The Suffolk County Planning Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend the Islip Town Board grant a zoning change that would allow for the development of the Heartland Town Square project — a landmark proposal that would bring millions of square feet of living, work and retail space to the former Pilgrim State property.
After five hours of public comments at a Riverhead meeting, a review of the county planning staff report, questions and discussion between the commissioners, the board voted 14-0 to recommend the zone change for the property that sits between Commack Road and Sagtikos Parkway in Brentwood.
Commissioners included several conditions in its recommendation: that the petitioner shall certify that all contractors and subcontractors used to build retail and industrial buildings will participate in apprenticeship programs; that the town will monitor traffic at 50 percent occupancy of the first phase of development and later at incremental stages; that the Suffolk County Water Authority monitor any changes in the groundwater table and that irrigation needs be monitored closely.
Comments added to the recommendation include that the Town of Islip consider reserving land for a new school in the Brentwood school district — after district officials complained about overcrowding and the lack of land to build a new school building — and that appropriate parties better gauge and monitor waste water flow.
Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners voted to not reopen the public portion on Heartland, which had been closed at last month’s meeting.
But after urging from Adrienne Esposito, the vice chair of the commission, and hearing from Suffolk County Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Brentwood school board member Roberto Feliciano, all elected officials who are allowed to speak outside of a public portion, the commission took another vote that allowed eight speakers to give their comments.
Browning brought up several of her concerns, including sewer usage, the impact on the Brentwood school district, and the lack of inclusion for local labor unions to build the development.
“It should be built by local residents because it will be local residents who will live, work and play there,” Browning said.
Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, said: “I won’t take up your time since I spoke at the last meeting, but we are against this project.”
Feliciano remarked that the school district is “already overcrowded” and that the district “has no land on which to build” a new facility for incoming students that are expected to flow in from the new apartment complexes.
“Personally, I am totally against this project,” Feliciano said, adding that litigation against the project would be a possibility if it is passed.
Jerry Wolkoff, the developer behind the plans for a mixed-use development on the former Pilgrim State grounds, is seeking a zone change for the site off the Sagtikos Parkway from residential to a newly established Pilgrim State Planned Redevelopment District.
Wolkoff purchased the 450-acre plot from the state in 2002 for $20 million and originally intended to build a mixed-use development that included 9,000 apartments, 3 million square feet of office space and 1 million square feet of retail.
Dozens of residents, union leaders and local elected officials spoke at the last meeting — both for and against the project — with many concerned about traffic and the lack of plans to use union labor. Those in favor see the development as a much-needed economic boon to the area.
Heartland has been going back and forth between Wolkoff’s team and the Islip Town Planning Board for more than 13 years as changes to the plans have been requested by the town, prompting Wolkoff to revamp them.
In August, the town Planning Board recommended a portion of the project that includes development on 133 acres for the first phase of construction, allowing the town to monitor its impact on traffic and infrastructure before considering subsequent phases.
The board limited the height of buildings in this phase to five stories, which reduced the overall size by about 1.9 million square feet. The original plan had a construction timeline set for 12 years and for 3,504 residential units, officials have said.
The project will proceed to Islip’s five-member town board for the first phase’s final approval.