Competing Groups Sound Off On Heartland Project

Pictured at the rally against the Heartland Town Square Project are, from left: Justin Marino, board member of 4 Towns Civic Association; Christine Schultz, 4 Towns board member; Richard Loeschner, Brentwood School District superintendent; Robert Feliciano, Brentwood school board president; and Maria Gonzalez-Prescod.   Photo provided by Christine Schultz

Pictured at the rally against the Heartland Town Square Project are, from left: Justin Marino, board member of 4 Towns Civic Association; Christine Schultz, 4 Towns board member; Richard Loeschner, Brentwood School District superintendent; Robert Feliciano, Brentwood school board president; and Maria Gonzalez-Prescod. Photo provided by Christine Schultz

By Janee Law
jlaw@longislandergroup.com

Differing opinions on the planned Heartland Town Square Project were voiced Saturday in Dix Hills.

Civic Association Leads Protest Against Heartland

A group of more than 100 protesters gathered at the intersection of Commack Road and Pine Hill Land to voice displeasure with the proposed development.

Plans call for 3,504 residential units, 560,000 square feet of retail and 626,000 square feet of office space to be built on the grounds of the Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center in Brentwood, a property near the Huntington-Islip western border

Saturday’s rally was hosted by the 4 Towns Civic Association as means to raise awareness to what group leaders are saying would have negative impacts on the Brentwood School District, traffic flow and the environment.

Justin Marino, of Dix Hills, board counsel to the association, said, “The views of the local residents that are going to be affected have been whitewashed. There’s significant opposition and it’s important to let the people know this isn’t something that has great support. In fact, this is a project that has been thrown down our throats and we don’t accept it.”

Marino said their objective isn’t to prevent development from happening – a first phase of the project was approved by the Town of Islip last year, but a subsequent lawsuit has slowed development, according to published reports.

Marino said his group wants current plans to be converted into those that would benefit the community.

“It is too taxing on the community – on the school district, environment and taxpayers.”

The civic association is comprised of and represents the interests of residents in four townships: Huntington, Babylon, Islip and Smithtown.

The protest was supported by several Town of Huntington-based groups, including Civics United of Huntington, Greater Huntington Civic Group, Preserving Elwood Now, Huntington Matters, Fort Salonga Property Owners Association, House Beautiful Dix Hills Civic Association and Commack Community Association.

Steve Spucces, of Huntington, president of the Greater Huntington Civic Group, said the size and scale of the project needs to be reduced dramatically. “It’s going to overcrowd our roads and schools and our environment.

He continued, “What needs to happen is this current project needs to be scrapped as is and the builder should come back to the table and discuss this with the community. The size and scale of this project is unprecedented on Long Island it is going to forever change our landscape for the worst.”

Group Voices Support For Proposal; Developer Sounds Off

Meanwhile, a competing group of 30 attended Saturday’s rally to voice support for the Heartland project.

Among them was Michael Capuano, president of Citizens for a Better Islip, who has been a vocal supporter of the Heartland project. Capuano told Newsday he believes Heartland would boost the local economy’s development and create housing that appeals to Long Island’s young people.

Heartland developer Jerry Wolkoff echoed those statements in an interview Wednesday.

“It’s very difficult to get an apartment that’s affordable, where you could walk to restaurants and entertainment,” Wolkoff said. “My expectation is to build one of the best smart growth neighborhoods in the country… that’s also environmentally safe.”

In regards to the protest, Wolkoff said “There’s always opposition, no matter what. But we’re going to do a beautiful thing that’s going to be absolutely great for Long Island, for our young people and our empty nesters.”