when you look at the strategic location of this property, its use as a horse farm is kind of underutilizing the potential for the property," Genaway said. The application has not been scheduled for a public hearing.
Burman said his company has met with "all the local politicians" and some civic groups, "but needless to say there are always some people who don't want change," he said.
Eric Alexander, executive director of Vision Long Island, a nonprofit that works on Smart Growth projects, said the plan reflects a trend toward transit-oriented growth. "We know there's a market for this type of development," Alexander said. "We certainly see it as a very good use of property."
But Marcos Maldonado, who co-chairs Brentwood's Clean Streets Committee, worries about traffic and school crowding."What's bad is when smart growth is not done in a smart nature," Maldonado said. "It's not just planning things that work well for the developer from an economic standpoint, it's things that involve the community."
Pete Mercier said realization of the plan is probably two years away. "I think the farm has always been a wonderful thing to see in the town, and I'm sure it will be missed," he said, "but I think that building a new apartment facility will add tremendously to the community."