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Brentwood school district leads suit against Heartland project

An artist rendering of the proposed Heartland Town

An artist rendering of the proposed Heartland Town Square tower and public area in Brentwood, which would be built on the former Pilgrim State hospital grounds. Credit: Heartland

The Brentwood school district, a civic association and a local attorney are suing the Islip Town Board and developers of Heartland Town Square, citing concerns about the town’s approval of the project’s first phase and the potential for overcrowding, according to papers filed Thursday in State Supreme Court in Riverhead.

The Islip Town Board in July approved the first phase of the development after years of discussions and hearings on proposals to redevelop the former Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center’s 450-acre property. It is to include office space, retail businesses and apartments.

The Article 78 motion, which charges a municipality with breaking its own rules, claims that Islip Town failed to “identify and take a hard look at relevant areas of environmental concern, including the educational, social, demographic and economic impacts of Heartland upon the school district and its neighborhoods and citizens,” according to the complaint.

“The school district is already overcrowded and underfunded,” said Candace Gomez, an attorney for the school district, which is joined in the suit by 4 Towns Civic Association and local attorney Joseph Fritz in the suit against the town, Jackson Avenue Associates LP and Pilgrim East LP.

In a telephone interview with News 12 Long Island, developer Jerry Wolkoff said any increase in the number of school-aged children would be minimal.

“It’s mind boggling to me, that they should even contemplate a lawsuit,” Wolkoff said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”

An Islip Town spokeswoman said officials had not received a copy of the lawsuit. Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter could not be reached for comment.

Islip Councilman John Cochrane Jr., in an interview, said, “I’m kind of shocked that they would go out and do this. It’s such a long way out that to stop the procedure right now, it’s not going to do anything but slow it down.”

The town’s review process “was long and hard,” Cochrane said. “Our planning commission worked extremely hard to justify all our requests: infrastructure, fire department, ambulance.”

The Brentwood school district is the largest system on Long Island, with 19,500 students, and one of the largest nonurban districts in the state. It has 17 school buildings, officials said.

In an April presentation posted on the district’s website, school officials laid out concerns and noted that even without Heartland, the district must expand existing facilities. District officials said they don’t have other properties that would allow expansion.

Wolkoff, who bought the site from the state for $20 million in 2012, has sought to allay concerns about increased traffic. In July, after the town board unanimously approved zoning for the first phase, he said it was “great for the community and great for Long Island.”

The Suffolk County Planning Commission voted in February to recommend that the Islip Town Board approve Wolkoff’s request to change the site’s zoning from residential to the new “Pilgrim State Planned Redevelopment District.”

The first phase of the project includes the construction, on 113 acres of property, of 3,504 apartments, 560,000 square feet of retail space and 626,000 square feet of class-A office space.

James Ptucha of Dix Hills, president of the 4 Towns Civic Association, said Thursday, “We’ve been fighting this for 20 years.”

“It’s overburdening every aspect of municipal services,” he said. “It needs to be stopped in its tracks and the whole process needs to be started over and done properly.”

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