Developer Gerald Wolkoff, who hopes to create a mini-city on...

Developer Gerald Wolkoff, who hopes to create a mini-city on the grounds of the shuttered Pilgrim State Hospital in Brentwood says he is aghast at the problems the Lighthouse project faces in Nassau. (July 27, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Developer Gerald Wolkoff said he looked on in horror as he saw what happened to the Lighthouse project in central Nassau County, and, he said, he vowed the same will not happen to his proposed Heartland Town Square, which would be a mini-city on the grounds of Pilgrim State Hospital in Brentwood.

Wolkoff, who has proposed a $4-billion housing, office and retail complex on 476 acres, called what has happened to the Lighthouse project "a travesty."

Recently announced Hempstead plans for the 77 acres of Nassau-owned land around the Nassau Coliseum allows for about half the density and construction of the original Lighthouse proposal, the $3.8-billion effort by Islanders owner Charles Wang and partner Scott Rechler.

Hempstead's proposal permits building heights to reach nine stories for hotels and three to four stories for retail, residential and office space, and will allow a maximum of 500 housing units -- a dramatic drop from the Lighthouse project's proposed 2,306 units. A source close to the project described it as "dead" in its current form.

By the end of August, Wolkoff said, he will hand in to Islip Town all the paperwork required for his project, including how he will handle traffic, water and sewage usage, and environmental concerns. He is hoping for another public hearing - the first one in the last six years was in 2009 - in the fall.

Islip Town Supervisor Phil Nolan said he is "hopeful" Wolkoff will answer all the necessary questions "in thorough, substantive and effective ways so that we can take a hard look at approving something that moves the economy forward and meets the public need."

But the town is known to want Wolkoff to somewhat reduce the project's size. Wolkoff wants to build 9,000 mostly rental units and 5.3 million square feet of offices. The town has not specified how much of a reduction it wants.

That may be a problem. In an interview earlier this week, Wolkoff said he will not scale back his project. "Without the density, you can't provide the amenities," he said.

There is also opposition from environmentalists. "This project is way out of scale," said RichardAmper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. "It's in the Oak Brush Plains pine barrens and also in a state special groundwater protection area," Amper said.

The Heartland Town Square is one of several major proposals awaiting some type of municipal action. Whether Heartland and the others are approved will spell much of future development on Long Island.

"This is a very important weather vane for what can get done on Long Island," said Michael White, chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Council. "I'm not saying give Jerry a free pass and let him build whatever he wants, but this [the old Pilgrim State] is definitely a growth area for Suffolk. If we can't get it done there, where can we get it done?"