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Republican state lawmakers seek delay in Yaphank plan

New York state senator Tom Croci (R-Sayville) is

New York state senator Tom Croci (R-Sayville) is seen on Feb. 6, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

Two Republican state lawmakers are urging the Suffolk County Legislature to delay adoption of a master plan for the county center in Yaphank to allow time to explore “alternate uses” for 197 surplus acres that could bring in revenue.

State Sen. Tom Croci of Sayville and Assemb. Dean Murray of East Patchogue emailed letters to all 18 county lawmakers, seeking to put off a vote which could come as soon as next Tuesday.

“While we understand the importance of land preservation, we also understand the very real fiscal problems the county is facing . . . All options should be explored,” the state lawmakers wrote.

A committee commissioned by the county legislature six months ago has developed a master plan that estimates that the county will need 30 to 60 acres for expansion at the site over the next 30 years. The unused portion of the remaining 197 acres should be preserved as parkland, according to the plan.

Suffolk acquired the 683-acre property in the early 1960s to create a third county center in addition to those in Hauppauge and Riverhead. It now houses the departments of public works, fire rescue and safety, police headquarters, a county jail, the board of elections and the county farm. Those facilities take up 242 acres.

But the idea of selling off parts of the property has drawn opposition.

“The budget of Suffolk County should not be balanced on the back of . . . Yaphank,” said Chad Trusnovec, a committee member, and civic group vice president, whose family has lived in the area since 1760. “We’re fighting to preserve the rural community where we grew up and want to preserve.”

Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) who championed the master plan, said selling off property would constitute only a one-shot to patch county finances. She said GOP state lawmakers would benefit the county more by fighting for relief from state mandates.

Browning, who is term-limited, blamed Croci’s and Murray’s stance on “politics,” because she backed Croci’s Democratic opponent, John DeVito, in the Nov. 8 election. Her aide Josh Slaughter is looking to run for her seat. Others noted that Browning is a possible challenger to Croci in 2018.

While saying she has no future political aspirations, Browning said, “If they keep trying to go after Yaphank, I’d consider running against them.”

Murray denied a political motive.

“I think she’s reading too much into this,” he said of Browning. “We just wanted to put on the radar screen there may be other uses,” such as manufacturing or a drag strip that a group wants to build on Long Island.

Once the county dedicates the property as parkland, “it’s very difficult, if not impossible to alter,” Murray said.

Michael Kaufman, the master plan committee vice chairman, said many other nearby sites are zoned industrial. Kaufman said if the county were to sell the land, now zoned residential, for business use it would face a hefty town development fee like the $560,000 it paid on the sale of the former nursing home.

The master plans came after local residents last year protested plans to clear a wooded part of the county center that for a solar farm. The county earlier this month sold the former John J. Foley nursing home to Brookhaven Memorial Hospital for $15 million.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine, a Republican, also backs the master plan’s stance against further sales of land to private entities.

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