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Heartland Town Square developer sues Suffolk County for $15 million

The lawsuit by developer Jerry Wolkoff seeks to force the county to connect the massive project to the Southwest Sewer District.

Developer Jerry Wolkoff is seen on June 14,

Developer Jerry Wolkoff is seen on June 14, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The developer of the proposed Heartland Town Square in Brentwood has filed a $15 million lawsuit, seeking to force Suffolk County to connect the massive 9,000-unit project to the Southwest Sewer District.

The lawsuit, filed Feb. 6 in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, comes after the County Legislature’s public works committee failed in a 3-4 vote in September to discharge without recommendation a bill to permit the hookup of the megaproject.

Developer Jerry Wolkoff's lawsuit argues the committee action was “illegal and improper” and “in excess of the committee’s jurisdiction and authority.”

The suit says the public works commissioner has the power to negotiate the agreement that “he deems appropriate,” and argues that county agencies should proceed with negotiations for a hookup that “is not subject to the review or approval of the county legislature.”

In addition, the suit seeks compensatory damages of no less than $15 million because of delays and damage to Wolkoff’s commercial reputation.

County Attorney Dennis Brown declined to comment on the suit.

“Obviously, we have a role in the process,” said Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague), but he said it was the first time he could recall the legislature balking at approving a sewer connection. Gregory said he has not reviewed the lawsuit, and could not say whether the legislature needs an attorney to defend itself.

Heartland, which planners have called a project of regional significance, includes the residential units, along with 3.4 million square feet of office space and 1 million square feet of retail space on 452 acres that once were part of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center.

During legislative deliberations, some unions opposed the development because there was no labor agreement in the project. Others said Wolkoff should build his own sewage plant so the treated water can recharge the aquifer.

“This project is for empty nesters and millennials . . . It’s a shame they are holding it up,” said Wolkoff. 

Wolkoff said environmental studies show sewering is the best option because the Southwest Sewer District has capacity. He also said he can’t build a sewer plant because the project is near the sensitive oak brush plain.

The tabled resolution would have allowed Heartland to pay a one-time connection fee of $15 per gallon on the first 1.6 million gallons of daily sewage flow, and the current rate of $30 a gallon on the remaining flow.

Wolkoff also said Heartland, when complete in 30 years, will use 1.6 million gallons in daily treatment capacity, rather than the 2.5 million gallons health officials project because he intends to use low-flow technology.

“It won’t be anywhere close to what they anticipate,” he said.

Wolkoff has applied to reduce the $15-per-gallon fee to $7.50, based on a law authorizing discounts for mixed-use projects of at least 10 acres with 15 percent affordable housing.

Wolkoff received conceptual approval in 2004 from the county before it raised sewer rates.

The suit set a March 5 date for Suffolk County to respond in court.

On Monday, Wolkoff also appeared before the county’s six-member sewer agency, seeking a one-year extension to get approval for a potential hookup, which was approved. Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), public works committee chairman, abstained in light of the pending lawsuit.

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