By Jano Tantongco
Hundreds of people packed the June 22 Huntington Planning Board meeting for a public hearing seeking input on an amendment to the town’s comprehensive plan in regards to a hotly disputed proposal to build a 486,000-square-foot mixed-use shopping center on Jericho Turnpike in Elwood.
The proposed Elwood Orchard shopping center has elicited the ire of residents who oppose it for reasons including its expansive size, potential environmental impacts and implications to infrastructure. Supporters, however, backed the plan for its tax benefits and for using long-dormant land.
In the wake of the hearing, it’s up to the Planning Board to make a recommendation to the Huntington Town Board on the question of amending the Horizons 2020 Comprehensive Plan to potentially allow the proposal to move forward.
Before the hearing began, Paul Mandelik, chair of the Planning Board, said the board has already received “many, many letters,” about the issue.
Keith Archer, attorney for the developer, Syndicated Ventures, began his testimony by emphasizing that public hearing would focus on the proposed change to the comprehensive plan, and not a separate request for a zone change. This was echoed by Mandelik.
Jason Stern, an attorney with the Melville-based Weber Law Group, said his firm represents small businesses across from the proposed project site, which is just east of Manor Road on the north of Jericho Turnpike.
“Let the record show that there are many people in this room who are opposed to this project, including ourselves,” said Stern.
Citing the comprehensive plan, Stern said it states that it can only be amended once “evidence of changed circumstances” is produced.
“That’s what they’re required to do. They haven’t done it, and they failed to do it,” he said.
Linda Louis, a South Huntington resident, said she lives a mile from the project. She said there are enough empty storefronts, and did not want to see any more small businesses fail.
“I know that developers love density. We do not need more density. We have more traffic than we can handle,” she said. “It takes a very long time to get anywhere when you’re coming from a roadway that dumps into Jericho, or you are on Jericho Turnpike.”
James Cameron, an East Northport resident and president of civic group Elwood Taxpayers Association, explained he was navigating in “uncharted waters” because he usually is “on the other side of things.”
He said Syndicated Ventures has reached out to residents “numerous” times to work with them on the plan. He said he supports the project.
“This developer is looking to come into this community to become a member of this community, to be a supporter of this community,” he said.
He added that the civic group’s support of the project predicated on the developer pledging no use of Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency bonds or funding. IDA Executive Director Anthony Catapano previously said that the developer never received final approval for the tax breaks. Meanwhile, president of the developer, Kouros Torkan, also stated previously that he would not seek such tax breaks.
Current plans call for the shopping center to be built across 49.28 acres. It would consist of two-thirds retail space, with the remaining third designated for office and medical space, as previously detailed by Torkan.
An online petition against the project has drawn 2,682 signatures as of deadline Monday.