Plans to build the Ronkonkoma Hub housing and retail project on a commercial strip near the Long Island Rail Road station drew hundreds of supporters and opponents to a Brookhaven Town public hearing.
Residents packed an auditorium at Brookhaven Town Hall for the meeting, which was held Thursday night, days after similar transit-oriented development projects in Patchogue and Huntington opened for residential applications.
The $475 million Ronkonkoma plan calls for as many as 1,450 apartments, 195,000 square feet of retail space and 350,000 square feet of office and medical facilities.
Supporters say the Hub could dramatically change a blighted commercial strip and create badly needed housing for young adults. But others raised concerns about its potential impact on traffic and parking.
Town officials plan to complete an environmental impact study this spring. It is not clear when the town board will vote on the project. Construction is estimated to take as long as 10 years.
"It is not one of the garden spots of Long Island," said Edward Enders, of the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, a trade union, of the area. "This will make it one of the garden spots of Long Island."
Tritec Real Estate, the East Setauket firm hired by Brookhaven as the project's master developer, is aiming to begin construction later this year. Company officials have said they are negotiating to purchase about 50 acres for the project. Tritec also is building the 291-unit New Village development in Patchogue.
Long Island Rail Road officials have expressed support for the Hub project and similar efforts in Wyandanch and Hicksville. Nearly three dozen people at last week's hearing -- including civic leaders, commuters, "smart growth" advocates, and union and construction industry officials -- spoke in favor of the plan; 10 people opposed it.
Gregg Freedner, of Ronkonkoma, said he has mixed feelings.
"Anything would be better than what's there now," he said, but added he had concerns about the project's size.
"I don't believe we should have five-story buildings in Ronkonkoma," Freedner said. "My concern is that a small, blighted area becomes a giant monstrosity."
Project supporter Bud Cipoletti, of Islip, said he looked forward to visiting Hub bistros and restaurants. "I want to wine and dine my future wife in a place like this," he said.
Some opponents said they feared their homes would be seized by the town to make way for construction. Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said the town does not plan to use its eminent domain powers to take property.
"That's not on anybody's radar," he said.