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Commack firm hopes to preserve land in deal to increase size of shopping center site

This is a view of just one part

This is a view of just one part of the PJ Venture-owned shopping center, just off the Long Island Expressway at Commack Road in Commack on Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

A Commack development company wants to preserve two vacant properties, donating one to the Town of Smithtown in exchange for increasing the size of its 54-acre shopping center site.

PJ Venture LLC plans to present the proposal Tuesday at a public hearing, requesting modifications to conditions of a 1992 zone change for Consentino Commerce Center, in order to gain an additional 17,555 square feet of floor space and generate about 962 extra gallons of wastewater per day.

The plan calls for preserving a 1.1-acre site at Sunken Meadow Parkway and Veterans' Memorial Highway and a 0.34-acre site on Arthur Street near Crooked Hill Road in Commack -- areas town officials said would be beneficial to retain as open space, protect the groundwater and preserve wildlife habitat.

The proposed additions would boost the shopping center's footprint to 504,175 square feet and generate about 19,659 gallons of wastewater per day, town planning department documents show.

Russell Barnett, town environmental protection director, said the amount of wastewater will be transferred "from one neighborhood piece of property to another piece of property in the same neighborhood."

The shopping center, which includes Costco, ShopRite, Target, Marshalls and HomeGoods, is in the Oak Brush Plains Special Groundwater Protection Area -- one of nine on Long Island designated by the State Legislature, Barnett said.

In 1994, Smithtown officials approved PJ Venture's zone change petition for the site from quarter-acre residence to shopping center, said assistant town planner David Flynn. The approval restricted density, floor area and usage of the property to limit potential impacts on groundwater, he said.

John Baker, director of projects for PJ Venture, which also owns the adjacent Crooked Hill Plaza, said the company does not have immediate plans to build anything. "But the purchase of the property wasn't going to wait for us," he said. "We were either going to buy it, or it was going to be bought by somebody, eventually."

Baker noted that since the shopping center's construction, the company has donated about 50 acres of environmentally sensitive land to the town in exchange for additional square footage or water capacity, including the Harned Saw Mill and about 22 acres on St. Johnland Road by the statue of the Smithtown bull.

Baker said the project would be a win for everyone involved by adding green space and increasing the local tax base. "Every time we add a building, we pay more taxes," he said.

Henry Bokuniewicz, professor of oceanography at Stony Brook University, said such plans are fairly common in managing development.

Important factors include the location of wastewater discharge and that proximity to wells, as well as the concentration of pollutants in the wastewater, he said.

"In general, you can make these trade-offs and it can be beneficial, but the devil is in the details."

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