The Islip Town Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve the first phase of the Heartland Town Square, a massive and long-sought mixed-used project for Brentwood but also one fraught with regulatory hurdles and community opposition.
Dozens of residents and local elected officials filled the town board room in Islip ahead of the 6 p.m. meeting. By the time the meeting started Tuesday night, it was standing room only.
No public comments were allowed during the meeting but opinions from 144 speakers at a contentious April public hearing and more than 1,600 online comments on the project were submitted for the board’s consideration, officials said.
The project, a combination of offices, retail space and housing, will go up at the site of the former site of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said Tuesday night’s vote was a “historic moment” for the town, county and Long Island.
“Islip has a long proud history . . . it’s the third largest town in the state of New York and certainly a place where people want to live work and play and raise their families,” Carpenter said.
The board’s vote, after a brief 13-minute meeting, changed the zoning for the site off the Sagtikos Parkway from residential to a newly established Pilgrim State Planned Redevelopment District.
In February, the Suffolk County Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that the Islip Town board grant the zoning change.
“They all worked hard at it,” said a visibly pleased Jerry Wolkoff, the project’s developer, referring to the efforts of town planning and board members. “This is great for the community and great for Long Island.”
Wolkoff, who submitted plans to the town planning board for the project 15 years ago, purchased the 450-acre plot from the state in 2002 for $20 million and originally intended to build a mixed-use development that included 9,000 apartments, 3 million square feet of office space and 1 million square feet of retail.
The Islip Town planning board last year recommended approval for a modified version of the plan, with an initial construction phase monitored by the town for potential traffic and infrastructure impact. Carpenter said the build-out of the entire project would take at least 30 years and “the needs of Long Island are going to be different by then.” It didn’t seem prudent, Carpenter said Tuesday, to give such a vast approval for the whole project at this time.
The first phase of construction will begin on a 113-acre portion of the site with the height of buildings limited to 10 floors.
The development plans have been met with mixed reviews over the years. Some residents have voiced concerns about an increase in traffic and the urbanization of the suburbs — including a threat to the new businesses that line the Main Street corridor in Bay Shore. Others have said that Heartland will bring much-needed smart development to the area.
Wolkoff said he now has to meet with engineers and get infrastructure in place to start the construction work, which he said could begin within the next year. He agreed to pay $3.7 million over the initial 5-year construction period to ensure Islip Town taxpayers won’t be on the hook for costs related to the hiring of extra town staff, an expense that was highlighted in a fiscal impact study released in March.
“The town won’t be out a penny,” Wolkoff said.