The Long Island Regional Planning Council voted unanimously Tuesday to name the 50-acre housing and retail development proposal known as the Ronkonkoma Hub a project of "regional significance," a designation sought by Brookhaven Town officials.
The vote came after one member, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor John Venditto, said he wanted to be sure the council's action would not undermine "local determination."
Brookhaven Planning Commissioner Tullio Bertoli told the council that in the four years he's been involved in development of the Ronkonkoma Hub proposal, public outreach has been part of the process. He said there is "civic support for it, Suffolk County support [and] Town of Islip support," and that choosing a developer, Tritec, was part of the public process.
The $475-million Ronkonkoma plan calls for nearly 1,500 apartments, 195,000 square feet of retail space and 350,000 square feet of office and medical facilities.
The project's designation as one of regional significance would be a "validation," Bertoli said. Council chairman John D. Cameron noted, though, that the designation was not necessarily an endorsement of the project, but rather a reference to it meeting certain criteria, such as economic impact.
Eleven council members voted in favor of the designation. A 12th member was absent.
Brookhaven Town held a public hearing last week on the Ronkonkoma Hub proposal, drawing hundreds of people. Nearly three dozen people -- civic leaders, "smart growth" advocates, union and construction industry representatives -- spoke in favor, while 10 people spoke in opposition.
Before the council voted, Venditto said that while he was inclined to vote in favor, he wanted to be sure that Brookhaven's elected representatives and the town's constituents "want this to happen."
"I don't oppose a regional approach," Venditto continued, "but it is not the rule of today, which is local determination."
Cameron said a challenge for Long Island is that large-scale proposals that seek to diversify the housing stock are always "in somebody's backyard," often leading to opposition. The goal, he said, is to grow in ways that retain young workers, who often decamp to other places because of the high cost of housing here.
"Where are my employees going to live?" said Cameron, who heads an engineering firm on the Island. The Ronkonkoma Hub could help stabilize the tax base, he added.
John Durso, president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, which represents the building trades, wanted to be sure that whenever the Hub plans goes forward, Tritec would employ local construction workers. It is estimated that construction could take 10 years.
Durso, who requested a meeting with Tritec officials who attended Tuesday's council meeting, said, "We want the project done correctly and with Long Islanders."