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Judge lifts temporary restraining order that blocked Middle Island veterans development

A state judge has lifted a temporary restraining order that had blocked construction of a Middle Island development aimed at providing affordable housing for veterans, but the project's future remains undecided.

State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher last Wednesday lifted the stay that he had imposed last month after the Long Island Pine Barrens Society sued to block the project proposed by Medford-based developer Concern for Independent Living.

In addition to the court action, the Brookhaven Town Board of Zoning Appeals has scheduled a March 25 hearing to determine whether building permits were properly issued for the project.

Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said he believed the BZA action effectively halts construction of the 123-unit development on Middle Country Road.

Concern for Independent Living's executive director Ralph Fasano said he believed the BZA action did not block the company from starting work. Under the project's plans, up to 60 units at the development may be rented to veterans.

"This appeal does not block us from continuing construction," Fasano said in an interview on Friday. "It's the courts that have decision making at this point."

The Pine Barrens lawsuit was the latest skirmish in a legal battle that stretches back six years, when the town board approved a zoning change for an earlier development at the site, the 135-unit Sandy Hills at Middle Island. Sandy Hills collapsed when the company went bankrupt, officials said.

Amper, who has said he is not opposed to veterans housing but is concerned about the review process, said he disagreed with Asher's decision to lift the stay. "I think the courts got it wrong," he said.

In papers filed last week, Pine Barrens Society attorney Regina Seltzer said Concern improperly used an outdated parcel number from the Sandy Hills project to obtain a building permit last month.

"As a result, the Town of Brookhaven approved a site plan for a parcel and project that does not exist," Seltzer wrote.

In response, Fasano said Seltzer's allegation "doesn't deserve" a reply. "I've never heard an accusation like that," he said.

Brookhaven Town attorney Annette Eaderesto said a new parcel number had been assigned to the property when Sandy Hills received town approval. She said she did not know why the wrong number appeared.

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