Carmans River plan on hold,
for now

Story By:  PEGGY SPELLMAN HOEY,
08 March 2012  
 

Brookhaven officials’ plan to shift development outside of the Carmans River Watershed area into higher density areas — many of which are in the northern part of town — was tabled Tuesday to allow for more time to review.

Under the draft plan, officials propose protecting undeveloped land within the watershed by allowing builders to purchase rights to construct higher density projects on parcels called “receiving sites,” which were picked because they are either blighted or are near already developed land. Among the 34 designated receiving sites are the Bellport Outlets, Swan Nursery Commons in East Patchogue, Lumber 84 in Patchogue, and Boomer’s family entertainment center in Medford. Officials said that in order to put the plan into effect, $37 million would have to be set aside to get the program up and running, a measure that would require legislation at the state level.

The measure to table the draft plan passed 5-2 with Councilmen Dan Panico and Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld opposed.

Critics charged the plan and said it should have been scrapped for being both too costly and not thorough enough.  Supervisor Mark Lesko, who supports the plan, said it would only cost each household about $1, the same it cost taxpayers to repay snow removal costs from last year, noting snow removal costs will not be repaid next year because it didn’t snow.
Panico questioned the logic of spending $37 million at a time when money is short and costs such as contractual increases are mounting for the town. He compared Lesko’s explanation to the way “Bernie Madoff teaches economics.”
“That’s like saying it’s not going to snow for 19 years,” he said.
Lesko expressed concerns that the longer the plan is held up, the longer the town’s natural resources will suffer the consequences.
“If we don’t invest in our groundwater now, we are going to have to pay for it on the back end,” he said.

Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister credited the plan for having many positive attributes, but he questioned whether it addressed nitrogen loading, a key element in improving water quality.
“You have the ability to have more stringent standards if you so choose,” he said.

Kevin McDonald, executive director of the Nature Conservancy, urged the board to adopt the plan and guarded against wasting any further time when the plan — still only a draft plan that must go through the environmental review process — can be changed.
“Every time there is a policy change the worst case scenario seen in mind is the most likely scenario,” he said.

Pine Barrens Society Executive Director Richard Amper also came out in support of the plan, urging the board to get the ball rolling so that the environmental process can be started immediately.
“Don’t foreclose the opportunity to vote on this tonight,” he said.
Tom Williams, a member of the Carmans River Working Group, also urged against putting off the vote so early in the game.
“There’s feedback yet to come so I am hoping that we can open up the discussion,” he said.

Jim Tripp, an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency and a member of the Carmans River Partnership, took the same slant, pointing out the plan is an effort to protect the watershed, so the debate must be started sooner rather later. Tripp said it is in the best interest of the town to get the private sector to pay for land preservation, as opposed to the taxpayers.
Jim Gleason, however, urged against moving forward because the preliminary environmental review was only presented to board members hours before the meeting. He also questioned whether members of the public had enough time to review the plan because it was not posted to the town’s website.

“Has it gone up?” Gleason asked. “Well, maybe, but certainly not in enough time for anyone to look at it.”
MaryAnn Johnston, president of the Affiliated Brookhaven Civic Organization, an umbrella of all the town’s civics, urged officials to go back to the drawing board and stay there until there is something more concrete.

“I have lived in the shadow of a dead Forge River,” she said, adding, “I don’t want to live in the shadow of a dead Carmans River. I think the plan can be made better.”
Under the proposal, the receiving sites could absorb just over 600 Pine Barrens credits. The sites could take on a density of 3 units per acre at a maximum of about 11 units per acre. The sites could also take on 5,600 units on about 11 units per acre, according to the proposal.

Of the 34 sites proposed for higher density, 25 are considered blighted or partially disturbed, according to officials. Also included in the sites are an industrial property on Wading River Road in Center Moriches, the Sheeli property, Medford TOD, Old Brookhaven Cinemas, and two vacant properties adjacent to Boomer’s in Medford. Further north, receiving sites include the former Coram United Artists theater property, the Rocky Point Drive-in, Lake Shore Plaza in Ronkonkoma, and Nicholls Professional Park in Centereach.

Brookhaven officials are expected to revisit the draft plan and receiving sites over the next three weeks before discussing it again at the town board’s March 20 meeting.