This editorial originally ran on Jan. 20, 2003

One of the most important pieces of real estate in Suffolk County is the 460 acres that developer Jerry Wolkoff purchased from the state at the Pilgrim Psychiatric Center site in Brentwood. His proposal to build a walkable, smart-growth community of apartments and retail stores there is praiseworthy for its imagination and boldness. The Town of Islip must place the highest priority on examining it.

This idea is pivotal, not only for Suffolk, but for the entire region. It offers young folks a way of staying on - or moving to - Long Island in a place that could mimic the liveliness of urban neighborhoods, but in a suburban context. In addition to its residential and retail elements, it would provide space for artists, an aquarium and an office building taller than EAB Plaza in Uniondale.

Wolkoff made his reputation primarily with industrial projects, such as his Heartland Business Center south of the Pilgrim site, but he has also developed residences. The idea for his new Heartland Town Square came to him largely from CityPlace in downtown West Palm Beach, Fla., which has created an architectural buzz, but is still running in the red.

This page applauds Wolkoff's vision and his wisdom in entrusting the project to a top national planning firm, RTKL Associates. But the distance between vision and reality can be immense. For starters, he'll have to persuade Islip to give him the density he seeks. He's talking about 9,000 units for 14,000 people, and he may well need that much. (Insufficient density, he believes, is hurting CityPlace.) But to get it, he'll have to give something.

One thing that Islip should ask for, and Wolkoff should promise, is that 20 to 25 percent of the apartments in each size category, as well as the smaller number of ownership units, should be in the affordable range.

Wolkoff should also agree not to build on a separate 88 acres north of his existing business park. That land, where the Suffolk County Water Authority wants to place a well field, would enhance the state's adjoining Oak Brush Plains preserve. Wolkoff should transfer development rights from these 88 acres to the Pilgrim site, to help get the density he needs there.

If Wolkoff and public officials handle it right, this project can be something special.

Wolkoff's proposed new community could benefit the whole region - if it's done right.


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