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Judge orders stop to project that would house homeless vets

Ralph Fasano, director of Concern for Independent Living,

Ralph Fasano, director of Concern for Independent Living, on Jan. 2, 2012. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

A state judge has issued a temporary restraining order stopping construction of a Middle Island development that was expected to provide affordable housing for dozens of veterans.

State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher halted the project on Friday until a hearing is held on Jan. 9 in Riverhead. Construction on the $28 million development was expected to begin soon.

The Long Island Pine Barrens Society had sued to block the project, arguing the Brookhaven Town Board and town Planning Board improperly approved the 123-unit development on Middle Country Road.

Medford-based developer Concern for Independent Living had received town approval for a mixed-use development, including apartments and shops on the 37-acre site. The company plans to rent up to 60 units to veterans.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, said Tuesday that town officials had improperly used an approval for a previous development at the site -- a townhome community known as Spring Hill -- to authorize the new construction.

Amper said the development should be reconsidered because it would be on a wooded parcel at the headwaters of the Carmans River in the state-protected Pine Barrens.

"It's not the place for a high-density development of any kind," Amper said in an interview. "It's a high-density project in an environmentally sensitive area that is using an earlier approval for a new and different project."

Town officials said they believed the project was properly reviewed and authorized.

"I think they're grasping at straws here," Councilwoman Connie Kepert said Tuesday. "This is a great project that is going to provide affordable housing for veterans."

Ralph Fasano, executive director of Concern for Independent Living, said he was confident the injunction will be overturned. The company plans to complete construction in early 2016, he said.

Fasano said the company plans to rent one-bedroom apartments for $700 and two-bedroom apartments for about $900. The development would include a sewage treatment plant, and housing units would be smaller than the townhomes that had been planned at the earlier development.

"This is something that has widespread support of the community," Fasano said. "It's balancing the needs of the environment and the needs of people who desperately need housing."

Greta Guarton, executive director of the nonprofit Long Island Coalition for the Homeless, said the injunction was a serious setback in efforts to provide housing for homeless veterans. "I think that's horrible," Guarton said. "I am a very strong supporter of the environment, but we are talking about housing for human beings."

Her group has estimated there are at least 174 homeless veterans in Suffolk and Nassau counties, and projects such as the Middle Island development are badly needed.

A development built by Concern for Independent Living in Amityville filled 60 units for veterans in about three months, and there is a long waiting list for 30 additional units that are planned for the site, she said.

"This is a program that would be creating affordable housing for low-income people and veterans, and economic development," Guarton said. "I really think it's a tragedy that it's being held up."

Amper said his group supports housing for veterans but believes the site is unsuitable for development. "This is just inconsistent with our efforts to protect water and habitat over the last 40 years," he said. "It's a bad project improperly reviewed."

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