By Danny Schrafel
A public hearing on the ambitious Heartland Town Square “mini-city” concept on the Dix Hills/Commack border will be held this month.
Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter said a planning board hearing has been scheduled for April 16, at which the developer will give a presentation and the public will be able to comment.
“Another area, they’d have kissed me on both cheeks and I’d have it done seven, eight years ago,” developer Jerry Wolkoff said.
Proposed to bring 9,000 housing units to 450 acres of land that once was Pilgrim State Hospital in neighboring Brentwood, Heartland was a topic in County Executive Steve Bellone’s State of the County address on March 26. The county executive said the project stands to “create the type of housing and development we desperately need.”
The project would also serve as a key linchpin in Bellone’s Connect Long Island regional development plan, aimed at pushing back hard against the “brain-drain” that has cost the region thousands of Long Island’s educated young people.
“I believe it will work. It’s needed for our region and it’s part of a much larger effort… to create the space for sustainable economic growth,” Bellone said.
He pledged to work with Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter to advance the project.
Wolkoff was optimistic about the project’s chances in an interview Monday.
“I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.
Key to the feasibility, Bellone said, is a three-phase development approach. Wolkoff described the build-out as a “25- to 30-year process.”
Upon completion, there would be 9,000 housing units, a million square-foot lifestyle center, 3 million square feet of Class A office space, a hotel and convention center, indoor and outdoor civic space, and an aquarium. When completed, prospective developer Wolkoff said it would bring in 26,000 new jobs.
Not everyone has been as rosy as Wolkoff about the project. Residents and leaders of nearby municipalities have expressed concerns over traffic, sewage and other issues connected to the potential high-density community.
However, the phased-in approach will give municipalities time to adapt, Bellone said.
“You have time to absorb any changes that are made and any impacts that will occur,” the county executive said. “That’s the way it will work in the marketplace anyway… Even the first phase would be broken down into smaller phases just because of market forces. You need to build things over time.”
Infrastructure upgrades to the Sagtikos could also be coupled with the implementation of north-south bus rapid transit, designed to make access to Long Island’s east-west rail lines easier.
“Eventually, if the road is redone, [there could be] a multi-modal road,” Bellone said, adding it could include a biking and pedestrian connection up to Kings Park.
The emphasis going forward, Bellone said, must be on transit-oriented development, focused around mass transit hubs.
“There is no way to create economic growth by just adding more cars to the roadways,” he said.
Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone has butted heads with Wolkoff over the project. Petrone argued in April 2010 before the Suffolk County Planning Commission that the towns surrounding Heartland must come together and beef up infrastructure before some of the most ambitious plans were approved.
Moving too quickly on Heartland could “devastate” Suffolk County’s economy and environment and pit towns against each other for resources, Petrone previously said.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter said Monday that officials are “following developments with the project” but have “not reached a decision on whether any further response or action is warranted.”
Wolkoff, however, continues to believe the project is an essential step toward keeping young people on Long Island, evolving attitudes about transit-oriented development and reducing dependence on cars.
“It’s more important that the [young people] hopefully understand the development that I’m doing, the building that I’m doing, how important it is for Long Island,” he said.