Suffolk County took the first step Wednesday toward approving a $1.2 million purchase of 15.8 acres to create the largest park in the Selden-Centereach area.

The county's Council on Environmental Quality unanimously recommended the purchase of the property owned by the Middle Country School District provided Brookhaven Town gives adequate buffer areas and protective lighting measures for nearby homes.

The proposed purchase, which needs the approval of county parks trustees and the county legislature, would link the tract to Brookhaven's Veterans Park on Boyle Road and two former Little League fields, once owned by Grace Presbyterian Church on Hawkins Road and now in county hands.

Backers say the purchase would create a single 24-acre recreational complex that Brookhaven is expected to run under an agreement with county. The plans call for four baseball fields and two new multisport fields for soccer and lacrosse, as well as basketball and tennis courts, playground facilities and a concession stand.

County Legis. Thomas Muratore (R-Ronkonkoma) whose district includes the tract, said the plan has overwhelming community support. He said it would protect against potential development of an area wooded with oak and pine trees with walking paths throughout. "Either it is going to be a park or a housing community," said Muratore.

CEQ members said while there may be a minor impact on the community, significant benefits are in store.

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"There's going to be an increase of traffic, but its offset by so much," said Michael Kaufman, one board member. A town traffic expert estimated a 4 percent increase, which he labeled minor.

When the acquisition was first proposed three years ago, then-County Executive Steve Levy vetoed a resolution to authorize negotiation of a sale, saying he opposed using county funds to buy land that already was publicly owned. The legislature overrode his veto.

Kevin LaValle, a new town board member who represents the area, said not only local youth groups back the purchase, but also local businesses because it will increase activity at nearby stores.

The town is negotiating with the county to run and maintain the former Grace church property, said LaValle.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said the majority caucus has not yet discussed the purchase. But Gregory cited "a demonstrated need for ballfields countywide and if this can meet that demonstrated need it has a decent chance" for passage.

Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration of County Executive Steve Bellone is "generally supportive" if the county can work out agreements for Brookhaven to renovate and run the park.