The site of Long Island's first outlet shopping center -- shuttered for years on the south side of Sunrise Highway in Bellport -- began its comeback Wednesday.

The Suffolk County Planning Commission unanimously approved a site plan that calls for razing three retail buildings -- totaling 96,034 square feet and once making up the Bellport Outlet Center -- and constructing a BJ's Wholesale Club.

The store would total 87,778 square feet and have 515 parking spaces.

"This was a seminal development for Long Island [when it opened]. It was a big deal," said commission chairman David Calone. "Removing it as a blight makes a lot of sense."

The original center -- whose outlet tenants included such brands as Nike, Liz Claiborne and Bass -- opened in 1992 but was eclipsed by the larger Tanger Outlet Center in Riverhead, which debuted two years later. A second set of outlet stores on the north side of Sunrise Highway, now called Bellport Outlet stores, initially struggled but survived and now is anchored by a Home Depot.

Adrienne Esposito, a commission member, said the shopping area originally suffered because customers "couldn't remember on which side of the highway stores were located."

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David Sloane, attorney for applicant Portwood LLC, said it is a subsidiary of RD Management in Manhattan, which has done substantial real estate development locally. "This is sorely needed because the area has been a mess," he said. "We're excited and I think the community is also excited because they want to see it redeveloped."

The county planning staff found the proposal "will rehabilitate a derelict site" and be a "positive economic development component" for the area. The staff, however, recommended that developers consider adding a bus shelter and improve the timing of traffic lights on Station Road at intersections leading to on- and off-ramps to Sunrise Highway.

The property already is zoned for retail but the Brookhaven planning board must approve the site plan. Sloane said the proposal also needs several variances that he hopes will come up before the town zoning board in May and then the planning board in June. The county planning commission has a say on the project because it is located within 500 feet of a state road, Sunrise Highway.

Sloane said developers would like to begin construction this fall and open by next summer.