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Elwood dairy hikes output amid questions over development

Oak Tree Dairy Hari Singh looks over the

Oak Tree Dairy Hari Singh looks over the milk filled cartons moving on a conveyor belt at the end of the production line at Oak Tree Dairy in East Northport. (Jan. 9, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Oak Tree Dairy, Long Island's only milk processing plant, has ramped up production after months of decreasing its output.

The reason: Officials are worried that plans to sell the dairy to a developer proposing to build a 444-unit, age-restricted community will not come to fruition. The dairy signed a contract in September 2011 with a subsidiary of The Engel Burman Group of Garden City, which would buy the dairy and build the 55-and-older Seasons at Elwood.

Dairy president Hari Singh said the company tamped down business for more than a year and a half, anticipating the sale. It has been about nine months since the developer submitted an application to the Town of Huntington, and Singh said he can't afford to have the plant operate at less than capacity anymore.

He struck a deal with an out-of-state milk distributor, he said, because he sees a "real possibility" the developer's plan, contentious among residents, isn't going to proceed.

"If this is going to be tied up for years, we might as well get the full return on our investment."

Earlier this week, Singh stood near one of the Elwood Road dairy's production lines and said the deal called for an additional 1 million half-pints weekly, which has tripled output on that machine.

All around him, little white-and-red cartons were being filled with milk before being shipped across Long Island.

Singh said he also is pursuing other long-term contracts to get the dairy running at full production again. He said Oak Tree soon will have to weigh exploring potential offers against the cost of abandoning the development.

Engel Burman president Jan Burman said he understands the rationale behind Singh's latest decisions, but said his firm is moving forward, hoping to get a public hearing in front of town officials.

Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the planning board is reviewing the application, which includes a request for a zoning change from 1-acre residential to retirement community district, the developer's traffic study and a preliminary environmental impact assessment.

Carter said the planning board will make a recommendation to the town board, which would schedule a public hearing before taking action.

When asked to speak about the proposed development, Town Supervisor Frank Petrone "does not want to comment, other than to say that when a public hearing is held on the application, he will listen to all of the comments and make his decision based on his evaluation of all the relevant facts," Carter said.

The project hasn't been on the town board's agenda, but dozens have come to meetings to express support or opposition.

Singh said he had thought residents would welcome age-restricted condos because they have argued for years that the area is residential and the dairy has many undesirable "externalities," such as the wastewater treatment plant and high numbers of tractor trailers and tankers traveling on Elwood Road.

"It didn't dawn on us that there would be opposition," he said.


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