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Brentwood school officials criticize Heartland project

Richard Loeschner, superintendent of the Brentwood school district,

Richard Loeschner, superintendent of the Brentwood school district, speaks during a news conference at the district's administration building in Brentwood on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, regarding the Heartland Town Square project. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Heartland Town Square development on the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center’s 450-acre property would overcrowd schools, increase traffic and alter the area’s suburban setting, Brentwood school officials and a civic group said at a news conference Friday.

“If we have to open our doors to an additional 7,000 or 8,000 students, I am very afraid that the great programs and the outstanding education that our students are receiving currently will be severely impacted,” said Superintendent Richard Loeschner, who appeared with school board president Robert Feliciano and board trustees, as well as a lawyer for the district and civic leaders.

The statements came a day after the district, with co-plaintiffs The 4 Towns Civic Association and local attorney Joseph Fritz, filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Riverhead against the Islip Town Board and developers of Heartland Town Square.

The suit contends that proper legal procedure was not followed in approving the project, which ultimately would have millions of square feet of office space and retail businesses and thousands of apartments.

A town spokeswoman said officials had not received the lawsuit and that they declined to comment.

Heartland developer Jerry Wolkoff, in an interview later Friday, disputed the numbers broached by school officials. He said the development will provide a community for millennials and empty-nesters and that the burden on the Brentwood schools would not be as severe as the district has said.

“This is forward-thinking; this is what people want,” Wolkoff said. “You walk to restaurants, you walk to a movie . . . this is what is happening today.”

The massive mixed-used project has been fraught with regulatory hurdles and community opposition. Wolkoff, who bought the property from the state in 2002 for $20 million, originally intended to build a mixed-use development that included 9,000 apartments, 3 million square feet of office space and 1 million square feet of retail.

The Islip Town Board in July approved the development’s first phase, which includes construction of 3,504 apartments, 560,000 square feet of retail space and 626,000 square feet of office space on 113 acres.

School officials said Friday that while the developer projected that 9,000-plus apartments will yield about 1,800 children, that number is more likely to be 7,310 additional children. The Brentwood school district is the largest system on Long Island, with more than 19,500 students.

The district does not have any properties that would allow expansion, school officials said, and any revenue generated by taxes from the development would not offset costs to accommodate new students.

Wolkoff noted that the project would be built over time.

“They made it seem like I am going to finish 9,000 units in five years — it is an impossibility. It is a 30-plus-year development and the type of development that is not for schoolchildren,” he said.

Feliciano said he would like to see the acreage become protected as part of the pine barrens.

“For many years, residents voiced concerns over the increased student population and the burden this project will have on its taxpayers,” he said.

Candace Gomez, an attorney for the school district, also said that proper procedure was not followed when the project was approved by the town.

But Michael Capuano, president of Citizens for a Better Islip, said the Heartland development would be a major economic boost. He attended the news conference.

“They have a lot of serious challenges in this area, such as crime and unemployment and gangs, and these people want to come in here and put a billion dollars in,” he said afterward. “We believe this is exactly what this area needs and will build the whole area up.”

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