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Rezoning plans aim to discourage development in Moriches area

Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico, who represents Moriches

Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico, who represents Moriches and East Moriches, said undeveloped commercial properties could be rezoned as residential under a proposed plan. Public hearings on the plan, which aims to preserve the communities' rural character, are scheduled for Tuesday. March 22, 2016 Credit: Ed Betz

A yearlong effort to limit overdevelopment in eastern Brookhaven communities such as Moriches and East Moriches will move closer to completion on Tuesday, when public hearings on the plan are held at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

The town board wants to rezone hundreds of properties along Montauk Highway to discourage big box stores and maintain the area’s small-town feel.

Councilman Dan Panico, who represents Moriches and East Moriches, said undeveloped commercial properties generally will be rezoned as residential parcels. He said his goal is to preserve the communities’ rural character.

“East Moriches is a snapshot of what Brookhaven really used to be,” Panico said. “It’s a quality of life worth protecting.”

Altogether, 55 separate public hearings are scheduled to be held at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Zoning changes are proposed on 1,212 parcels, covering 1,176 acres, Panico said.

Additional public hearings on similar rezoning proposals in Eastport and Center Moriches will be held in September, he said.

Many residents and business leaders have expressed support for the rezoning plan.

Jim Gleason, vice president of the East Moriches Property Owners Association, said the plan should limit “sprawl” on Montauk Highway. He said the current zoning has allowed too much of a mixture of homes and businesses.

“On the whole, it’s going to be a definite improvement for the area and long term, which most of us are concerned about, it is going to be making things much better,” Gleason said in an interview. “I don’t think I have heard of anyone who is against the general concept.”

Rumors that developers were eyeing the Moriches area for large box stores prompted fears that the hamlets on Montauk Highway would lose their unique character, said Suzanne McKeon, president of the Downtown Beautification Organization of Center Moriches.

“Nobody I’ve talked to wants big box stores around here or big shopping centers,” she said. “We’re trying to keep it quaint. We’re trying to keep it historical.”

McKeon said local residents often shop in nearby communities such as Riverhead or Shirley. “People don’t mind traveling short distances to get to one of the big box stores,” she said.

Panico said town officials spent a year preparing the rezoning plan. An earlier effort 30 years ago to stem overdevelopment had not included the Moriches, he said.

“The downturn in the economy may have spared the four hamlets of Moriches, East Moriches, Center Moriches and Eastport from the retail sprawl that has become very prevalent in the town,” Panico said. “This plan will not only keep the character and the charm of these four communities, it will serve to maintain properties, direct development to the downtowns and really set the tone for the communities for decades to come.”


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