An artist's rendering of the proposed "Sandy Hills" development in...

An artist's rendering of the proposed "Sandy Hills" development in Middle Island Credit: Handout

A planned 135-home "smart growth" community in Middle Island appears to be in jeopardy after a State Supreme Court judge ruled in favor of environmental groups seeking to block the project.

The groups, including the Pine Barrens Society, heralded the decision against the Sandy Hills project as a victory against overdevelopment in the Pine Barrens.

But Brookhaven Town officials who back the project called the ruling merely a setback. With proper zoning the 39-acre project can still rise near the corner of Rocky Point and Middle Country roads, they said.

Judge Thomas F. Whelan's decision last Wednesday in Riverhead, stated that the town board made a battery of errors in approving the project, including improperly rezoning the land in April 2009.

St. James developer Frank Weber wants to build the 135 units and about 13,000 square feet of commercial space. He touts the development as a walkable mixed-use alternative to typical Long Island sprawl.

But Whelan's decision means the property reverts back to its earlier zoning, which allows only 34 single-family homes.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, called the project a "mega-development" that would be too close to the headwaters of the Carmans River.

"It couldn't be less smart," he said. "In fact it's downright dumb."

Brookhaven will not appeal Whelan's decision, town spokesman Jack Krieger said. Instead, the town's law and planning departments will coordinate to get the land rezoned correctly, he saidd.

A spokesman for Weber declined to comment.

The Sandy Hills project has been on the table for more than four years. Councilwoman Connie Kepert has said the project would give Middle Island "a pedestrian-oriented center," but a patchwork of civic groups have opposed it.

Middle Island Civic Association president Tom Talbot, who supports the project, called the decision "another wound" that could turn out to be a fatal blow.

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