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Huntington residents see Villadom vote as supervisor’s 1st test

An artist's rendering of a proposed library for

An artist's rendering of a proposed library for the Villadom project. Credit: Mark Stumer, Mojo Stumer Associates

Huntington residents are watching Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci’s decision on the proposed $80 million, 486,380-square-foot Villadom commercial complex to see if he follows his campaign promise of taking the town in a “New Direction.”

The development at the border of Dix Hills and Elwood requires a zoning change from residential to commercial on a roughly 50-acre parcel of undeveloped land on Jericho Turnpike at the northeast corner of Manor Road. Residents say the impact on traffic and ground water could be catastrophic.

Andrew Kaplan, an Elwood resident helping lead a coalition opposing the project, said the “New Direction” campaign signaled hope for many who have been concerned about the town becoming overdeveloped.

“This is the litmus test for the new direction,” Kaplan said of the town board’s vote on the project. “This is very emotional, this is difficult. People are scared . . . about water, people are scared about traffic, scared about quality of life.”

Lupinacci, who has not indicated whether he supports the zone change, said he understands the scrutiny of the Villadom vote.

“It’s an early decision by this administration so I’m sure people will be watching very closely . . .,” he said. “Any type of decision you make early on in an administration I believe lends to the tone that your administration is taking.”

Lupinacci in November was elected the first new town supervisor in 24 years. It was time, he said in his inaugural address, to identify policies, programs and procedures that should remain and build upon them, while identifying those that do need to be changed, and changing them as quickly as possible.

In the January speech before a packed auditorium at Walt Whitman High School, he told the crowd town officials would begin putting into action a mandate to preserve the keys to what has made Huntington such a desirable community over the years to “live, work and raise a family.”

Residents opposed to the Villadom project are looking to Lupinacci to follow through on that promise and return, or preserve, Huntington’s suburban landscape by not allowing the zoning change.

Great Neck-based developer Kris Torkan, the president of Villadom Corp., wants to build the mixed-use shopping center that would include approximately 245,000 square feet of professional office, including a 90,000-square-foot health/fitness center; about 240,000 square feet of retail/commercial space and a 15,000-square-foot library gifted to Elwood Library. Other community benefits include tax revenues to the Elwood school district, town, and county, and the creation of new jobs.

Dix Hills resident Gail Jospa said she has been voting Democratic since the 1960s, but after listening to Lupinacci and his running mates in the fall, she said she was convinced it was time to vote differently.

“A new direction was no down zoning, that they’re going to stop all this overdevelopment, they were going to listen to residents and not a developer who came in,” Jospa said. “That’s what we heard and thought about a new direction.”

Robert Rockelein, secretary for the civic group Huntington Matters, which previously supported Villadom but has recently adopted a neutral position, said he does not think Lupinacci should be judged on how he votes on this proposal.

“This has been in the works for close to five years, so he’s just the bearer of the burden of the decision,” Rockelein said.

While Villadom has garnered attention, voters see other issues the Lupinacci administration should address. A petition circulating with close to 1,000 signatures seeks to have a 2006 law amended to restrict the number of apartments allowed over commercial and retail spaces.

Huntington resident Bob Suter, a former Newsday employee who works for Queens College and is among a group of residents who circulated the petition, said how Lupinacci votes on Villadom would be an indication of things to come.

“He built his campaign and went out of his way to make overdevelopment in Huntington . . . an important issue in his campaign,” Suter said.

A public hearing on Villadom will be held Thursday at 7 p.m. at Elwood Middle School, 478 Elwood Rd. The board has 90 days after the hearing to vote.

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