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Town studies uses for Lawrence Aviation Superfund site

A dump truck enters the gate of the

A dump truck enters the gate of the former Lawrence Aviation site on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson Station on Tuesday morning, May 13, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Some Brookhaven Town officials are considering a plan to keep residential zoning on part of a contaminated federal Superfund site in Port Jefferson Station -- not because they want to build houses on the site, but because they don't want anything built there.

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Councilwoman Valerie Cartright said residential zoning on a 22.5-acre portion of the Lawrence Aviation Industries site would require the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the parcel more extensively -- and at a higher cost -- making it less likely that it would be developed.

The idea was raised last week during a public hearing on the town's 48-page draft plan for potential future uses of the former aircraft parts manufacturing plant on Sheep Pasture Road. That draft proposes eliminating residential zoning at the 153-acre site and rezoning it for light industrial uses such as factories, offices and storage facilities.

That proposal has been opposed by some residents, who prefer preserving the site as open space.

The EPA is expected to complete a $27.3 million cleanup by 2036. A mile-long toxic plume emanates from the site. Federal agents raided the site in May to investigate suspected mishandling of hazardous material.

The property includes 11 separate parcels. About half the site is zoned for light industry; the rest is zoned for light industry or residential.

The alternative plan proposed by Romaine and Cartright would keep both residential and light industrial zoning on the 22.5-acre parcel on the site's north end, effectively blocking development there, they said.

Chris Short, who said he lives across the street from the site, preferred the residential zoning plan. "To change it . . . is going to cause all kinds of grief with the community," he said.

Lawrence Aviation owner Gerald Cohen said he thinks his property will be safe for homes or businesses once the EPA cleanup is completed.

"I believe that when they get it done, the property will be as pristine as you could get," Cohen said in an interview. He said the properties could be attractive to developers because they are close to Port Jefferson Village, a Long Island Rail Road station and Stony Brook University.

Homes have been built or restored at more than 100 former Superfund sites around the country, including Love Canal, the contaminated landfill in upstate Niagara Falls that led to the fund's creation, according to the EPA website.

Cohen owes an estimated $11.2 million in back Suffolk County taxes on the land, according to town figures. In the interview, he said the taxes will be "paid out of the proceeds of the sale of the property. . . . We anticipate the selling price to be substantially more than the price of the taxes."

Romaine said the tax liens would scare off potential buyers. "When you have a lien of that magnitude, I don't know who's going to step into that situation," he said.

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