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Pushing for vote on study for Yaphank housing project

Suffolk Legislature Presiding Officer William Lindsay said Tuesday that he would push for a Tuesday vote on a $411,000 environmental study for County Executive Steve Levy's controversial $400 million Yaphank housing project.

Lindsay (D-Holbrook), a backer of the project, is seeking signatures of 10 lawmakers to discharge the resolution to the full legislature even though the measure was tabled in the environment committee Monday.

"The community screamed long and hard for a full [environmental impact statement], they got" it, he said. "And now, not to fund it would be disingenuous."

The environment committee balked after Levy aides could not answer whether the private developer, Beechwood Organization, would pay for the study even if the county decided not to go ahead with the project.

Chief Deputy County Executive Christopher Kent said the county expects to complete an agreement with the developer today. While a draft proposal says the county would be reimbursed only if lawmakers vote to make the 255 county-owned acres surplus and allow a contract of sale, Kent said he will seek a change to get the money upfront.

Kent also said the developer has renewed its letter of intent, which expired at year's end, but now keeps the deal intact until Dec. 31. The environmental study is expected to take from 12 to 15 months.

If the legislature fails to fund the study, officials said it will likely kill the project, which includes 1,215 units - 1,000 of them priced as affordable housing - a "destination" downtown area with two sports arenas, a hotel and offices, and a solar industrial park.

Local critics said the project will ruin Yaphank's rural nature and crowd schools. Levy supporters said the project will create jobs.

"One thing we need in Suffolk more than anything else is jobs," Lindsay said, adding any delay would be "detrimental to the psyche of the workforce."

Still, the Holbrook Democrat said he is not sure he can get enough signatures to vote on the matter at the next legislative meeting. As of late Tuesday he had seven signatures.

But Legis. Vivian Vilora Fisher (D-Setauket), environmental committee chairwoman, wants more time. "It's kind of a Catch-22 situation," she said. "We need the study to see if the project could be perfectly fine. But if it causes a negative impact, we could be stuck with a $400,000 bill for a plan that will not go forward."

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