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Suffolk planners put off critical vote on Heartland Town project

Developer Gerald Wolkoff, at the Suffolk County Planning

Developer Gerald Wolkoff, at the Suffolk County Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Hauppauge. Wolfoff is proposing to build the Heartland Town Square Project. Credit: James Carbone

Plans for a Long Island Rail Road connection to the proposed Heartland Town Square were derailed at a public meeting Wednesday, adding to a list of concerns the Suffolk County Planning Commissioners want to digest before making its final recommendation on the development.

The commissioners voted to adjourn a decision on the project to their meeting on Feb. 1. Then they are expected to decide whether to recommend a zone change for the site off the Sagtikos Parkway from residential to a newly established Pilgrim State Planned Redevelopment District.

The fate of the project would then be in the hands of the five-member Islip Town Board.

Suffolk County planners, who had recommended the requested zone change, presented a staff report to the commissioners and in it listed 10 comments concerning infrastructure, transit, wastewater treatment and environmental issues.

A rail spur running from the Deer Park LIRR station to the property that was last used in the 1970s has been torn up, county officials said, dashing any hopes of having direct access via rail to the development. In its place, a shuttle buses would move commuters between the station and development.

Commissioners said they wanted more time to review the report, which also encourages conversation between the developer and the MTA to explore options for a new spur to be built before subsequent building phases are implemented.

Dozens of speakers that included union leaders and members, residents and public officials, spoke out against the project at the meeting at the W.H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge.

Among their concerns were an increase in traffic, an overflow of students to the already stressed Brentwood school district, and the lack of labor agreements to use local unions and pay fair wages.

Several of those who spoke in favor of the project cited the chance for economic growth and what they billed as a much-needed mixed-use development to keep millennials living on Long Island.

Gerald Wolkoff, the developer behind Heartland’s vision — which has been 13 years in the making — 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.

The Islip Town Planning Board in August 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.

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