Town considers redevelopment of Coram site

Elected officials and civic leaders gather in the Elected officials and civic leaders gather in the parking lot of the now shuttered UA Movie Theater In Coram to unveil a plan for the redevelopment of the property. Under the Town of Brookhaven's "Blight to Light" initiative, the 17.65 acre property, tucked off the road at Routes 25 and 112 will be transformed into a mixed use, retail and residential town center community. The price of the project is estimated at $59 million. (September 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

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The Brookhaven Town Planning Board is reviewing whether a Rochester-based company with designs on constructing a $55 million mixed-use development at the former United Artists theater in Coram qualifies for the town's Blight to Light program.

Conifer Realty alerted the board last month of its plan to seek inclusion in the program, which town Supervisor Mark Lesko launched in 2010 to provide developers with incentives to build in struggling areas.

Planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli said the board must decide whether to approve a special permit use and issue site plan approval for Conifer's proposed development on the 17-acre site. The building department would then review an official application.

The oft-vandalized site at Route 112 and Middle Country Road has been vacant for more than a decade, and some residents are eager to see it gone.

"The quality of life in Coram has dwindled in recent years," said resident Tom O'Connor, 40. "You get a lot of drugs and alcohol over there."

Officers have responded to more than 150 calls at the building since 1996, mostly for disturbances and trespassing, officials say. Fire caused the roof to collapse in 2007, and officials issued several code violations, including being an unsecured vacant building.

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Lesko targeted the structure after starting the Blight to Light program, dubbing the former theater a "monument of blight."

"Not only does it look terrible, but it's right in the middle of Coram," said Lesko in a recent interview, adding the complex has been "a thorn in the side" of the hamlet for years.

The proposed Wincoram Commons development, expected to consist of 182 residential units, would anchor the site. The project is expected to generate 319 construction jobs and 112 permanent jobs. The project was originally supposed to cost about $59 million, but officials said those were estimates.

Officials say the theater's central location made it a prime destination for redevelopment, and developers expect it to be the core piece toward revitalizing Coram, a community of about 35,000 people east of Selden.

"This is really the way we should be developing," said Brookhaven Councilwoman Connie Kepert, a longtime supporter of the project.

The Commons will attract and retain young professionals on Long Island, she said.

"We need to clean up this area," said Coram resident Artie Beard Jr., a proponent of the project.

The project's design has been driven by the Middle Country Road Land Use Plan, which was adopted in 2006 and calls for components including a walkable community with an internal main street, multifamily residential and retail uses, and opportunities for public gatherings.

Marianne Garvin, president and chief executive of the corporation, said the project is much-needed as the hamlet has no downtown or central gathering area. "This is going to be a town center for Coram," she said, noting plans for a public plaza, playground and community building.

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