Carmans River proposal taken off the table

Originally published: March 29, 2012 10:26 PM
Updated: March 29, 2012 11:22 PM

Photo credit: Carl Corry | The Carmans River at Mill Road in Yaphank. (July 12, 2011)

Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko withdrew a proposal -- heralded as historic by backers -- designed to preserve the Carmans River, citing a lack of consensus on the town board.  The plan was designed to steer new development away from the 10-mile river. But many residents bashed the plan as a giveaway to developers, and it became clear that the plan did not have the support of the town board.

"All I was trying to do was save a river," Lesko said during a town meeting Thursday night in Farmingville.

Lesko's decision to withdraw was met with a round of applause from the crowd of about 200. The decision came after a 2 1/2-hour public comment period in which many residents chided the plan.  "Throw it away and walk away from the table," said Peter Oleschuk of Rocky Point.

Other residents were disappointed.

"Protect our waterway so it doesn't become like the Forge," said Shineye Wright of Mastic Beach, referencing a polluted river elsewhere in town.  Council members Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, Daniel Panico and Connie Kepert, who opposed Lesko's plan, proposed an alternative measure that promised "significant public input" before the creation of revised plan.  The town board had not voted on the measure by press time.  "This plan is failing because it was forged behind closed doors," Kepert said, referring to the original plan.

The Carmans River plan factionalized Brookhaven's town board and drew heavy criticism from civic groups and the public. But Lesko and a group of environmentalists and developers who crafted the plan touted the proposal as a chance to protect the river from succumbing to pollution.  The Carmans proposal promised to allow developers to build with greater density than current zoning laws allow outside of the river's watershed.  The plan, through the use of so-called "development credits," would have kept the river clean by steering growth to other parts of town, supporters said.

Dozens of residents spoke against the plan at a March 6 board meeting, as well, citing fears that it would overburden school districts and cause overdevelopment away from the river. Town board members Kepert and Fiore-Rosenfeld, who, like Lesko, are Democrats, spoke against the plan at that meeting, as well. Councilman Panico, a Republican, also criticized the plan that day. Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society and one of the plan's architects, has called the proposal "a marriage of preservation and development."