A rift has developed between two key authors of a plan to protect the Carmans River, spurred by Brookhaven Town's approval of the controversial Condominiums at Sandy Hills -- a 39-acre Middle Island development at the river's headwaters.

The 135-unit mixed-use project received a key zoning change from Brookhaven's town board on Tuesday night.

The board's action comes after four years of proposals, hearings and lawsuits about the development, which would include about 18 acres of preserved open space and two acres of residences located above shops.

Several town officials, including Supervisor Mark Lesko, the lead proponent of a plan to preserve land around the Carmans River and steer development away from 9,100 acres of its watershed, support the Sandy Hills development.

Lesko said Sandy Hills is just the kind of project the Carmans plan is designed to create -- a mix of dense commercial and residential properties that reduces sewage emissions and minimizes impact on the river.

"This is a kind of quintessential smart growth project," Lesko said. "It's going to have a Main Street feel."

But Richard Amper, another proponent of the Carmans plan and executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, said Sandy Hills is exactly the kind of project the Carmans plan is intended to prevent -- a development on virgin land within the river's sensitive watershed.

Amper promised that his group would fight the town's approval in court, meaning the lawsuits that have held up Sandy Hills' groundbreaking could continue.

"Under any circumstances this is not smart growth, this is not downtown, this is not near mass transit. It's completely distorting the notion of smart growth," Amper said.

The project would be located near the corner of Rocky Point and Middle Country roads. Representatives for St. James developer Frank Weber said Tuesday that the project would have no negative environmental impacts.

But a handful of speakers at Tuesday's public hearing questioned whether the development is located too close to the river. MaryAnn Johnston, president of Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, said the plan runs counter to the Carmans protection plan.

"I didn't think it belonged there two years ago and I don't think it belongs there now," Johnston said.

A State Supreme Court justice ruled in April that Brookhaven improperly rezoned the property in 2009, which forced Weber to resubmit the proposal. Amper said he will file a new lawsuit within 30 days.

The new lawsuit will charge that the town board needed at least five votes to approve the rezone, Amper said. The board approved the rezone by a 4-3 vote on Tuesday.

"I think it's inevitable that this will end up in the courts," Lesko said.

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