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Long IslandSuffolk

Towns formalize development partnership

Islip and Brookhaven Tuesday approved an agreement formalizing their partnership on an extensive mixed-use development that would cross town lines and involve the Ronkonkoma Hub and Long Island MacArthur Airport.

The boards of Suffolk's two largest towns approved an inter-municipal agreement to seek funding and develop infrastructure improvements along the corridor north of the airport and south of the Long Island Expressway.

The concept would be an expansion of Brookhaven's initial work to develop the blighted area around the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station with housing, office and retail space. Key to the overall development is a plan for a new regional sewage-treatment plant to be built on county land in Islip.

For Islip Town Board members, Tuesday's's vote was the first formal airing of the collaboration, and it met with some skepticism. While he endorsed the general concept, Councilman Steve Flotteron, a Republican, urged Supervisor Phil Nolan, a Democrat, to seek full community input "to ensure the best project goes ahead."

Fellow Republican Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt, who voted in favor of the collaboration, said, "If we're using private funds to generate jobs, that's always a good thing." But going forward, she said, "we need to be transparent with the residents of Ronkonkoma -- [Brookhaven Supervisor Mark] Lesko's held seven public forums and Islip's had none."

Steven Raccuglia, president of the Ronkonkoma Civic Association, said, "We just want to be involved in the process, not kept in the dark."

Nolan was undaunted. "We'll certainly be taking into account our community needs and input as we go forward in an effort to engender real job creation crucial for our town and the county," he said after the meeting.

Tom Croci, the GOP candidate running against Nolan in November, questioned the announcement's timing but declined to comment on the project itself. "We're six weeks out from an election and this is the first we're hearing of it," he told Newsday. "We continually hear of the plans and see the press conferences, but the proof's in the results. . . . This comes from a politician trying to hold on to his job."

Islip planning commissioner Dave Genaway said the project would promote transit-oriented development, remove blight, create jobs and diversified housing.

The sewage-treatment plant would also supply enough capacity for further industrial expansion in and around the airport, he said.In Brookhaven, where the town has approved a design committee to oversee selection of a master developer, Republican Councilman Dan Panico was the sole voice of skepticism. He supported Tuesday's agreement, but said: "The economic realities of the times make substantial grant funding to immediately accomplish these goals dim."

The committee has town officials from both parties, community representatives, planning experts and an external consultant. It will choose a master developer by Dec. 7. The decision must be approved by the town board. Senior Islip town officials have indicated they may then adopt the same developer.

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