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Editorial: Forge a labor deal for Heartland

An artist's rendering of a public area in

An artist's rendering of a public area in the Heartland Town Square, a proposed $4 billion mini-city in Brentwood NY. Credit: Handout, 2011

Don't get too worked up over the latest news on the Heartland Town Square project.

Gerald Wolkoff's dream of building a colossal mixed-use development at the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, with 9,000 apartments, is taking only baby steps forward. There are still huge obstacles to the project, first proposed in 2002.

The latest news: Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone used his veto power to get the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council to set aside $3.4 million to study widening of the Sagtikos Parkway.

Whether the widening is doable or not, major road improvements will be needed. Wolkoff insists that the young adults and empty-nesters who will rent his apartments won't produce overwhelming auto traffic, because they'll be using the nearby Deer Park station of the Long Island Rail Road. That's questionable. So road work is crucial, and cost estimates are as high as $200 million.

Wolkoff's dealings with the Town of Islip are going well, he says, and Supervisor Tom Croci agrees. They have cleared away a few minor issues, and the town has hired a new attorney to work through the remaining questions. Also, the town's industrial development agency this week adopted a new policy requiring any project seeking IDA tax breaks to hire 90 percent of its workers from Nassau-Suffolk. Big projects like this could require a project labor agreement or apprentice programs for workers.

Wolkoff refuses to sign a project labor agreement with the Building & Construction Trades Council of Nassau and Suffolk Counties, but the council is just as firmly insisting on a deal. Wolkoff appears to think he can woo the unions one by one, but the council's president, James Castellane, vows that divide-and-conquer won't work.

The Heartland project has the potential to transform the region, but first this irresistible force (union labor) and the immovable object (Wolkoff) must settle their differences on hiring, wages and working conditions.

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