Carmans River Watershed
Protection Plan suspended
Opposing council members will try their reso on April 24

Long Island Advance
April 5, 2012


The resolution to pass the Carmans River Watershed Protection Plan was withdrawn last week after a twohour debate as well as an extensive public comment period that brought last Thursday’s town board meeting to an end at 10:30 p.m. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko pitched an amendment for a Saturday public meeting that would include council members, the town planning department, environmentalists, scientists and the public as a productive session so that alternatives could be pitched. That’s when council members Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, Connie Kepert and Dan Panico proposed to take apart the plan and get more public input.

In a surprising bipartisan move, Democrat Fiore-Rosenfeld made a motion for a walk-on resolution, supported by council members Connie Kepert, also a Democrat, and Republican-Conservative Dan Panico for a series of meetings in the council districts that would incorporate planning department staff to explain the plan, thrash out some of the issues and return with other possibilities. Lesko wound up withdrawing the resolution. The plan will be addressed again on April 24.

Deputy Chief of Staff Stacey Epifane Sykes told the Advance a definite effort was made for public inclusion and cited over 30 meetings where public input was solicited with an attendance of over 1,000 people. That included meetings with civics like ABCO and the Yaphank Taxpayers and Civic Association. Also, Study Group and Technical Advisory Committee meeting minutes were posted on the town’s website. The walk-on resolution was an unexpected move, she said. “To be fair, Mark said if they can figure it out, he’ll be happy to consider their plan,” she said.

Councilman Dan Panico said there were parts of the plan that were admirable and could be used. “I’m not interested in having these battles every meeting,” he admitted. “I’d like the board to reach a consensus about the future process, to get it right. So then we can go out and have meetings with our planning staff, get input, and then take that and put the good parts together. From there, we can have a SEQRA and scoping process and then have a resolution when ready. Everyone on this board has been led to believe that there is a hysteria involved and a piano over their heads in a deadline in getting this done.” Some of the alternatives Panico cited included a more transparent mechanism to get funding for open space acquisitions. Lesko touted a $30 to $42 million commitment for open space acquisition based on a settlement related to the Shoreham Nuclear Plant that came off the tax line, $5.6 million, as well as $9 million of snow removal funds, split among the six council districts, that was saved because of the mild winter. “Just because you pay off a settlement, doesn’t mean it isn’t a tax,” Panico said. “To categorize it as tax neutral is disingenuous.” If need be, Panico suggested, put it up for a referendum vote.

Also mentioned was concentrating on a workable multi-family and mixed-use development code. “There is a need and the key is building where it’s appropriate,” he said. “Originally this development was supposed to be steered to our downtowns, but they had golf courses on Route 347 and areas in East Moriches being developed. It became askew.” Upzoning some lands on the Carmans would also be scrutinized, as well as evaluating whether or not to expand the Pine Barrens core. “The land to be included seemed very odd,” he said of the Pine Barrens core inclusion. “It made no sense to include the board of elections and a county structure that fixes vehicles in the Pine Barrens core.  One of the problems the workstudy group had was that the expansion of the core had to be contiguous. They connected parcels by LIPA right-of-ways and railroad tracks.

But former South Yaphank Civic Association president Johan McConnell, who attended half of the work-study sessions and had several private meetings with planning staff members, said she sent an email to the seven members saying that she supported the acceptance of the resolution. “The work study group and the technical group meetings were open to everyone,” she said. “I can name on one hand the civic groups that attended and now all the civics from the North Shore say they didn’t know anything about it. And a few people have gotten it hyped. I personally don’t think there will be a plan. They were told very specifically they had until June 30 to get it into place. That’s why the big push was on. I don’t know if the people fighting the battle for 16 months will be willing to do it. I kept hearing there was no wiggle room.”

McConnell commented a lot of misinformation came out during public comment, especially regarding affordable housing and multiple housing. “It’s not Section 8,” she said of affordable housing. “There’s affordable housing in Patchogue at Copper Beech Village. There [are] misunderstandings about multifamilies. Most are one or two bedrooms. In Atlantic Point, during the Legacy Village issue, only 100 children came from that area and it has 795 units. And the Pine Barrens Commission is an important participant because they represent the Pine Barrens Act, and the town is asking the state to change the act and increase the core area. They won’t hold a public hearing unless they have a resolution.”