Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico stands at the Havens Estate,...

Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico stands at the Havens Estate, along Montauk Highway in Center Moriches, on March 22, 2016. He's proposing to rezone 500,000 square feet allotted for retail and commercial space in the Moriches and Eastport to preserve historic sites. Credit: Ed Betz

Brookhaven Town Councilman Dan Panico has proposed rezoning a five-mile stretch of Montauk Highway from Moriches to Eastport with the goal of saving it from retail and commercial development.

Currently, that stretch of road is zoned to allow for more than 500,000 square feet of retail and commercial space — something Panico does not want to see happen.

He said he wants to preserve what is now a mostly rural stretch that ends near the Southampton Town border before it is overdeveloped. A secondary goal is to allow for other kinds of uses, such as mixed use and residential.

“If nothing is done, this will negatively impact the community,” Panico said in a phone interview, referring to the area under current zoning. “This is one of the most worthwhile plans the town has undertaken.”

A proposed rezoning along Montauk Highway would mostly center on the downtown districts of Center Moriches and East Moriches, where zoning would allow for nearly 400,000 square feet of retail and commercial space.

Panico said he favored changing that to mixed use, downtown historic, retail and residential. Another 122,000 square feet of retail commercial space in Moriches and Eastport would be rezoned for housing and office space suited for law and medical practices.

The Brookhaven Town board this month accepted a draft of the environmental impact statement associated with a zone change, but a public hearing on the rezoning won’t come until this summer, officials said.

“Residents there don’t want congestion. They want open space, a suburban quality of life,” Panico said.

Town Councilman Kevin LaValle last month proposed to rezone the Farmingville hamlet center, to be anchored by a $100 million housing development along Horseblock Road, and the strengthening of a regional shopping center near Town Hall.

“I do agree with him,” Suzanne McKeon, president of downtown beautification for the Chamber of Commerce of the Moriches, said of Panico’s proposal.

“All some developers see is areas to build homes or big-box stores,” she said. “Center Moriches is like small town U.S.A.”

McKeon, 63, said the Moriches could use a few boutiques or family restaurants, but not strip malls or large developments.

“We don’t mind building, we just want to do it responsibly,” she said.

Panico said he wants to preserve the small downtowns to maintain quality of life.

“We’re going to set the tone of the community and protect the character of the community for decades to come,” said Panico.

The hamlets are home to historic districts and landmarks such as the Havens Estate, the Masury Estate, and the Lindenmere Estate.

Gerry Sapanaro, a realtor and past president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Moriches, backs Panico’s proposal.

“It’s gonna be beneficial for the property owners. I think it’s positive,” she said. “He’s out there trying to make it better.”

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